Jake Savage: “Never assume that a stakeholder is unable, unwilling, or uninterested in moving forward”

Never assume that a stakeholder is unable, unwilling, or uninterested in moving forward. Many salespeople make the mistake of projecting their own thoughts and feelings onto their prospect. They might assume that a stakeholder would “balk at the price” or would “never sign a long term contract” — just because those are things they would or wouldn’t […]

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Never assume that a stakeholder is unable, unwilling, or uninterested in moving forward. Many salespeople make the mistake of projecting their own thoughts and feelings onto their prospect. They might assume that a stakeholder would “balk at the price” or would “never sign a long term contract” — just because those are things they would or wouldn’t do. You don’t know what the other person is thinking so don’t make a decision for them.

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 Jake Savage.

Jake discovered his passion for persuasive communication in 2007 when he got a job as a door to door sales rep. Since then, he’s knocked on nearly 100,000 doors, he’s sold millions of dollars worth of products, and he’s led his own sales team to the INC 500 list of fastest growing companies in America — twice. Today, he hosts the podcast, Persuasion School, and he has his own consulting firm teaching nonprofit fundraising teams how to win bigger donations.

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?

To start, I have to acknowledge that I was lucky enough to stumble into an all-commission door to door sales job while still in high school. My parents were supporting me then so that afforded me the time needed to progress through the steep learning curve. Had I required immediate income to pay my bills, I may have never ended up taking the plunge into direct sales!

I ended up knocking on doors throughout high school, college, and up until my transition to a sales start-up called Basemakers. That 7 year chapter has played a major role in my life and it’s certainly the foundation for my career today.

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 March of 2020, I had a conversation with a friend who worked for a global anti-human trafficking organization. I had asked him how fundraising was going amidst the pandemic. He told me that in efforts to empathize with potential donors and partners, the organization had decided to pause all fundraising initiatives. They didn’t want to be tone deaf.

Not only could I not believe his response, I wholeheartedly disagreed with their philosophy. To me, the pandemic was actually a perfect time to raise awareness for trafficking. Victims are typically held in a location against their will. With our mandated quarantine here in the US, many Americans for the first time were catching a glimpse of what it meant to be held somewhere against their will.

I decided I’d hold my own fundraiser, a virtual race, and give the proceeds to anti-trafficking organizations. People told me it was a bad time and I likely wouldn’t raise much money. As it turned out, my hunch was correct. We raised 4,500 dollars in the first two weeks until catching the attention of a global nonprofit. They saw a video of mine online and asked me if they could adopt my idea as their own. They’d in turn use their massive leverage to fuel the fire I had started. I agreed and three months later we had raised over 330,000 dollars. This nonprofit (which brings in over 80MM dollars in revenue each year) said the virtual race was their most successful fundraising campaign they’d ever had.

The main lesson from this story was one that I’ve spent many years learning in sales: never make assumptions!

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

In June of 2020, I (re)launched a podcast called “Persuasion School”. Each episode breaks down one principle or method on persuasive communication. These methods will help people to navigate job interviews, ask for and negotiate raises or promotions, land deals or donations, or even get somebody to go on a date with you. The show exists to help people get more of the things they want in life, everyday.

I’m also working on building a nonprofit fundraising accelerator program! The program will consist of roughly 50 different video lessons designed to help nonprofit start-ups learn how to win bigger donations, easier. Cohorts will have the ability to work together as well, fostering strong communities of mission driven founders. Stay tuned for that one! It should be ready to launch by this Summer.

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 wife, Alexa, has easily played the biggest role in helping me get to where I am today. My business mentors have supported me from an educational standpoint but my wife has always supported me from an emotional standpoint. Given that sales is a transference of emotion, this aspect is key! If my “emotion tank” is on “E”, my ability to give or pour into others is hindered. I wouldn’t be half the entrepreneur or salesperson I am today without her love and support. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s a therapist!

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

During my first 7 years in sales, I knocked on nearly 100,000 doors across DC, Chicago, Tampa, and Denver. My time in door to door sales provided me with the opportunity to learn how to build strong rapport with virtually anybody in a matter of seconds. That experience laid the foundation for my next 6 years in sales as the President of Basemakers, a national outsourced sales company. There, I helped lead our team to the INC 500 list of the fastest growing companies in America — two years in a row.

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?

