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Diane Helbig: “The first thing we can do is listen with an empathetic ear”

The first thing we can do is listen with an empathetic ear. I find that one of the things people need most is to be heard. They also need to know they aren’t alone. So, sharing your story can help them. I also think it’s important to give people permission to take a mental health […]

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The first thing we can do is listen with an empathetic ear. I find that one of the things people need most is to be heard. They also need to know they aren’t alone. So, sharing your story can help them. I also think it’s important to give people permission to take a mental health day, cry, vent, be fearful, slow down, make mistakes. This is a time to be understanding and forgiving.


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 Diane Helbig.

Diane Helbig is an international business and leadership change agent, author, award-winning speaker, and podcast host. As president of Helbig Enterprises Diane helps businesses and organizations operate more constructively and profitably. Diane’s no-nonsense, straightforward approach cuts through the noise and allows her clients and training participants opportunities to realistically and enthusiastically implement the plans they devise.


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?

When my father passed away I started evaluating my life and work. My sister suggested I become a marriage counselor because of the way I communicate. I thought that was funny because I hadn’t been known in my family as being an effective communicator. My best friend suggested I become a life coach because I like to tell people what to do. I hadn’t heard of coaching so I decided to explore. I realized I wouldn’t be able to get my Masters in Social Work while working full time and with two small children. However, when I explored coaching I found my destiny. At that time I decided to become a business coach. I knew I couldn’t be a life coach for a variety of reasons. However, thanks to my father and my previous business experience, business coaching was perfect. I could use everything I had learned over years of leadership and sales experience to help small business owners overcome challenges.

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 gosh, I find so many things I’ve experienced over the years have been interesting! If I had to choose one, I’d have to say my introduction to Jonathan Farrington and the Top Sales World program. When I started my practice, I began writing articles about sales and leadership and posting them online. One day I got an email from someone I didn’t know telling me one of my articles was a Top Ten Sales Article of the Week on a site I’d never heard of. The next week he emailed again to let me know my article had been selected as THE top sales article of the week. At the end of the month, I was informed that my article was the best sales article of the month. This same gentleman sent me a huge box with a sales game as a sort of reward for the accomplishment. This whole experience was even more amazing to me when I discovered that the man, Jonathan Farrington, was a Brit who lived in France. Imagine! My thoughts and ideas had been discovered by someone a world away. As we continued to correspond, we built a great business relationship. Because Jonathan believed I ‘got it’ when it came to what works in sales, he asked me to join his collaborative of sales experts — Top Sales World. I couldn’t believe it. Me, a part of a group of really stellar experts in the sales space. I’ve been a part of Top Sales World ever since. I’ve built incredible relationships with the other experts and have had many opportunities to participate in events and programs due to the affiliation.

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

My new book, Succeed Without Selling launched as an ebook at the end of May and the paperback will be published in December. So, I’ve been working on building awareness around the book and the concepts within. I wrote this book to help small business owners and sales professionals understand how to sell better and to let go of old misguided beliefs. Too many people struggle with the sales process unnecessarily. I’m on a mission to change that. This book is a big part of that mission.

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 father was instrumental in my success. When I was a teenager I worked for him as he sold furniture to furniture stores in Metropolitan Detroit. At one point he got vertigo and I was his chauffeur. It was a huge learning experience watching him with his customers. I learned a great deal about what it means to be a successful salesperson. My father knew his clients and knew what was best for them. And his clients believed that. When he suggested certain furniture packages they knew he was suggesting them because he believed they would sell well. He wasn’t trying to sell what he wanted to sell. He was selling what would be good for the customer. And the customer knew it. When I became an adult and went to work as a leader in a manufacturing company we talked almost every day about business. I knew I could reach out to my father for advice, stories, ideas, and more. That continued until he passed away in 2005. I have embraced everything he taught me, especially about how to treat people, and it has made all the difference. I would not have believed I could launch a business and grow it successfully had it not been for my father teaching me that I could do anything I wanted to.

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

I had the opportunity to engage in sales for a service company and then for a product company. I successfully grew the revenues at both companies. Also, I was fortunate to watch my father who was a tremendously successful salesman. Since I launched my business 14 years ago I’ve been training people on better sales techniques, guiding small business owners as they create their own sales process. I’ve also written two books about sales in addition to several articles on the subject.

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 first thing we can do is listen with an empathetic ear. I find that one of the things people need most is to be heard. They also need to know they aren’t alone. So, sharing your story can help them. I also think it’s important to give people permission to take a mental health day, cry, vent, be fearful, slow down, make mistakes. This is a time to be understanding and forgiving.

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 sense that sales has never been seen as a career. Sales was the thing people did when they didn’t go to college, or couldn’t get a job in their field. I don’t think it was ever looked at as a profession, unfortunately. It’s really too bad because being a sales professional should be a respected career path. Another thing that could be impacting the lack of formal academic training could be the terrible reputation salespeople have gained over the decades. There have been so many bad actors that sales is not considered to be a respectable career choice.

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 definitely agree with this assumption. Simply put, no one likes being sold. People will buy when they have a need and trust the person selling the solution. Salesy is off-putting because it is all about the salesperson and not about the buyer.

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?

