“If you do it right, handing objections can be a fun part of the process.” With Mitch Russo & Don Hutchinson

If you do it right, handing objections can be a fun part of the process. It’s an algorithm. You should identify every possible objection they can reply with and come up with a great rebuttal. If you recognize the patterns, you can plan ahead. This is easy — it just takes a little bit of […]

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If you do it right, handing objections can be a fun part of the process. It’s an algorithm. You should identify every possible objection they can reply with and come up with a great rebuttal. If you recognize the patterns, you can plan ahead. This is easy — it just takes a little bit of effort and thought.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Don Hutchinson. Don Hutchinson is a natural sales professional with the gift of also being a great leader. Don is the Regional Sales Manager for CHOICE Administrators®, America’s leading developer and administrator of Health Care Exchanges. And if there was one word to describe his approach, it’s “meticulous.”

He’s worked inside & outside sales; grown territories by over 400%; built and developed Sales systems, tools, and SOP’s; built and led sales organizations; risen through the ranks of his organization and coached teams to realize their own success.

Don has a secret sauce. Don isn’t one of those smooth talking sales guys who makes you feel sold after a call. He isn’t a wheeling-and-dealing guy. Instead he focuses on identifying and solving his clients problems while building real relationships. It’s about being human. And so many sales people forget that.

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?

Interacting with people has always come naturally to me. My dad used to tell me “Don, if socializing was a subject in school you’d get an A+.” To this day I can’t name a person I don’t get along with. I was told throughout my life to get into sales, but my pathway to this profession had a few twists and turns.

I went to California State University at Fullerton (CSUF) and joined a fraternity. But for the first three years, my major was undeclared — yes, three years! Once I was forced to choose a major, I looked up the highest paying jobs out of school and saw it was accounting, so that’s the major I chose. Becoming an accounting student really shaped me up because it was the hardest major at the school. And I chose it because I wanted to prove something to myself.

So I buckled down to accomplish my goal: I changed my lifestyle, cut back the partying, and added a second major in finance to my plate to round out my skills. After a total of six years at CSUF, I got an accounting job out of school with the goal of becoming a CPA. However, three years into the industry, I learned it wasn’t for me and went on the hunt for something more suitable to my personality. I found an inside sales opportunity with CHOICE Administrators®, America’s leading developer and administrator of Health Care Exchanges and began my career in health insurance sales.

Looking back, my finance background gave me an analytical, solution-oriented, process-driven mind. And that paired with my already strong interpersonal skills, has lead me to great success and arguably “the guy who’s hard to beat.”

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?

Well I can tell you plenty of stories (laughing). I can tell you about all the many times I was hung up on, the doors slammed in my face, or how one of my colleagues had to stand on the conference room table and sing I’m A Little Tea Pot because his numbers were too low…but I’m going to choose a different story. I’m going to tell you about my first experience in sales training.

As many of you know, sales department’s training doesn’t really exist. So I had to fend for myself. On my first day, I went up to the best sales guy at the company and asked him to train me. His name was Mark, and he was the very first sales rep at the organization — an undeniably successful veteran. And very intimidating. Mark promptly replied to my ask with “no thanks kid,” but I didn’t let that stop me. So my second day, I asked Mark if I could take him to lunch. Again, he said no. After those first few days, I noticed he was the first one in the office. So, in an effort to gain his respect, I started trying to beat him into the office. As the days went on, I kept looking for ways to strike up a conversation with Mark first thing every morning, and inevitably work in “will you train me?” He shot me down for about two weeks, before he finally agreed.

He said, “Kid, if you want me to train you then you’ve got to get here at 6am.” And the next morning Mark and I were in the conference room at 6am. The very first thing he said to me was, “Don the first thing you’ve got to realize is that you’re an idiot and you don’t know anything.”

Mark and I met in that conference room every day at 6am for training for the next two years, and we still connect to discuss strategy to this day.

Mark taught me three big lessons:

  1. Be self-aware enough to know when you need help, smart enough to know who to go to for help, humble enough to ask them for the help and serious enough to follow through with the teachings.
  2. Always push yourself to be better. He always said if you want to be a master of your craft then you have to put in the work.
  3. Sales is a tough gig — it’s a grind. And you have to have thick skin, or be willing to go through the pain of building it.

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

I am. I’ve recently revamped our business plan for 2020. The goal is to develop and launch a well-defined, simple and workable business plan that maximizes selling opportunities and promotes the development of key relationships throughout all the distribution channels. Think of it as an organized approach for sales activity.

I’ve completely profiled and segmented all clients and prospects — this is where the analytic nature of my finance background comes in. I developed all messaging specific for every segment, and then laid out the cadence, content and communication channels.