A lot of the anxiety from the pandemic stems from our worrying about things outside of our control. That’s why it’s so important during this time to try and focus solely on the controllables. And when it comes to our controllables, we really only have two things: our thoughts and our actions. This being the case, it’s vital that we work hard to build positive thought processes. This doesn’t mean pretending everything is fine or even telling yourself that things will get better, because they might not. It means working (key word: work) to find the joy in your current circumstances. As for actions, this may entail acquiring new knowledge or learning a new skill in order to make yourself more appealing to the employers that are hiring during this time. Both of these controllables require effort, but all good things do!

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 think the subject of sales is ignored because it tends to be categorized as a “soft skill”. I’ve personally met plenty of individuals out there who believe the only requirement for being a strong sales person is being a strong “people person”. This is not the case! Sure — I’m biased (let’s be real), but I’ve also watched many of these “people people” fail in the sales profession because they’re simply unable to influence the decisions of others.

Another reason why I believe sales is ignored in schools is because of the stigma associated with it. Prior to the 1990’s, the information needed for buyers to make a decision was asymmetrical. This means that if a consumer wanted certain information regarding a product they were interested in, they had to go through a salesperson to get it. This information asymmetry led salespeople to distort and manipulate the truth, thus resulting in the stigma we’re all familiar with. Things are much different today with technology. Consumers now have access to all of the same information that salespeople do. Unfortunately, though, the stigma still lingers. If we want the subject of sales to be taught in our schools, we need to do a better job of highlighting all of the good things that can be achieved through persuasion (ie. movements created, good habits built, lives changed, 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?

Being pushy is definitely something to be avoided. However, I do wholeheartedly believe in being persistent — and there is a difference. The reason salespeople push is because they’re relying on habit or instinct. For example, we’re familiar with the idea of applying more force when we meet resistance. Car on a steep hill? Give it more gas. Jar won’t open? Twist harder! The problem here is that this method doesn’t always work with human beings. Rather than pushing harder when we encounter resistance, we need to focus on removing the barriers altogether! Think: taking time to shovel all of the snow out from under and around the car so that it can roll forward with ease; vs trying to push it through the snow from behind.

The less pushy we are, the more receptive our stakeholder will be. This increased receptivity will allow us to spend more time with the stakeholder and approach the situation from different perspectives. Thus, we can be persistent without being pushy.

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 years in door to door sales helped me to become a stronger closer over everything else. This is because each time, I only had one shot to make a sale. I’d be sent to a different neighborhood the next day so follow-up opportunities didn’t exist. It was then or never.

Although every conversation is different, I do have a “go-to” closing technique. It’s called, “the options close.” With this method, I ask my stakeholder a hypothetical question involving two different options to choose from. Example: “If we were to test out a partnership, where do you think would make the most sense to start? A and B? Or maybe just A for now? You obviously know where you need the support more than we do.”

Three things are happening when you use the “options close”: 1) you’re giving your stakeholder the higher status for this part of the conversation by intentionally giving them control of the decision making process; 2) they become the one to convert the scenario from hypothetical to literal when they choose one of the options, not you; and 3) you’re creating a win-win scenario since they had a say in the final decision.

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 strategy when it comes to generating good leads is to be so good they can’t ignore you (this is also the title of a great book by an author named Cal Newport). Simply put, there’s no substitute for an excellent product. When people like something, they tend to tell others about it. To build on that point, I’m a big believer in content marketing. I do this by a) going to where my target consumers hang out, b) paying attention to the challenges they’re posting/tweeting about, and 3) giving them valuable, solution oriented content for free. This method, coupled with the energy invested into constantly improving my product, allows me to attract the good leads I’m looking for rather than chase the mediocre ones.

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’?

In his book, SPIN Selling, author Neil Rackham shares the results of a study that was done on more than 6,000 sales calls. One of the things the researchers found was that the top salespeople in each company weren’t necessarily better at overcoming objections than their inferior colleagues. They just encountered less objections altogether.

So the first step in becoming better at overcoming objections is to become better at preventing them! The main way to do this is through building more trust during the presentation. You can build said trust by being vulnerable and opening up a bit about the drawbacks of the product. You can also build more trust by asking more questions. This will show that you’re truly invested in solving their problem and helping them to get what it is they really want. The reason this works is because most objections are “smokescreen” objections and are rooted in a lack of trust. If you can prove that you have nothing to hide, they’ll realize that they have nothing to fear. This goes back to my point earlier about shoveling the snow out. Building trust means removing those barriers!

‘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.

1. Never assume that a stakeholder is unable, unwilling, or uninterested in moving forward. Many salespeople make the mistake of projecting their own thoughts and feelings onto their prospect. They might assume that a stakeholder would “balk at the price” or would “never sign a long term contract” — just because those are things they would or wouldn’t do. You don’t know what the other person is thinking so don’t make a decision for them.

