You don’t have to push people to get them to buy, you just have to help them discover that your solution will solve their problem, and the only way to do that is through asking questions.
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 Justin Stephens. Justin is a Sales Trainer and President of Prospecting Done For You. A company that helps business owners create systems that allow for consistent prospecting & follow up so there is a steady stream of leads being nurtured and funneled into the sales process which in turn generates predictable revenue.
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?
Iwas 13 when I was first introduced to the concept of sales.
We lived an hour outside of Boise, ID and every day during the car ride to school and back my dad would listen to these cassette tapes that were packed with “sales training”.
One fine morning as we were nearing the summer, I asked my dad, “Dad, what exactly do you do (for work)”?
My parents owned and ran the Sandler Training Franchise in Boise.
After our discussion, he offered to enroll me in one of their training programs, and that was my introduction to selling.
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?
After college I started working with my parents and spent the next 10 years working in the sandler franchise.
When I finally left to start my own company, I had this great idea to build a software platform for reviewing live events.
I went all in on the idea. I invested my life savings, we sold our house, closed 4 retirement accounts and moved from Boise ID to Orlando FL, to be closer to live events.
I’ve learned more in those 6 months before my business officially failed than I did getting a BS in Marketing and spending 10 years working and running a sales training franchise.
I’d be happy to share the entire story and what I learned, and how I learned it, if you are interested in hearing more.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My company Prospecting Done For You offers a service which is highly in demand, where my team and I help clients create and implement a sales pipeline; a system of activities that needs to be executed so a company that is looking to sell its products/services can connect with their ideal audience; the type of people who need and want a solution to a specific problem/challenge that they are ready to resolve.
A successful business understands the consistency that is required in this process.
Why most businesses struggle with revenue generation is due to the lack of maturity in this process, or the inability to scale this system as they grow.
Therefore they go through what is commonly known as the “Feast and Famine cycle”.
When there is no business, resources are allocated to finding new projects/opportunities.
However, when there is sufficient new business, the focus is taken away from prospecting and reallocated towards servicing the existing customers.
Once the current project ends/services are fulfilled, the company is left having to refocus on rebuilding the pipeline.
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?
There are so many people who have helped me on this journey.
I can think of a hundred stories off the top of my head of individuals who have helped me get to where I am today. My parents, and our clients at Sandler helped me learn sales and consulting.
I’ve had numerous mentors, some of the ones that come top of mind are Tony Robbins, Russell Brunson, Oren Klaff, Verne Harnish, and John Warrillow.
The person that I want to thank the most though is my first clients at Prospecting Done For You. My good friends Jerel and Robert run Kaitech Automation.
They were clients of ours at Sandler, and followed me along the whole journey of my original failed company, Unboxing Events, and when I was really struggling financially, they were the first people to truly believe in me and what I had to offer.
I was talking with them on a phone call and counselling and sharing the journey with them. I was helping them with their strategy and path forward.
After a 30 minute conversation diving into everything, my friend Jerel said ‘Justin, I don’t know if you would be up for it, and I don’t know what you would do for us, but we will pay you $5,000 a month to do it.
We know that you will be well worth it.’’
They saw the value that I brought to the table and are one of the main reasons that I am where I am today.
They helped me craft the systems and processes that we use in our business.
They helped me through the tough times of starting the business.
And they are still my favorite clients to work with to this day!
Thank you Jerel and Robert!
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
The first time that I ever went through sales training I was 13 years old.
My father had just bought a sandler franchise, and I went every week to training with my sweet clip-on tie and learned how to sell in a room full of 40 to 50 year old business professionals.
It was the summer between 8th and 9th grade, and it completely changed my life.
I fell in love with sales and helping people.
After college, I started working with my parents in the sales training business.
I bought my way into the company as an owner, and was a major part of the business for about 10 years.
I’ve spent thousands of hours training other people how to sell and communicate, and I’ve spent thousands of hours IN sales calls.
We didn’t just teach sales.
We were our own sales team.
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 that we need to do to support our families and loved ones is understand that our own experience and fears will influence their experience and fears.
I know I don’t always feel like everything is going to be ok, but I make damn sure that my kids don’t know that.
The human race has always found a way, and figured things out.
It is what we do, so I consistently remind my wife, our kids, and others that even though things are uncertain, and we don’t know what will happen, we will figure it out.
Before Covid 19 happened, we were faced with health problems, and after covid 19 we will be faced with different challenges. This is the challenge we have right now.
