Good sales people are not pushy. Sales is about exchanging information. Get information from your prospect about who they are, the needs they’re telling you, the needs they’re not telling you, and what they value. Give information to your prospect about who you are, what you offer, the features and benefits of what you offer, and how your product or service might serve them. Being pushy is short term and a lose-lose for everyone. If you’re pushy, you’re going to be working with reluctant clients, get returned orders and canceled contracts, not get quality referrals, and neither party is going to be enjoying the process.
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 Sophie Morrison. Sophie is a Chicago-based 2-time best selling author, host of EPIC/Fail Podcast, and founder of the marketing firm, VIBE Conscious Marketing.
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 always done the exact opposite of whatever I’m supposed to do. I wore black lipstick to elementary school, negotiated my way out of assignments in middle school, and negotiated my way into internships and onto teams I was hardly qualified for in high school. I’ve also always been really curious and had a high risk tolerance. Those things really set the tone for the next few chapters of my life.
After leaving journalism school, I went into sales and learned the ins and outs of marketing a product. After several years I went into real estate and learned the ins and outs of marketing a service and building long term relationships. I wrote a best-selling few books, started a podcast, started professionally blogging, and built a marketing platform.
What all these “achievements” have in common is that they started with someone saying “no” to me. For instance, I was told “no” when I tried publishing my first book the traditional route, when I tried finding journalism jobs as a 19 year old college drop out, and when I wanted to be a guest on my favorite podcast. Thanks to my curiosity, high risk tolerance, and desire to do the opposite of what I’m told, I found ways to make those things happen in other ways.
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?
The second I moved back to Chicago I applied for a job at a big law firm as a paralegal. (Again, this was by schmoozing and networking my way into rooms I was hardly qualified to be in.) After a few rounds of interviews they invited me to a large team luncheon. There were about 30 sharply dressed adults at this long table and I was feeling really insecure. The server came over and took my drink order first. I ordered a Macallan 12, neat, because that’s what I always saw lawyers doing on Suits and Mad Men (my only familiarity with the corporate world). The next 29 people proceeded to order water, coffee, and tea, probably because it was 11am. I was absolutely modified. Somehow, I still got an offer.
Today I don’t drink, so when I go out to corporate events I’m usually the only one ordering tea. The irony is not lost on me.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m really focusing in on working with clients whose products and culture I personally align with. Typically those are clients offering wellness services, plant based products, and leadership development programs with socially and environmentally responsible practices.
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?
I just had one this morning. Rachel Bellow is one of my mentors and a co-founder at one of my client companies. I had to come up with slides last minute to present to her team. I was a little frazzled and not sure how to convey all that I was working on for them in a few short slides without being too in-the-weeds and confusing, or being too vague. I was planning on just giving it my best shot, but she emailed me saying she’d edited my slides for clarity and was prepared to give me some support if anyone asked me any curveball questions. She explained why she made the changes she made and now I feel confident about how to handle a similar situation next time.
I admire how she operates both personally and professionally. One of the reasons I enjoy working with her is that I get a front row seat to learn from her in situations like this one. Working with people I look up to is for sure my favorite way to learn.
Knowing she really wants me to succeed makes me feel comfortable being more creative in my work for her, too. There have been times I’ve shared ideas with her that I’d normally think were too “out there”, but because I felt comfortable, I shared them, and many became very useful.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
Absolutely. I got my start in sales when I was five years old. I’m not joking. My dad was the CEO of an educational technology company. I took a bunch of shampoos and lotions from a hotel housekeeping cart and cold called all of his employees to sell them my “product”. Naturally, they bought. Naturally, my dad was mortified and made me give them their money back.
Fast forward about 15 years, I had just dropped out of journalism school and was looking for a job. I went to work for Vector Marketing selling Cutco knives. That was a life changing crash course in all elements of sales. I did that for a few years and dabbled in other random sales opportunities (like selling whisks at trade shows and selling tens units to sweaty guys at Daytona Bike Week).
I became a paralegal for a real estate attorney which piqued my interest in real estate. I got my real estate license and have been in luxury Chicago real estate for almost five years. Being in real estate taught me how to sell services and form long term relationships with clients.
Last year, I started my own marketing firm, VIBE Conscious Marketing, where I put my knowledge of selling products and services to use by helping others learn how to sell their products and services.