A quick example: one time while selling cars in college, I had a married couple drive three hours to my dealership to buy a car for the wife. We test drove several vehicles in their price range and finally, after 7 hours together, we were down to the final negotiations. We agreed on a price and I strolled into my manager’s office to print out the contract. Before leaving his office, my manager asked me if I thought the husband would want to buy a car too. I told him there was no way. They’d had a strict budget and it had been pulling teeth just to make the one car happen. Without saying anything, he got up and walked over to my desk where the couple was sitting. The manager sat down in front of them, rattled off some joke about the car-buying process, and then asked the husband if he’d want to buy a car as well — since they were already at the dealership and had driven three hours to get there. The couple looked at each other, looked back at the manager, and said, “Yes, actually. That’s a good idea. We’ll take two of the Santa Fe’s.”

2. Offer two options! (See my answer from question 9 for the details)

3. Incorporate humor. Here are three reasons why laughter is helpful when it comes to selling and closing: 1) laughter causes physiological changes in our body that reduce stress hormones, 2) humans can’t experience two emotions at once. Thus, if our stakeholder is genuinely laughing, they can’t feel stressed or anxious, and 3) laughter enhances our intake of oxygen rich air. This causes our brains to release endorphins which will boost creativity and problem solving skills — both critical for the decision making process.

4. Be mindful of your body posture and positioning. During the closing stage, you want to be next to your stakeholder and not across from them. This will help to convey that you’re on the same team, working together to achieve a shared goal. If you’re closing over a video call, make sure your camera is level with your eye line. If the webcam is higher up and pointed downward toward your face, it can put you in too low of a status position during a pivotal moment (the prospect is looking down at you). If the camera is lower and pointed upward, it may make your stakeholder feel as though you’re looking down at them. This is also bad because now your stakeholder’s status is too low. Make sure your eye lines are matched! (Find more on this in one of my podcast episodes)

5. Shut up altogether after asking your closing question. This is where a lot of salespeople drop the ball, usually to prevent an “awkward silence”. Oftentimes, your stakeholder will want or need a moment to think about their response. If you fill that moment with more information that they don’t really need, they may feel as though you’re trying to prevent them from thinking about the offer. This feeling will decrease their trust in you and can increase their chances of saying no. By shutting up, you’re giving them the space and respect they deserve to make the best decision for themselves.

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?

Follow-ups are worth doing, but they’re not worth investing a ton of time into. I say they’re not worth investing time into because I believe that salespeople should be spending more of their time creating new opportunities rather than chasing old ones (I stole this from sales author, Mike Weinberg).

For the follow-ups that you do conduct, it’s important to keep them short and sweet! The goal is to “violate our audience’s expectations” by sending just a one or two line email. This will hopefully encourage them to actually read the message versus having their eyes glaze over the text and return to the inbox. Also, it’s important to permanently erase the phrases “checking in” and “following up” from your vernacular! In their place, make an effort to bring some new information to the table.

Here’s an example:

“Hey [name], I thought of you today since we just [insert new info]! It may help you overcome [insert pain point]. Are you free for 20 min next Wed-Fri to see if this is a good fit?

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?

We as humans need as much help as possible when it comes to receiving and deciphering messages from others. This is because there are so many nuances when it comes to communication. For example, when conversing with another person, your brain is working to gather clues from things like verbiage, body language, eye contact, volume level, and tonality — all just to understand what’s being communicated. The more of these clues we can provide to our stakeholder’s brain, the better chance we’ll have of closing the deal. For that reason, I’d rank the above modes of communication as follows (from best to worst): 1) in-person, 2) video calls, 3) phone calls, 4) text messages, 5) emails. The only reason text messages beat out emails for me is because it’s become culturally appropriate to use emojis when texting; and emojis actually play a major role in helping our audience to properly decipher our messages. Although some people are starting to use emojis in email, it hasn’t quite become commonplace yet. That means that email is officially the most bare bones version of communication we have, which is why it’s in last place!

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. 🙂

This is an easy one for me! I’d inspire a movement to end modern day slavery. It’s estimated that there are currently over 30 million people around the world that have been trafficked for sex or labor. If we could get a bunch of bright minds together to focus on this issue, we could do quite a lot of good for over 30 million people! I’ve got some ideas in the works on this one but I need plenty of help. Feel free to reach out if you want to join me in fighting the good fight!

How can our readers follow you online?

  • Instagram: @itsjakesavage
  • LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/LIJakeSavage
  • Website: jakesavage.co
  • Podcast: Persuasion School with Jake Savage

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

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