“Leadership and problem solving.” With Mitch Russo & Michelle Terpstra

Traditionally, selling used to be a features and benefits push, but now it is evolving into more about leadership and problem solving. I have always viewed sales as a leadership opportunity, but this needs to become an industry adoption before the world starts to see selling in this way. The best way to keep this […]

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Traditionally, selling used to be a features and benefits push, but now it is evolving into more about leadership and problem solving. I have always viewed sales as a leadership opportunity, but this needs to become an industry adoption before the world starts to see selling in this way. The best way to keep this story evolving is for organizations to offer training to their employees so that the salesy and pushy tactics are never used. However, persuasion and influence are not bad words. They are necessary skills for not only sales success, but also life success.

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 Michelle Terpstra. Michelle spent nearly 10 years as a Sales Leader for three Fortune 500 Companies. Michelle created her business, From Hello to Closed, to help success seekers reduce selling time, bust through fears and crush sales goals. She lives in North Tustin, California with her family and has never met a beach she didn’t love.

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 always attracted to sales because I am energized by meeting new people, enjoy solving complex problems and flourish when given autonomy. Outside B2B sales hit all the markers for me! I was a Sales Leader for three Fortune 500 Companies before starting my own business. I oftentimes get asked, “Why did you leave corporate sales?” During the course of my corporate career, I was often given the opportunity to mentor, coach and teach fellow sales executives. These opportunities energized me in a way that I never imagined possible. I made the choice to transition to consulting full time and cold calling From Hello to Closed. I created a curriculum and set of services that are designed to boost influence, persuasion and confidence to achieve the biggest results in the least amount of time so that my clients could unleash their inner magic, communicate effectively and win people over.

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?

My first day cold calling in B2B sales started with a door slammed in my face and an angry receptionist yelling “we use the other guys… don’t come back!” My last day in B2B sales, before starting my own company, ended with my most loyal client offering me a sales leadership job and begging me not to go out on my own. The lesson here is that if you learn from those that say “no” to you, don’t take it personally, and unabashedly keep moving forward, you will be unstoppable.

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

Yes! After recently hosting my online summit, Thrive in Uncertainty, the overwhelming concern from listeners was how they can pivot their offerings, marketing and message to empathically engage with their audience and still make sales? To best serve my clients during this unprecedented time, I created a suite of virtual one-day intensives to help them solve these problems fast: choose from creating a sales script, affiliate webinar plan or mastering a sales presentation. I took my own advice and pivoted my standard scope to reduce engagement time, accommodate remote working and solve very specific relevant problems for my clients.

The other topic that surfaced many times during the summit was best practices for mental wellness, resilience and perseverance. I now dedicate one day a week to helping my members strive for wellness and peak performance in my free private group.

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?

Years ago, after taking an extended maternity leave, I met Jonathan Whitacre. Instead of looking at my time off with my children as a disadvantage, he viewed it as a part of my story that would make me an even better sales professional than I was before. He flew me out for an interview and I accepted that position within a few weeks. He challenged me to grow and it was because he pushed me to go after big things, which led to the path of professional public speaking. I founded and led, as acting president, a local Toastmasters Club. There, I had the pleasure of helping 35 professionals bust through their fears and learn to get buy-in on their ideas and services. It changed the course of my career. Simply put…everyone needs a Jonathan and I am very grateful that our paths crossed.

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

I successfully built three books of businesses… three times…three different industries… three Fortune 500 Companies. I estimate that I have had over 25,000 sales conversations, delivered over 6,000 elevator pitches to strangers at roughly 1,200 networking events and executed over 2,100 sales presentations. I consistently exceeded my sales goals, received repeat business from about 98% of my clients and participated in advanced-level sales training. I hold a B.A. in Communications from UC Santa Barbara and a Certificate in Women’s Leadership from UC Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business. I have coached countless individuals and built out a proven blueprint for sales success.

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?

I personally increased my physical activity, my supplements and I meditate daily. Mental wellness is extremely important. It is the foundation for not just joy, but also unstoppable success. I practice what I preach. As a high performance sales coach, I teach my clients not only vital sales skills, but I also teach them how to optimize their mental health and overcome mindset blocks so that they can authentically and confidently show up ready to lead the sales cycle without feeling “salesy” or “pushy”.

Right now, more than ever, we must focus on wellness and routine.

I have found great comfort in keeping a routine. I am still up at 5:00 am to work out and start my day with intention and focus. My days have grown complicated with trying to homeschool my children while running a business, but if I get a good start, the days tend to be much more positive and productive.

It is also important to stay connected during this time. Schedule and block time to talk with friends, family, colleagues and clients.

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 am so passionate about this topic! I was fortunate enough to earn my B.A in Communications from UC Santa Barbara and the vast majority of my courses were in organizational communication, influence and persuasion. They never directly addressed selling, but I was given a foundation for a career in sales that not many others receive.

I have seen a few universities provide a sales curriculum, but there should be access to this for all students during undergrad. In my opinion, all students should be required to take at least a semester of sales training. I think the educational system unintentionally overlooks the need for everyone to know how to effectively and powerfully communicate a message or idea to gain buy-in. Sales training would be a simple solution for this, but in, my opinion, the right people haven’t stood up to fight for this.