All of them! And I’ll tell you why. Every stage has to do with discovery and curiosity. Once you are genuinely and intentionally interested in someone or some company, you use that curiosity in every sales stage. Prospecting becomes an exercise in learning as much as you can about the companies/people in your target market. When you approach you are doing it from a position of interest not selling. Your presentation is turned toward the prospect through questioning. I don’t believe any salesperson should give a presentation until they have learned a lot about the prospect. There are a lot of things the salesperson needs to know to present something that makes sense. Which brings me to handling objections. If the salesperson asks enough of the right questions, really listens to the answers, and presents something that speaks to everything the prospect told them, there won’t be any objections to handle! Closing happens naturally because both the salesperson and the prospect have walked together to a destination. Curiosity is key to follow up as well. The best salespeople are the ones who want to keep learning about their clients. The salesperson wants to stay engaged with the client to be able to help them problem solve as time goes on. Many times that problem solving doesn’t include the product or service the salesperson offers. Being able to connect a client to a resource is incredibly valuable and deepens the relationship.

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?

Having a good target market is the first part of generating qualified leads. Believing that everyone or anyone is a good prospect doesn’t work. It’s too broad and doesn’t allow the salesperson to create a strategy. A good target market has a significant number of prospects that potentially need the product or service. Once I have a target market I do some research. It’s important to learn as much as I can about the companies in that market. This allows me to narrow the field to those companies that have a good chance of being a prospective client. Then I search for them on LinkedIn intending to find someone who can introduce me to the prospect. Getting a warm introduction is a great way to secure a meeting with a prospect.

Another strategy I use is public speaking to audiences of my target market. I’ve learned that when I can share my level of knowledge as well as my communication style those who I resonate with will be interested in an exploratory call. That’s why I also offer a complimentary 30-minute phone consultation.

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’?

Salespeople dislike objections because they feel the objection is how the prospect says ‘no.’ That might be the case. However, objections happen when the salesperson fails to find out enough information. Without sufficient information, the salesperson is going to propose something that doesn’t answer all of the prospect’s needs and requirements. In truth, when the prospect objects she is really saying, ‘You haven’t accurately addressed everything involved in my decision-making process.’ The best way to deal with objections is to ask so many questions that the odds of there being an objection go way down. Think about everything involved in a decision to buy your product or service. Now, ask every question that will provide you with information about each of those things. When you propose, summarize what you heard and explain how your solution meets the needs. Then if there is an objection it is because of a miscommunication or misunderstanding. Now it’s easy to have a conversation that seeks clarification. The salesperson can share that she must have misunderstood and ask a question to confirm or learn. This process creates a partnership between the salesperson and the prospect.

‘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. Ask a wealth of questions so you fully understand the need and the prospect
  2. Summarize what you’ve learned and put that summary at the beginning of your proposal, whether written or verbal
  3. Refer back to that summary as you describe your offering
  4. Confirm that you heard them correctly
  5. Finally, ask, “Is there anything I missed or misunderstood?” When the answer is ‘no’ then say, “Great! Shall we proceed with the next steps?” There should be no objection to moving forward so you can implement the next step. Of course, it’s important to be prepared with that next step before you engage in the closing phase.

Example:

A prospective client reached out to discuss his needs and how I might be able to help him. When we met virtually I asked him a range of questions. Included in those questions were:

“What are you hoping to achieve?”

“What will achieving it do for your business?”

“If you don’t achieve it, how will that impact your business?”

“What timeline are you looking at?”

“Have you used a service like mine before? Would you mind sharing your experience?”

“Have you considered a budget for this?”

“Do you have time you can carve out for consistent sessions and the homework we agree on?”

After learning about his situation I summarized what I thought I’d heard. I asked for confirmation to be sure I understood the situation. When I received confirmation I shared the plan I thought made the most sense, explaining along the way how the plan would meet his needs. At the end of the plan explanation, I asked if the plan made sense to him. He said it did so I suggested we get our first session on the calendar and let him know I’d send over the agreement and invoice.

Because I walked him with me through the process I was able to show him that I understood his situation and connected the solution to the need. Closing happened naturally which is the goal.

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?

When there is a situation where the prospect isn’t ready to move forward the salesperson can ask a few questions to gauge interest and what the obstacle is. Sometimes a different priority arises and your sale is put on hold. That’s okay. The salesperson shouldn’t leave the conversation without a next step. And that next step is the responsibility of the salesperson, not the prospect.

Example: The prospect says there is another issue that is now a priority so this decision is on hold. The salesperson can say, “I understand. Why don’t we schedule a time to reconnect and see where things are. What makes sense to you?” This simple act keeps the opportunity on the calendar. And it lets the prospect let go so they can focus on what is pressing while knowing the salesperson will reach out. The salesperson now has a commitment from the prospect that a future conversation will occur.

As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?

In my opinion, email and texting should be avoided for follow up. I’m not a fan of either of them for anything other than keeping in touch with a current client during a project and the client prefers email and/or texting. Otherwise, they aren’t effective modes of communication. The salesperson should always seek an in-person conversation when possible. That in-person conversation can occur via video call. Sales is about relationships. And relationships are built when people are communicating with each other visually and verbally. There is so much more to effective communication than just the words. Body language, tone, tempo, word choice are all aspects of effective communication. The salesperson should lead the way by choosing the most connected mode of communication. And that is the in-person conversation.

Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would create the Curiosity Movement. This Movement would be based on the idea that until you know someone well, you can’t judge them. And that once you know them, you won’t want to judge them because you’ll understand them. If more people were curious instead of judgmental the world would be a more accepting place and people would be happier.

How can our readers follow you online?

The best places for readers to follow me are on my blog at https://www.helbigenterprises.com/blog as well as on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/dhelbig

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

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