Listen better. People focus on what they are selling and not what the prospect is saying and what their needs are. The better listener you are, the better you can create offerings that solve problems.
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 Ivy Slater.
Ivy Slater is a professionally certified business coach, speaker, author and podcast host. She works with private clients and corporations to scale their businesses and implement sustainable growth practices. Her work focuses on strategic planning, communication, sales, leadership and using the power of relationships. She hosts roundtables, facilitates meetings, offers training and speaks nationwide. In 2020, she was a recipient of a Power Women of New York award, presented by Schneps Media.
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 was a dance major in college, thinking that would be my career path until a devastating injury flipped my world upside down. So, I went the traditional route and then ended up fired from my first job. This led me down a path for the next several years of working for two different women entrepreneurs, and I knew I wanted to own my own business someday. I took a job selling printing for my father’s company. It was a completely male-dominated field, and women were not in sales or leadership roles back in the late 80’s. Honestly, I didn’t want to work in printing, and I certainly didn’t want to work FOR my father. I started to learn a lot. I learned relationships I had built from my past jobs were my ticket for new clients in this field, and I took the sales training from the women leaders and it set me apart from the men on the street selling printing. As my sales continued to grow, I had more confidence and asked for more responsibility. Over time, I was no longer seen as my father’s daughter. I was seen as the woman who brought in equal business, or more, to the top performers. I spearheaded merging the company, solely so I could have a second child and after five years went out on my own completely as the CEO of my own company. My husband and I were traveling, enjoying our life, dining out, going to shows and living a full life in New York City. By all society’s standards, I was successful. I had it all, right?
Then I turned 45 and went through a midlife crisis. Was I going to die a printer? It wasn’t my dream. I knew there was more to me and for the legacy I wanted to leave in this world. I had BIG ideas. My skillset was in communicating with people, encouraging them, inspiring them, giving them advice and coaching seemed like a natural path for me. I started my coaching business in 2008, giving up a massive salary and jumping into possibility with curiosity and confidence.
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?
I knew how to sell. When I came into my coaching business, after so much success in the printing world, I didn’t realize how emotional it was going to be and how different sales looked in selling a service that I was delivering versus a product. The money wasn’t coming in as easily as it had with printing. And our entire New York City lifestyle was in big trouble.
I learned very quickly even though the basic idea of selling is the same for anything, there are strategies and techniques depending on what you sell. I wasn’t selling a coaching program, I was selling a solution.
When I focused on my clients’ needs and the results I could bring them by engaging with them, working their goals and being the support they desired, the money finally came in.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am working on my third book and the rebrand of my podcast. Both of these are focused on telling the stories of great leaders. Each person that has found success has done so because they overcame challenges and their insight is so valuable to other business leaders, especially during this time. Acting as a resource to others and having a platform where I get to share people’s amazing stories is a privilege.
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 made the biggest impact on me in business and even though he had already passed when I began Slater Success, his lessons were right there with me.
He taught me two vital things. One was to always know your numbers. He said if a business owner couldn’t get out a piece of paper at any time and rough out where they were financially without asking someone else, they were in big trouble.
He encouraged me to look for new ideas and new strategies, but then think about all the things that could go wrong. He asked me to picture a piece of cheese and each little hole I poked in it would be the problems that could arise. If it was still edible and together by the end of it, I had something with which I could move forward. Swiss cheese is great, even with all the holes.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
I started learning sales in my mid 20s when the job I had at that time had me organizing programs for managers and district managers. I’ve gone on to sell as a business owner, sell, and lead my companies in sales for over 25 years.
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?
Take three deep breaths. Taking a breath, a pause, an intentional moment is the best way to stay grounded and stay clear in our thinking. Opening up the conversation is also vital. Ask people how they are doing, listen to them, give them the space to be heard. Ask if you can help. And of course, take a news detox when you can and try to stay off social media when you are feeling anxious.
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?
Sales has always been perceived as a sleazy activity. True sales are about being of service to someone else and helping them solve a problem. It’s about heart and caring, yet it’s never presented that way. People who teach business, teach concepts and they might not have ever been in a sales leadership role. The founder of any business has to be the lead salesperson and that should be taught up front. Leadership skills, communication, etc. are great skills to learn, but sales is what brings growth and long-term success. Educators can implement a more hands-on approach in their lessons to help students learn more about sales. They could partner with actual businesses, set up practice scenarios, etc.
