“Offer with certainty and leadership.” With Mitch Russo & Justin Janowski

I think we have to make the distinction between “persistent” and “pushy,” and this distinction has to do with the way we treat our prospect. Do we treat them like a person, or do we treat them like a walking credit card?Look, I think sales is great. Sales is what drives our economy, creates jobs, […]

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I think we have to make the distinction between “persistent” and “pushy,” and this distinction has to do with the way we treat our prospect. Do we treat them like a person, or do we treat them like a walking credit card?

Look, I think sales is great. Sales is what drives our economy, creates jobs, and provides people with valuable goods and services. But a pushy sales mentality flips this script. The sale is no longer about providing the client with value. It’s about getting value for yourself. Pushy sales is inherently selfish.

And guess what? Prospects will sniff out this attitude from a mile away. It doesn’t work.

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 Janowski. Justin has spent the past 14+ years mastering sales and leadership. He began his career selling Cutco knives and quickly fell in love with the craft of salesmanship. He is the founder and CEO of Faith2Influence and helps Christian businessmen transform their lives and remember who they really are. Justin lives in Colorado Springs with his beautiful wife, Kara, and their two young children.

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?

At18-years-old, fresh out of high school, I was living in Wisconsin and needed a summer job. It sounds naïve now, but my strategy was to open a newspaper to the classified section. I flipped through the black and white pages until one ad in particular stuck out to me — a sales position selling Cutco knives.

I immediately fell in love with sales. I closed a few orders in my neighborhood and realized I was hooked. From then on, I started going to Cutco conferences and developing my sales skills through that community. I later got into financial planning and enjoyed serving people through that career.

Things changed once again a few years later during a group coaching call. The discussion turned towards living a life of integrity. A few guys shared how they weren’t living their “truth.” This convicted me, and I felt God saying that my purpose was to use my background in sales and leadership to coach men to excel in business, family, and faith.

From that moment on it was simply about having the courage to step into that calling.

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?

When I made the decision to become a coach, I decided to move from Wisconsin to CO Springs to live with my brother and his family while I started my business. On that long 16-hour drive, I listened to hours and hours of coaching sales trainings, and then held my first sales call. I made my first sale on that drive before I’d even arrived in Colorado. I felt the euphoria of making my first sale and thought the future looked really bright for me in this career. A day later the manager of the sales rep who became my first coaching client called me and demanded that I give the money back because he felt that his sales rep did not have the financial means to be in a coaching program like the one I was offering. We went back and forth for several minutes in what felt like a pretty threatening call. And ultimately backed into a corner, I decided that my best option, considering the influence this man had over my network, was to refund the money.

In a manner of 24 hours I went from feeling incredibly encouraged and excited to feeling totally discouraged and disappointed. Fortunately, this was simply the first of hundreds of coaching sales and most sales went much more smoothly. It really was a bizarre situation — nobody since has called on the behalf of a signed client demanding I cancel the order and return the money.

The lesson here is to never get too high or too low. You’re going to make many sales in your career, and you’re going to lose many sales. Take your successes and challenges in stride.

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

In May, we’re launching two virtual 3-day retreats through Zoom. One is focused on Christian entrepreneurs and salespeople and the other is focused on high integrity coaches who want to scale their business, profit, and impact. These retreats are usually live and in-person. In contrast to our live retreats, these events allow people to take in the experience from the comfort of their home from anywhere in the country. Because we’re now online, we’re able to save on location rentals and related expenses. With a much lower price point, we are hopeful that people will not only receive value and experience from our upcoming retreats, but that we can continue to offer virtual products that give our client base more options.

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?

So, I mentioned the sales call that changed the trajectory of not only my career but entire life. The guy leading that call was Ben Schemper, and he was my sales coach for two years. I won’t ever forget our first introductory call. Even though he was a coach and wanted me as his client, he focused on my situation and my needs. He asked insightful questions. He listened.

I felt like he cared about me as a person, not just a potential client. Of course, that experience made me want to pay him for his services. I mean, I recognized he was offering true value. Later, he and I became business partners once he invited me to join him at Epic Impact.

It was in my years working with Ben and the team there that I developed my skillset as a coach and leader to new heights.