I always constantly remind everyone that right now is the best time to be alive.
It is the best time to be building a business, because Covid19 has leveled the playing field.
NO-ONE was prepared for this.
Small businesses have the upper hand because we can pivot, move, and adapt quickly to what is going on.
Large organizations typically have a much harder time adjusting on the fly and changing.
I am beyond excited to be a part of this economy and I can’t even begin to imagine where we will go from here.
Covid 19 will change the world, and in my opinion, it is going to be even better!
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 versalite topics, is totally ignored?
The reason sales isn’t taught in schools is because school was designed to educate and train people to follow orders. There is a reason that our kids are constantly being taught about things that happened years ago.
The education system is not meant to push everyone forward. It is meant to keep the middle class, the middle class.
It is designed to keep the people in charge, in charge.
I am so impressed by teachers, the courage and tenacity they have to raise our youth is outstanding, and they are just following instructions that are continually passed down from the leadership.
If you want to keep things the way they are, then changing what and how we learn when we are young goes against your plan.
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 think that being salesy and pushy is something to be avoided because no-one wants to be sold.
People want help buying, but they don’t want to be sold.
I take that back, salespeople want to be sold.
Everyone else just wants help making the right buying decision.
Most salespeople feel and believe this way, but 5% feel that pushing someone into making a decision right now to buy is in their best interest.
That 5% give the other 95% of salespeople a bad rap.
It is your moral obligation to NOT SELL someone something that will not help them solve their problem.
It is also your moral obligation to SELL someone something that will help them solve their problem.
You don’t have to push people to get them to buy, you just have to help them discover that your solution will solve their problem, and the only way to do that is through asking questions.
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?
Prospecting is where I excel, and to be candid, the reason is because I am relentless in my pursuit of helping people.
My entire company is built on prospecting.
We create an 18 step follow up sequence designed to nurture leads into conversations and get people to decide either yes or no.
The only bad result from a sales call is a think it over with no clear next step.
In prospecting, you must continually be building the relationship.
It takes 15 to 20 touches typically before someone will make a purchasing decision.
Most salespeople stop prospecting, or following up, after 3 to 7 touches.
There is a huge gap between what the salesperson is doing and what the customer needs.
One large deal I closed, I followed up with for 2 and a half years.
Every quarter, I would check in.
I would stop by a tradeshow that I knew they would be at.
I did drop-ins just to reconnect.
I kept the door open and eventually the timing was right for everyone involved, and we got down to business.
If you force people to make a decision on your time, it will generally be no.
Let people buy on their time, and follow up so that they don’t forget you exist.
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?
The most important part of lead generation is consistency.
Most people go through stages of feast and famine because they are not constantly focused on bringing more leads into their business.
Which in turn leads to the next problem that most companies run into.
They expect their closers to also be prospecting.
Each company should have a team, or at least a person, who is focused on prospecting and another team, or person, focused on closing.
Working together, you can create predictable revenue.
When you try to get one person to prospect and close, they will do one poorly.
Whatever they are better at, will get the majority of their focus.
Make it easy on them, and yourself by having a team work together to find and then close the business.
Our 18 step process consists of a 3 email qualifying sequence, before putting them into the 15 step follow up process.
In our 15 step follow up process we will use physical cards, emails, personal videos, lumpy mail and packages, social media, and phone calls to nurture a lead into a conversation.
Don’t expect your prospect to fit into how you want to communicate, you must adapt your process to how THEY communicate.
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’?
The reason handling objections is so hard for people is because they are unqualified to actually handle the objection.
The only person qualified to handle objections is the prospect themselves.
It is their objection, not yours.
It is a salesperson’s job to ask great questions and help the prospect discover if it is a real objection or not.
Most objections are just opinions, but when you attack someone’s opinion, or handle the objection, you are telling them their opinion is wrong.
When is the last time you enjoyed being told that your opinion is wrong?
The best way to handle objections is to focus on asking questions to help the prospect think through why they feel that way currently.
‘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.
The close is nothing more than the confirmation of a well executed sales process.
If you are waiting for the ‘close’ to close the deal, then you are doing it all wrong.
Tip 1: What should we do now?
My favorite close is to say ‘so what should we do now’?
Once you have uncovered people’s problems, and understand their compelling reason to take action, they know the price and have the budget and it can happen within their decision making process, the sale is closed.
Now it is time to finalize the deal.