I’ve been executing this approach with my team through the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s proven very successful, so we will carry it through at least the end of the year. When you do it in this way, you’re able to be everywhere at once. Your messaging is getting distributed via phone calls, emails, texts, on LinkedIn and sometimes in hand-written letters. Your message gets out, you’re always top-of-mind for your audience, and those that don’t know you start to warm up faster.

This approach allows me to help people faster and make a lot more progress in a short period of time. People need about eight interactions with you in order to be comfortable enough with you to do business, and this process helps us get to eight faster.

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’m lucky because I’ve had so many great mentors along the way. I have a brother-in-law who is six years older than me. He helped get me into sales, train me, give me advice, mentor me and more. We’re great friends too.

The best lesson he taught me was when I first started in my sales career. I was done with my training, and it was time for me to “Go Live” — the time to get on the phones and start dialing for dollars. At this time, the sales floor was full of veteran sales people, and I had never made a cold in my life. At this rate, “nervous” was an understatement. The thought of randomly cold calling a stranger and convincing them to buy something from me seemed impossible.

Dan gave me some great advice. He said, “Don, one thing you’ve got to realize is that you’re new…and new sales reps suck. So you have two choices: you can get out there and look good while you suck, or you can get out there and look bad while you suck — but either way you’re going to suck.”

This was brilliant advice. I figured I might as well get out there and let it rip in style. It’s better than the alternative. So I got out there on the sales floor, and was loud and proud and made sure everyone on the entire sales floor could hear how bad the new guy sucked. And people respected it!

Dan’s lesson was simple: don’t be afraid to attack your weak spots head on. If you get out of your comfort zone and live in the fire, you’ll come out better and stronger on the other end. So have some guts, get out there and try…it’ll transform you.

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

To be brief, I’ve done it all: Inside sales, outside sales, managed teams, scaled territories, built processes and tools, defined standard operating procedures, and even read nearly every sales and self-help book out there. And achieved great success in a short period of time.

I started with no experience in sales or in the product I was selling. Within a couple of years, I increased the sales within my territory by 400 percent and surpassed the 20-year veterans on the team. I caught the attention of my leadership team and took over the director role, overseeing the inside sales team, within four years. In that role, I helped the team improve their individual skills, develop a leads program and implemented new tools (like Salesforce) to improve their productivity and overall success.

I definitely don’t know it all. But my success speaks for itself.

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?

For those feeling anxious about the pandemic, I’d offer the following advice: throughout life, the one constant thing is change. We’re all going to have many ups and downs, and what matters is how quickly and how well we can pivot to adapt.

We can’t get too excited during the good times, and too depressed during the down times. America is the greatest country in the world, and we’ll all get through this together. We need to have empathy and understanding for each other, because we’re all so different.

This is a highly personal matter and everyone’s comfort level to “get back to normal” will be different. Some are scared, some are high risk, some have family members who are high risk, others have little kids to think about, and some aren’t scared at all. For anyone in sales, it’s important to pay close attention to other people’s comfort levels and be adaptable to them.

As far as combating loneliness, I recommend taking this as a blessing in disguise and using it as an opportunity to reinforce existing relationships, check in with old friends, and focus on yourself. A simple check in with a friend can do wonders for you both. Something as simple as that goes a long way with people and it strengthens your relationship. With modern technology it’s so easy to call, text and video chat — there’s no excuse not to!

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?

Great question. I’ve asked myself this before. Why isn’t sales a mandatory class for business majors in college?! Are all the successful sales leaders busy selling and making money, and don’t have time to teach? Is it because sales is so competitive and they don’t want to teach anyone their secrets to success?

I don’t know. But what I do know is that there are so few sales leaders who take the time to properly train sales teams. Most trainings sessions give the new person a list of prospects, have them read literature on the product and send them off.

I believe it’s this lack of training that creates a bad reputation or stigma that surrounds sales people in general. They’re told to get the sale at any cost, and they start cutting corners, being pushy and becoming aggressive — all because they don’t know how to do it “right.” This vicious cycle and lack of process is what produces sleazy, pushy, salesy, deceptive and untrustworthy sales people. They’re setup for failure, and succeed on accident.

I wanted to succeed on purpose.

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?

I would agree, yes. I believe a great sales person is one who genuinely wants to help people solve problems via their product or services. If you’re disingenuous and just in it for the money, you’re going to be perceived as salesy or pushy, and humans have an instinct that picks up on this. Eventually, it will cannibalize your sales and your profit. And that result is worth avoiding.

But there is a fine line. Sales people still have to be strong and firm, and know when to push back or challenge your prospect. As the world famous sales guru Zig Zigglar said, “Timid salesmen have skinny kids.”

Most people on the receiving end of a sales call will shut you down thinking they don’t want your product or service. But if you’ve done your homework and know they could benefit from what you’re selling, you have to be strong enough to show them the opportunity. When a prospect attempts to shut you down, they seek a way out without being rude and throw out random objections. If you’re a salesy, pushy, money-driven sales person who hasn’t developed the proper skills, you won’t be able to get past that wall. If you’re thoughtful and have a plan, you will be able to pivot, and put the prospect at ease by challenging them with a great question that makes them think and realize the opportunity.