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

One of the biggest criticisms of the coaching profession is that most coaches have never been on the front lines of their industries. As long as coaches look successful in their marketing materials, they somehow have the authority to tell clients what to do. I see it all the time in sales, and it’s a real problem.

But in my case, I have experience in all aspects of sales. I’ve trained over 1000 sales reps and entrepreneurs in the past 10 years. When I left Cutco, I was one of the top 150 sales reps of all time out of hundreds of thousands of reps. I’ve also sold over $3 million in coaching and personal development programs. As a coach, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t from a more objective standpoint.

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?

After years of being in sales, I’ve become used to market cycles. You’ve got to shift your strategies depending on whether the market is up or down. All of life follows this pattern of highs and lows.

So, be vulnerable and share your experiences. Empathetically share how you’ve navigated tough times whether you’ve struggled with health, business, or relationships. Don’t use your stories to negate another person’s experience, but gently remind loved ones that the storm passes and the sun rises eventually.

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?

Part of the reason sales isn’t taught in schools is because our education system hasn’t caught up with our economy. One hundred years ago, our economy was based in agriculture and manufacturing. Most people didn’t need to be master salespeople. You could pretty easily take your crops to market and find a buyer. You could work at the auto plant and collect your paycheck.

The past 20 years has seen the economy shift at lightspeed. I mean, the internet has caused more social, cultural, and economic changes than even the Industrial Revolution. It will take a while for traditional education to catch up.

We’re already seeing a shift though. Honestly, you could get a great sales “degree” by taking online courses. And you’d gain that knowledge for a fraction of what you’d pay for a typical college degree. The training is out there, it just takes a bit more initiative to find it.

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 we have to make the distinction between “persistent” and “pushy,” and this distinction has to do with the way we treat our prospect. Do we treat them like a person, or do we treat them like a walking credit card?

Look, I think sales is great. Sales is what drives our economy, creates jobs, and provides people with valuable goods and services. But a pushy sales mentality flips this script. The sale is no longer about providing the client with value. It’s about getting value for yourself. Pushy sales is inherently selfish.

And guess what? Prospects will sniff out this attitude from a mile away. It doesn’t work.

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?

What I think I’m best at is handling objections. To zoom in a little further, I’m not simply talking about the explicitly stated objections that come up in the close of the conversation. One of my secret sauces is recognizing the implicit (or non-stated) objections that come up throughout the course of a sales conversation and responding to them like a true leader.

If you’ve been in sales for a while you’ve felt these implicit objections before… your prospect seems like they’re in a rush… or your prospect seems like they’re hesitant or skeptical about your process… or something has shifted in the energy of the conversation, and it feels like you’ve lost rapport or trust… or maybe you simply sense that the prospect is afraid of being sold and therefore holding back.

The amateur salesperson pushes through this resistance and might even pretend they don’t feel it at all. They simply move forward in their process as if nothing is happening.

The master, however, sees this as an opportunity to provide true leadership that distinguishes them from their peers.

The process for doing this right has three to four steps:

  1. Pause.
  2. Say, “I feel like I’m noticing ___.”
  3. Consider offering more context and reframing the conversation.
  4. Offer them an out.

Here’s an example. Let’s say I’m talking with a prospect and I notice they feel very rushed answering my sales questions. Rather than pushing through the process and speeding up conversation, I’ll say, “John, can we just pause for a second? I feel like I’m noticing that you seem like you’re in a bit of a rush. Is this still a good time for us to have this conversation?”

At this point one of two things are going to happen. The prospect either admits that this isn’t a great time and is grateful that I respect their time enough to offer to reschedule. Or, most often, they will simply apologize for the way they were acting, explain themselves, and decide to continue the conversation likely with a shift in tone and attitude.

A second example is when I’m getting close to the closing part of the conversation and sense that my prospect is starting to shut down. I get the impression that they don’t want to say anything that will back them into a corner where they feel like they have to buy or where I might “trick” them into buying even if it’s not a good fit. Or it might be that they’ve had bad experiences with salespeople and are afraid I’m going to be pushy, so they’re beginning to protect themselves by distancing in the conversation.