That’s when you ‘close’
Tip 2: Thermotor close
On a sales call, you should constantly be giving people a chance to gauge their interest and opinions on the topic. I always recommend a scale of 1 to 10.
Humans think in gradients, not binarily, so give them something to grade on!
On my first date with my wife, we were watching a movie together and I said:
On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being who is this creep and when can I leave, and 10 being wow this guy is really cool, I would date him if he asked me, where would you say you are?
She responded with a 9!
I said ‘well, in that case, would you like to date me?!’
And 3 kids later, you can guess what she said!
Tip 3: Don’t present your crap
Far too many people make the presentation about what they do.
The problem is that people don’t care about what you do, they care about their problems.
Make the presentation and close all about the problems they are facing, then show how your solution will solve that problem.
I always build proposals with the bullet points of the prospects’ pain that we are trying to solve, and then we go in together and prioritize which is the most important to solve, then I present how our solution solves that problem.
After showing them how we solve that problem, I do the Thermometer close, and get a feeling for where they are before moving to the next step.
Rinse and repeat through all their problems.
After going through all the problems, you do an overall T-close.
If the answer is between 1 and 7, you missed something and need to try to understand their problems better or close it as a lost sale.
If the answer is between 7 and 9, say what would you need to see, hear, or feel to get to a 10, or are you the kind of person that gets to a 10 after everything is proven and done?
If the answer is a 10, you say ‘so what should we do now?’
Tip 4: Let them out
Once you close someone, give them a chance right there to back out.
Don’t take the deal and run.
Once I had a sales call that went through this whole process, and the prospect wrote a check right there for me.
At the end of the call I said ‘this is much more than you were expecting to spend, are you sure that you want to move forward now?’
The prospect wadded up the check and threw it at me!
He said ‘Justin, I’ve spent more money on dumber crap. Let’s make this happen!’
Tip 5: Create a smooth pass between sales and delivery
Far too often salespeople go out and sell something, then run out to close another deal.
If you want to be great at closing, become great at the pass between sales and production.
This will increase referrals and client retention.
Don’t just let people wallow in the unknown after making a purchasing decision!
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?
Your number one job as a salesperson is to follow up.
I get so tired of people complaining about prospects and bad leads, when in reality, all they want is to be an order taker.
Trust me, I want to be an order taker too, but that isn’t how this game works.
The best thing that you can do is create a follow up sequence, that involves multiple touches, multiple different communication methods, all designed to get a prospect to say yes or no.
Don’t make it about closing a deal and getting a yes.
Make it about helping the prospect, and if you can’t help them that is ok.
Answer these four questions right now, and you will never have to wonder how to follow up again:
- Who am I targeting
- What should I say
- How should I say it — phone, email, text, video, snail mail, lumpy mail
- When should I contact them again
I have a workbook that I’m happy to give to anyone to help them build this out.
If you build out this process, prospecting and follow up becomes ridiculously simple!
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?
There is no write or wrong answer when it comes to modes of communication.
Each prospect is going to communicate differently.
I’ve had prospects that only want to text, only want email, don’t care how we communicate, or only want me to call them.
As a sales professional, it is your job to give prospects home court advantage.
Let them communicate in the way that they want to communicate.
Let them be more comfortable and you will get much better results.
One thing that we love to do is include snail mail in our process, and not like a discount mail coupon, it is a personalized card that has a message we want our prospects to hear.
There is something about getting a card in the mail that makes you stand out above the crowd.
The key with follow up is to be the company that is top of mind when the prospect is ready to make a decision, especially when you are doing cold outreach.
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. 🙂
It is my dream to create a movement that helps people, especially young people (grade school and high school), understand the difference between who they are as a person and what they do.
When you go networking, people always say ‘what do you do’. Society has placed us in these buckets, and those buckets then become our identities.
The problem with this is that if you find your identity in a role, and then fail at that role, you become a failure.
Success only comes through failure, but too many people never try because they are afraid of failure.
The secret to participating in life is to understand that no matter how you preform as a husband, father, wife, mother, daughter, sister, golfer, CEO, janitor, or anything else DOES NOT impact who you are as a person.
I want the world to know they are perfect as they are, even though they may not excel in a particular role.
The other day my 7 year old said ‘Dad, I’m a failure’ and I responded ‘I’m so proud of you honey, I’m a failure too, and that is why I am successful, and I know that you will be too.’
My mission, my calling, is to help everyone understand that failure is the doorway to success.
The best way that you can make an impact in someone else’s life is to first fail, and then get back up.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!