If you want your ideas adopted, to climb the corporate ladder, to start a business or just simply be heard, you need sales training. I am heavily involved with several local universities and would enjoy creating a course in the near future for academic use.

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?

Yes, I believe that this is the general attitude towards sales, however, the story is changing. Traditionally, selling used to be a features and benefits push, but now it is evolving into more about leadership and problem solving. I have always viewed sales as a leadership opportunity, but this needs to become an industry adoption before the world starts to see selling in this way. The best way to keep this story evolving is for organizations to offer training to their employees so that the salesy and pushy tactics are never used.

However, persuasion and influence are not bad words. They are necessary skills for not only sales success, but also life 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?

Presentation. I have an innate ability to dynamically respond to nonverbal cues and ask engaging questions at the right time to uncover hidden problems, needs or possible objections during a presentation. Watch for the quiet person in the back who is actually the decision maker, or the person distracted by his phone who is actually a key player, or the overly enthusiastic participant who will end up being the only closing obstacle. The secret sauce to understanding human behavior and decision making is to improve one’s own emotional intelligence.

I teach a framework that integrates emotional intelligence, influence and sales strategy to create presentations that motivate buyers. It breaks down into three parts

1. Research

2. Participant Engagement

3. Future Pacing

My presentations are designed to build up a series of small “yeses” from the participants that motivate a swift, big “yes” at the end. Deliver this presentation with excitement, confidence and clarity and you will see your sales soar.

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?

Qualify your leads before a discovery sales call. It reduces selling time and dramatically increases closing ratios. If possible, I recommend creating a qualifying application for every prospect to fill out prior to a discovery call. The ones that I create for my clients help fuel powerful questions during the discovery call and support a successful sales journey that is more likely to lead to a sale.

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’?

First of all, get confident about what and why you sell what you do. Objections aren’t insults. Change your beliefs about that and handling objections won’t be so hard anymore.

Next, it is important to remember objections are necessary to get to yes. In my experience, using strategic follow-up questions to handle objections, leads to the best results. It diffuses any potential for conflict and allows the prospect to justify buying by eliminating each objection one by one.

‘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 are being pushy at close, then you skipped a step in the sales process. Grasping at straws at the last minute to secure a sale is a red flag to step back.

Ask yourself the following 5 questions:

1. Did I uncover all the problems this prospect has?

2. Does the client recognize they have these problems?

3. Do I understand what outcome or target goal my prospect is looking for?

4. Did I clearly provide a simple step-by-step process for the client to achieve their goals with my services?

5. Is this prospect a match for my services and motivated to act now?

If you answered no to any of these questions, go back and get the answers you need. If you answered yes to all the questions, then it is time to close.

The best way to transition and ask for the sale without feeling pushy, sleazy or uncomfortable is to recap the prospect’s challenges, goals and solution urgency back to them in their own words. Show the prospect that you listened and feel 100% confident that your services will provide them with the future outcome that they need.

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?

Stuck pipelines are the worst! They are frustrating to sales professionals and make projections inaccurate. My recommendation here is to be honest about your pipeline. Is this an unqualified lead that will never close or is there a fighting chance? Follow up with leads that are only worth your time and go the extra mile to move them along in the sales process. If you are only following up with people that need you, then it is far less likely they will see you as pushy and overeager.

Here are two practical tips:

1. If you are speaking with a prospect that needs a follow up, secure the date and time before leaving the call.

2. If the follow up is via email, ask an open-ended question designed to get a response.

Overall, if you think about providing value before asking for more of their time, you will rarely be seen as pushy or overeager.

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?

I don’t believe there is one answer here. The right answer is to know your prospect. About 8 years ago, I had a “quota crushing” opportunity with a prospect that was using the competition.

On Friday, I hand delivered the agreement for him to sign. He said that by EOD on Monday, he would sign and return. I knew this to be untrue because if he was ready to sign, he would have done it while I was in his office. There would be a follow up here.

On Sunday, he emailed me to tell me he changed his mind and would not be moving forward.

I had two choices:

1. Attempt a save using the same communication method he used, email.


2. Show up in his office on Monday.

You may be thinking how bold and possibly even overeager showing up might seem, but I knew this prospect only made decisions in person. He sent me an email to avoid having to tell me in person on Monday that he had changed his mind. If I had emailed him back to try and save the deal, I know that I would have lost it.

I showed up at 10:00 am Monday morning in his office. He took that meeting. As he was signing the contract, he said, “I am grateful you showed up.”

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 would love to help build a university curriculum that teaches undergraduate students selling foundations for future success! Having the skills to influence, persuade and deliver a presentation with confidence has the power to empower the next generation to make a big impact. Imagine the diversity of startups that could raise capital by learning how to deliver a captivating and motivating presentation. Many startups are never funded, not because they lack great ideas and innovation, but rather, they are overlooked because of their pitch. I want to see more voices heard, more ideas adopted and more businesses created. Who’s in to help me?

How can our readers follow you online?

Website: www.fromhellotoclosed.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fromhellotoclosed/

Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/255835382029818/ (Community to Crush Your Sales Goals!)

Facebook Company Page: https://www.facebook.com/fromhellotoclosed

YouTube Channel: https://bit.ly/2zicG0o

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michellecuocoterpstra/

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

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