I have been through two recessions and the economy always bounces back, stronger than it was before. Though the economy is suffering for many right now, this is not an economic based crisis but rather a pandemic, basically out of everyone’s control. I would urge everyone to stay connected. That is to maintain communications with friends and family. Most are using the technology to make it happen.
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 Rick Cottrell
Rick is the CEO of BizResults.com, a company that is laser focused on helping small to mid-sized companies “Bullet Proof their Businesses to Survive and Thrive in any Economy.” Rick, voted the top business growth advisor in St. Louis and Awarded the SBA Small Business Advocate of the Year, has over 30 years of entrepreneurial business ownership 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?
I learned very early in life that I was “unemployable,” meaning I would never be satisfied working for someone else. I had to do my own thing. I was working for a large company as a business consultant and assisting very large corporations with specific ways to help them grow. Over time I learned I could lead an organization, but was frustrated because I always had to report to someone else. I asked myself, why was I doing this for others when I can do it for myself? Of course, one of the key traits of owning and running a business is bringing in new clients so I quickly learned to heighten my sales knowledge and selling expertise.
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?
In 1995, I found venture capital to help me develop a database marketing company (startup). We developed the business off of consumer engagement research that we did in the early 90’s. It showed that an effective Customer Relationship Management or CRM strategy could increase market share. The research was focused toward the auto industry. In fact, we coined the term CRM with that research. A product that we developed out of that research, based on a request by GM, we called SalesForce.com. It was part of a suite of services that we offered that included ServiceForce.com, a customer service outsource model, and StaffForce.com a staffing model.
In 1996 Mark Benioff called us to see if he could get SalesForce.com from us and we obliged.
Little did I know what SalesForce.com would become.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One of the exciting things we are working on is a business intelligence platform for small to mid-sized companies. The goal here is to create a dashboard technology to help businesses understand (at their fingertips) how their business is performing and ways to predict their success. This includes integration with their financial systems to give a leadership team the knowledge they need to accelerate the growth of their businesses.
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?
Yes, his name is Sam Cupp. He was my business mentor and partner. He is no longer with us, but Sam gave me the chance to become an entrepreneur and guided me through the thick and thin of business.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
Well, two reasons — first, regardless of what industry you are in, you have to sell your products or services to survive. What I have been saying to my employees, and now my clients, is — “we are a sales and marketing company that happens to sell X or Y.” We assume that a company does a good job of making the “sausage”. What we have to be really good at is marketing and selling the sausage and I believe we have accomplished it. Second, I am still standing — right? Over the years, through trial and error, I have been able to research and create sales approaches and systems that benefited our team as well as others.
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?
I would tell our friends and loved ones to stay confident, this will pass. I have been through two recessions and the economy always bounces back, stronger than it was before. Though the economy is suffering for many right now, this is not an economic based crisis but rather a pandemic, basically out of everyone’s control. I would urge everyone to stay connected. That is to maintain communications with friends and family. Most are using the technology to make it happen. Many are finding creative ways to use Zoom and other virtual vehicles for dinner parties, group exercise, religious services and more. It may be a few weeks, or a month or two, but things will slowly open up and we will be able to return to the office, eat at restaurants, and resume our normal daily activities.
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 agree, and feel that the dynamics of proven sales processes and techniques changes with the evolution and innovation of how people communicate and the technology that supports it. It is not a static topic. The things taught today may not work tomorrow. Meaning, sales metrics need to be monitored constantly. Companies must adapt and evolve with their prospects and customers. This is a part of why they don’t teach it in school. However there are some sales basics, such as establishing expertise, trust and rapport, identifying pain points etc. that could be part of class taught in business school or even as part of an economics class in high school.
This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”, 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?
This is a broad topic, maybe this will help. As we see it, the main problem here is that (in general) sales training does not focus on the “why and how” of the prospective customer. Meaning, when a salesperson engages a prospect, for the most part, they treat them the same as every other prospect. The salesperson is a hammer and they treat every prospect like they are a nail. If a salesperson is communicating with someone that requires detail to process their thoughts and make a decision, and they are communicating with them assuming their profile is just a fact-based quick decision making mindset, the prospect will be put off and feel that they were part of a hard sell scenario. There is very little training in behavior determination and adjustment based on communication style. This is a major problem today and is creating a significant loss in business.
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?
When we develop a sales life cycle process for our clients, you have to at least be good (not great) at all of them. If not, sales conversion statistics will suffer.
Let me answer this way — each step has a criteria for success. On the prospecting side, the main success factor would be your prospect database. Exceptional performance can only be attained if your database is full of what we call “High Value Targets.” You must have a handle on the criteria that make up your target market. The technology and data sources available today make it easier than ever to create a qualified database of opportunities. Then, you must understand your prospect- to-customer lifecycle and develop a communication protocol to support it. Our secret sauce is doing the research to identify our high value targets, learning through various sources and interviews their communications style and preferences, and then formulating a strategy that meets all necessary criteria to seamlessly move through the sales process.
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 described earlier you must start with research and first identifying high value targets, the type of clients or customers that would provide the highest probability of success for a long term relationship. Determinate their communications style and find different ways to interest them in your company and your products and services.
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’?
First of all, you have to determine if the profile of the salesperson supports the handling of objections. If they cannot, the war is lost. Someone that has the ability to understand the prospect’s communication style, can immediately develop trust and can influence the outcome of the situation. They will be successful. We use role playing exercises to imbed that ability into salespeople, and make it a part of them. However, if someone does not have the make-up to ask the hard questions and go “toe to toe” with a prospect, then they are not the right person and are certainly not in the right seat.
‘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.
One of my old adages is “at the table, someone is buying and someone is selling” if the deal is not closed, as a salesperson — you have just bought. In my businesses we trained on the 4 box close:
The first box (to close) is making sure you are talking to the decision maker(s). If satisfied, the second box is making sure they understand what you are selling, you cannot sell to a confused mind. The third box is making sure the prospect understands the true value of what you are selling. And the fourth box to close is making sure the prospect cannot afford to move forward without it (what you are selling).
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 one is easy and a hot button for me (per my background). A business absolutely needs a nurturing platform. We have hitched out wagons to HubSpot. The nurturing process you use is specific to a particular company. The key takeaway here is constant monitoring of your metrics. Numerous companies will put their nurturing system on automatic. They have no idea how much negative will is being generated with this approach. Always monitor your market, prospects and customers — be dynamic.
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?
I’ll answer it this way — regardless of communication channel, all must be assessed, optimized and used for a specific purpose. They must be customized to support their specific goal. For example, email may be overused today, but it can be a great way to share information. The saying goes that using different channels of communication as part of an effective marketing matrix will raise all boats in the harbor. There is no good or bad if a matrix supports the goals of a company’s target market. Unfortunately, most companies do not finesse their communication plans. For the most part they use a one size fits all approach and are losing out on significant top line revenue and profitability.
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. 🙂
Based on our current situation I would recommend the creation of a special global organization that specifically addresses future threats of viruses and how to deal with them. This should be separate from government and involve our brightest minds in science, medicine and business. It should be a task force that goes well beyond what the World Health Organization was charged to do. I believe with our current situation involving billions of dollars of lost revenue, and lives lost and/or compromised, major corporations and philanthropists would fund this type of group and ensure work gets done to best prevent another pandemic from occurring.
How can our readers follow you online?
www.Bizresults.com and linkedin/in/rickcottrell
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!