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 do not think it’s okay to be pushy. Sales conversations are meant to identify the problem of the person you are speaking to and why you are, or are not, a solution. It’s not about being pushy, but rather having integrity. If you aren’t for them, knowing when to back off and connect them to someone else makes you a good salesperson. Be a resource if you can’t be a sale as this will bring you long-term success.
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 am the best at approach. I ask really good questions and I come to sales conversations truly ready to listen. I never come in presenting my proposals without talking everything out with the potential client first. I am second best at follow-up. I don’t believe no means never. I think it means not yet, not ready, not now. I come from a place of wanting to help people, connect them to others that can help and offer them any resources I know are of value, whether it’s the current sale or just a chance to remain in a working relationship.
I just closed a sale for a roundtable I am holding. The client was on a speaking engagement I did and signed up for a phone call. She mentioned we had met years ago and I knew where and how it happened. I also knew about her background and asked about her life and how it had changed and shifted since we first met. That was a much more important conversation than the sale in that moment. This open conversation came to the ultimate yes, because the bond was much more than the sale.
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?
Our leads come from three places — referrals, speaking and networking. I don’t think enough people ask for referrals. I also give people a specific ask and tell them I will be looking for two good connections they have to connect me with in some way.
People show up at networking events, but they don’t create true relationships. Find out what people do and how you can help. You need to schedule time in your calendar before each event to have dedicated 1:1 follow-up calls with people you meet. Too much networking is also a recipe for disaster. Don’t overextend.
When you speak, make sure it is to the right audience, even virtually. Have the systems in place to connect to the audience and offer them value over and above the speaking. Where are you driving them afterward? A free chapter of your book, social media, a conversation? Are you being clear in your call to action? Tell them specifically how to keep in contact and follow up.
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’?
Very often when people hear an objection, they hear a personal no and an emotional response comes into play. Move away from that. When someone says no, identify what the objection is really about. Usually it comes from an issue with time or money. Helping the prospect get to the root of what the objection is will really be helpful for both of you. If it’s not a right fit, then why isn’t it? Did you give them the right offer? Are you actually solving a problem for them versus tying to sell them? Is it about you or them? It should always be about them. Walk them through their feelings and see where the objection is sitting. Tell them the value of the engagement versus the value of the objection.
‘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.
- In an ideal sale, the prospect is asking you to engage. Example: Through a referral, I had a sales conversation and created an agreed upon scope of what the proposal would look like. Before it was gone over, the prospect wanted to get started. They were in the ‘yes’ mindset before a price was ever on the table, because they knew it was right and we were a fit for one another.
- In a service, co-create with the prospect the scope of work. My proposals are tailored to each client. I don’t just offer programs on different levels. They are invested in a personal way. This co-creation and custom tailoring tells the client they are getting exactly what they need and you have heard and identified what is important to them.
- Ask questions. Make a list of five open-ended questions you can ask in any sales conversation. If you don’t ask the right ones, you can’t close the sale.
- Listen better. People focus on what they are selling and not what the prospect is saying and what their needs are. The better listener you are, the better you can create offerings that solve problems.
- Never discuss a number before the client is a ‘yes’ on everything else. Numbers should not be forefront. Clarity should be forefront. Ensure the scope, reason and timeframe are all agreed upon before ever discussing costs.
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?
I recently came to a conversation point and someone told me they weren’t ready to make a decision. I told her that was fine. I said I was stepping in to work with her and make sure she had clarity. What did she not know yet? I didn’t care what her final answer is, the main point was creating time in her calendar to work on what she was unclear about and ensure she was able to make a clear and confident decision.
Never get off a call without scheduling your next call. My own clients are learning this. If someone is pushing you off, just get the no right then. It can be overwhelming, but stick with it. If the fit is right, it will come to close with the right effort.
Connect prospects with other people if they need a different resource. If you are listening well and what they need is not you, send them elsewhere. Being the connection will come to benefit you in the long run.
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?
Emails and texts are not for closing sales. Conversations are for closing a sale. People do business with people. Get on the phone. You can listen and use your voice. Video calls are great. You can see people’s faces. When possible, in-person is best. The greatest sales I have done, with long-term results, is because I stay connected to people. I meet with them when neither of us are closing a sale. I am having a virtual coffee soon with a connection of over 20 years. We always develop some kind of business, while also talking about our lives and our dreams. It’s a connection that has always turned into more connections, organically.
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. 🙂
Equal educational opportunities for all young children. This is extremely important when it comes to a future in leadership. Every child needs access to tools, technology and resources to learn, develop and dream.
How can our readers follow you online?
LinkedIn: Ivy Slater
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!