The name of this game is to avoid buyer’s remorse.

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?

I love prospecting. The great Brian Tracy said “always have more people to see than time you have available to see people.” In short, keep your pipeline full.

Prospecting is key, because if you don’t have anyone to sell to, you don’t have sales. Sales people must dedicate significant time to finding new people to work with. If you stop prospecting, then you’re going to pay for it in 30, 60 or even 90 days when you’re at the bottom of the sales team totem pole. My secret sauce here: have a well-defined, organized approach to prospecting, and keep it simple.

Prospecting requires a process. For example, once I complete my research, I develop a message that I believe will resonate with them, and then turn it into a drip campaign. I then set a cadence at which I communicate with prospects, define what channel I want to deliver each message through, and then execute my plan. The goal is to keep those prospects moving through your sales funnel.

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?

A system. It’s important to develop a strategic, yet simple approach to get through any given call list in order to qualify or disqualify the lead ASAP. It starts with a call. I believe you have to be direct with that you’re trying to do, and then go through your process to deem them qualified and move them to the next step in then sales funnel, or deem the disqualified, and move on.

This is a quick and efficient way to qualify leads — because it’s equally as important to eliminate unqualified leads.

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’?

I think handling objections is so hard because as humans, we don’t like conflict or confrontation — it gives us anxiety and most people aren’t willing to have a tough or awkward conversation.

If you want to be a good salesperson, you have to develop a process and learn to handle objectives. If you don’t, you run the risk of losing out on both an opportunity and money. In order to be good, you cannot be thrown off by a prospect’s objections. You must do your homework, plan for every scenario, figure out who you’re about to talk to, and remain confident.

If you do it right, handing objections can be a fun part of the process. It’s an algorithm. You should identify every possible objection they can reply with and come up with a great rebuttal. If you recognize the patterns, you can plan ahead. This is easy — it just takes a little bit of effort and thought.

‘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.

If you’re selling properly, closing should be a natural outcome to your sells process. People work with those who they like — so be likable! All the hard work and preparation you’ve done along the way should make it easy. Here are a few tips.

  1. Identify prospects goals before you start closing them. Again, if you don’t truly care about helping people accomplish their goals, they will be able to tell and you will lose the opportunity. Identify all your prospect’s pain points: How can you give them a perfect solution to their problem if you don’t know what your problem is? Ask the questions, and then listen.
  2. Once you’ve identified their problems, clearly communicate how you’re going to help the prospect solve their problems and achieve their goal. Be specific! To many sales people are full of “hot air” and over promise while under delivering. Don’t be that person.
  3. Clearly layout the next step in the process– this can be as easy aa starting with “The next step is…”
  4. Know all the information you need in order to confirm a deal as “closed” and start asking questions that naturally lead towards closing topics.
  5. Be direct — don’t trick people into doing business with you. It’s amazing how positively people will respond when you’re direct, and clearly communicate who you are, what your company does and how specifically you’re going to help them.

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?

There’s no silver bullet in sales. You win some and you lose some. You have to have good sense, be a good listener and have to know the difference between following up on a legitimate opportunity and chasing the wind. Through experience, you’ll be able to recognize patterns that’ll help you recognize these legitimate opportunities.

But you have to genuinely be able to solve a prospect’s problem, and actively walk them through the process. Being successful in sales, without being too pushy, includes an element of shepherding — like you’re leading a flock back home. If you have laid out your process and steps ahead of time, this should be an easy path to walk them down. People like structure, confidence and a well-designed solution — give it to them!

Remember that the longer a prospect stays in your funnel, without moving to a next step, the more it decreases the chances that they’ll convert into a client. It’s your job to communicate your value to your prospect. Be strong, but not pushy. Respect their boundaries, and remember that not everything is going to work out.

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?

When you’re trying to close a sale, an in-person meeting — time and situation allowing — is best. Here, you have a captive audience and can use that to your advantage.

I believe in-person meetings, phone calls, video calls, emails and text messages all have their place. Like a swiss army knife, they’re all different tools you need to use at different times. Once you figure out your prospects’ preferred communication channels, use that to your sales advantage — it will be most comfortable for them and open up more wins for you. Beta test it, and see which works for you.

I use all of them. I prefer to close a sale in person, but for follow-up, all are useful.

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 love helping people recognize and achieve their full potential. Self-actualization, if you will. I would love to help people define their life goals, and then help them pursue each of them. I’ve realized enormous success in a short amount of time — and surpassed veterans in my industry. It works, and maybe I’ll be able to monetize my process one day.

How can our readers follow you online?

On my LinkedIn

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

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