Here’s what I’m going to say, “John, can we just pause for a second? I feel like I’m noticing that the energy has shifted a little in our conversation over the past few minutes, and I’m guessing that that might be because you sense that we’re getting to the part where I’m going to ask you to buy. And it might be that this part of the sales conversation has felt uncomfortable for you in the past. I totally get it. The truth is, I am a salesperson, and if it’s a fit, I absolutely want to make a sale today. But besides being a salesperson, John, I’m also just a person. I’m also a husband and a father. I have high integrity and my intentions are pure. That said, if we discover that it’s not a total win-win for us to move forward today, we won’t. I’m not interested in pushing you at all. Knowing that, are you willing to move forward in the conversation to discover whether or not it is a fit?”

What will happen almost every single time in this scenario is that the person will be happy to move forward, and we will have created significantly more trust in our relationship, which leads to less resistance and more sales.

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?

We generate highly qualified leads by consistently overdelivering, creating an exceptional experience for our clients, and then asking them for referrals.

The key here is that we ask every client, every time. We have a 10-step process that is effective, but honestly, nothing is more important than simply asking. Every. Single. Time.

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 most salesmen don’t realize that prospect objections aren’t always true objections. For example, a prospect might say they can’t afford coaching right now. That’s a financial objection. However, the deeper objection might be, “I’m afraid that this coaching won’t work. I’m afraid I’ll self-sabotage and end up in a worse place than I was before.”

Again, if you treat prospects like walking credit cards, you will NEVER get to that deeper, truer objection. You need to empathize with them and listen. Pick up on those non-verbal cues to get a sense of the deeper emotions.

Unfortunately, a lot of sales training is about being the alpha male and being ruthless. I’ve found that empathy is a much more effective sales mindset.

‘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.

We teach six “O’s” of closing:

  1. Offer with certainty and leadership.
  2. Receive the Objection with curiosity and thoughtful questions so that you can discover the true root of the issue.
  3. Make it Okay for you and for them that they objected. (Take a breath, be a professional, and empathize with them before moving forward).
  4. Ask questions that guide them back to their OUTCOME and help them take Ownership of the truth. This is where the leverage is for people to act.
  5. Open the prospect back up and Optimize your offer if appropriate.
  6. Ask for the Order again.

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?

Have the courage and consistency to follow up when you say you’re going to. When you ask permission to follow up, include a timeline, saying something like, “Would it be okay if I follow up with you in three months? Or would six months be better?”

This allows you to, when you do follow up, say something like this, “Hey John, I promised you I’d follow up with you in six months.…” This level of consistent follow through over time will build trust and impress your prospects.

In addition to this consistent and persistent follow up, we recommend contacting your prospects around holidays with no business outcome. Sending a Christmas card or a gift in the mail or saying, “Happy Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for you” in an email or text message without asking for anything in return can build your personal brand in a positive way.

Even better than that, for those of you who want to be bold, would be to send your prospect a personalized gift on their birthday. It’s important to consider the potential of the prospect and therefore your follow up budget. Something that our team does that is free is to send personalized happy birthday videos to clients and/or top prospects. It’s free, takes only a few minutes, and is really uncommon, and therefore memorable.

A final tip is to remember that when someone is ignoring your follow up efforts, they are building a pattern. It’s important for us to interrupt that pattern. Oftentimes this means infusing humor and creativity into your prospecting efforts. A well-placed GIF may even do the trick 😉

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?

For follow up, I recommend text messages if you’re in direct sales because they are the most likely form of communication to be read and responded to. If you are in B2B sales, consider your audience and opt for email if more appropriate.

Regarding actually closing the sale, this is always going to be most effective: eyeball-to-eyeball. Aim to set an in-person appointment or a video call if possible.

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. 🙂

The most important “movement” in my life is helping disciple more people into God’s kingdom. The eternal life we have the opportunity to gain after our time on earth is far longer and more significant than anything we will do here.

While on earth, I’d like to inspire more people to lead with love, and specifically, to lead their families well. If we all simply led our own families well, the world would change overnight.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me and Faith2Influence through our website and social media platforms @faith2influence

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

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