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?
The traditional education system is designed to churn out model employees. The cold truth is that our economy relies on the employees who value certainty and security over variety. Being in sales requires a higher threshold for uncertainty and a desire to be a little unconventional.
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?
Good sales people are not pushy. Sales is about exchanging information. Get information from your prospect about who they are, the needs they’re telling you, the needs they’re not telling you, and what they value. Give information to your prospect about who you are, what you offer, the features and benefits of what you offer, and how your product or service might serve them. Being pushy is short term and a lose-lose for everyone. If you’re pushy, you’re going to be working with reluctant clients, get returned orders and canceled contracts, not get quality referrals, and neither party is going to be enjoying the process. It’s not a coincidence that deals that fall apart at the last minute were usually the result of pushy-ness earlier on.
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?
My unique approach is that I don’t really take any of those stages literally. When you’re guided by your authentic interests, you’ll meet people you connect with. If you know what you’re talking about when it comes to your product or service and you have a genuine connection with someone, they’ll ask you for more information if they’re interested in what you offer.
For instance, one of my favorite clients is a company that offers professional talent development. I ended up working with them because of my interest in vegan food. I went to a dinner for women in wellness and sat next to a woman at random who I really connected with. We stayed in touch and the third time we saw each other, I was talking about some of the marketing I was doing. She realized she had a friend who was working at a company looking for support with those same things. She then made the introduction, and her friend’s company became one of my favorite clients. It stemmed from genuine connection with no ulterior motive and who I ended up meeting by following my interests. I couldn’t have planned that if I’d tried.
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 version of prospecting is just following my interests, which usually leads me to people with similar interests. Instead of a typical preparation or approach, I let people know what I do in the natural flow of conversation and if they think I can be of service to them, they’ll ask. The result is that I work with clients I truly enjoy and they seem to genuinely appreciate my work.
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’?
Traditional sales training emphasizes the importance of asking people questions about themselves to build rapport and seeing every “objection” as an ask for more information. If you’re having a natural conversation with someone you’re genuinely interested in, and they are genuinely interested in you, that exchange will happen organically. People aren’t stupid — they can tell when you really care about them and their work.
‘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.
Closing should not be viewed as a compartmentalized step in the sales cycle because people “close” when they feel confident that a product or service can satisfy their needs. Therefore, the 5 things one can do to close without being pushy are (1) become an expert on what you’re offering, (2) get to know your prospect well by asking genuine questions and being authentic with them, (3) listen for what it sounds like your prospect needs, (4) explain how what you’re offering can satisfy those needs, and (5) ask for the order. Asking for the order is nuanced depending on the person and context. It can be as direct and assumptive as “would you like five of these, or do you want to just stick with the one?” or as soft as “let me know if you want to have another conversation about how my product might help you. Here’s my card.” It’s all about knowing your audience.
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?
Give people a dropped-down way to opt-in. If they’re not ready to say “yes” to purchasing your product, maybe they’ll be ready to say “yes” to joining your email list or following your social accounts. The widely accepted metric is that it takes 17 impressions for a conversion. If your initial interaction is impression number one, that means you may need 16 more valuable touches before they say “yes”. The operative word there is valuable. That means putting out content or helpful information that your prospect would actually appreciate and enjoy, not emailing them promoting your product or asking if they’re ready to buy.
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?
The most important thing is knowing who you’re talking to and being a good reader of people. You want your communication to be convenient and comfortable for everyone involved. If you’re talking to a really busy or more introverted person or someone in a much younger generation and the setting isn’t highly professional, texting could be the best method. If you’re talking with someone who values having a more emotional connection or is more extroverted (and they have the time) in-person or a phone call might be best. If you have a lot of information and numbers to convey, email could be the smoothest way to get your information across. Bottom line — it depends on the person and the context.
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 think the biggest game changer would be widespread open-mindedness. If we could really listen to others, even the ones we don’t agree with (or even like) without getting defensive, and know that others were really listening to us, communication would be more effective. People would be less repressed, more direct, and more free to be more creative.
How can our readers follow you online?
If you’d like to follow me professionally my website is vibeconsciousmarketing.com (and we’re on LinkedIn, too). The best way to follow me personally is via Instagram, @thegratitudegal.
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!