“Research and asking the right questions.” With Mitch Russo & Monika D’Agostino

My success in sales stems from a strongly rooted routine that I have developed. The more disciplined you are in sales, the more success you will enjoy. I believe that having a routine is also essential to staying sane during unsettling times. There is so many things that we can’t control, but we can be […]

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My success in sales stems from a strongly rooted routine that I have developed. The more disciplined you are in sales, the more success you will enjoy. I believe that having a routine is also essential to staying sane during unsettling times. There is so many things that we can’t control, but we can be the master of our outlook and attitude.

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 Monika D’Agostino.

Monika is a business growth expert and the Founding Principal of the Consultative Sales Academy, a company that provides sales expertise consulting, C-Level Lead Generation as well as unparalleled blended e-Learning & Live Consultative Selling & Business Development Training Programs. Monika’s key expertise lies in her ability to guide her clients to connect the dots between Sales & Marketing and to embrace a consultative sales approach that helps them establish a common Sales & Service Language which ultimately results in increased revenue, shortened sales cycles and more ideal prospects and clients.

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?

It was actually a lucky accident. I was the VP of a Boutique PR firm in Manhattan and really didn’t want to commute from Connecticut into the city every day any-more, so I looked for jobs closer to home and stumbled upon an ad that looked like a good fit. When I interviewed (with what turned out to be my future boss), thinking that this was an account management role, I found out that I was interviewing for a sales position. “I don’t want to be a sales person”, was my first response – “I really don’t like sales people”, was my second. Well, the rest is history. Within the first 6 months I had already reached my annual goal and fell in love with sales.

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 think that one of the most interesting stories was a response that I got from a prospect after I had sent him an email after many attempts saying “please let me know if you are interested in conversation, and don’t hesitate to tell me if you are not, I wouldn’t want to waste your time”. He responded basically saying that this is the first time that he is actually answering a sales email, but he was so impressed with my persistence and tenacity that he felt compelled to react. He told me that he wasn’t interested but felt compelled to respond. Like I always say, NO is the second-best answer. It also encouraged me to continue on my path knowing that people appreciate perseverance as long as you conduct yourself in a professional manner.

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

As we are doing this interview during our new reality, facing the Covid-19 crisis, my main mission is to guide my clients through this crisis. While it might seem like this is a never-ending situation, we will come out of it and it is crucially important to be mindful and not to push an agenda. Only the companies that engage in meaningful ways, putting the well-being of their customers first will be remembered in a positive way once we come out on the other side, so to speak. Nobody is looking for excitement right now, people are craving stability and normalcy, so our communication should be centered around that.

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 first boss in a sales position, the person I mentioned in the beginning was and is my biggest mentor. He helped me understand why I was such a good sales person, which is really important because once we are aware of our strengths and our opportunities for growth we can then improve more strategically. Mark is a market researcher, so he looks at everything from a data perspective and he discovered that my ability to tell stories and my tenacity combined with keen listening skills were the ingredients to my achievements. People like to hear stories and it’s important to share insights that are relatable.

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

I believe it has something to do with my vast background and the fact that I didn’t start out in sales, so I have worked on the other end of the spectrum. When I was a VP for a PR firm I got annoyed by relentless sales people who just badgered me without regard of my needs. Once I transitioned into sales, I avoided everything that I didn’t like about sales people. I listened more, spoke less, never pitched but did research prior to contacting a prospect. And because I had worked on the business side, I also developed a keen sense of the importance of thought leadership, marketing and public relations, of course. All, very important ingredients to success. Once I started my sales training organization I made sure that all of my clients not only knew how to sell better, but also learned to understand the importance of well crafted messages and sales discipline.

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?

My success in sales stems from a strongly rooted routine that I have developed. The more disciplined you are in sales, the more success you will enjoy. I believe that having a routine is also essential to staying sane during unsettling times. There is so many things that we can’t control, but we can be the master of our outlook and attitude. I would advise people to start doing things that they always wanted to do, but never had the time to. For example, my husband and I started teaching our grandchildren every day for an hour. We do math, language, fun activities and it is a unique opportunity to connect with them on a deeper level. It also brings out our inner teachers because we have to come up with exercises to keep them engaged. There are so many on-line things available that we can tap into. Learn to speak the language you always wanted, do virtual Yoga and make sure that you schedule something for every day of the week, it will keep you grounded, humble and grateful. Gratitude is the best way to stay calm. Even if things seem really bad, they could always be worse, we should remember that.

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 versalite topics, is totally ignored?

That’s an excellent question, I really appreciate it because I have wondered about that myself many times. I think it is because the general perception is that good sales people are born and that you need a good personality to be successful in sales. Personally, I believe it’s untrue. Good sales people are the ones who are disciplined, hard working and focused. A good personality never hurts, no matter what you do but if that’s all you got, it can get in the way. I have seen so many sales people talk themselves out of a sale, because they were so enamored by their product that they forgot that value only exists if you perceive it as valuable. In other words, you can’t talk somebody into something that they don’t think is of importance to them. During my sales trainings I have met and trained many people who you would never peg as good at sales and they steadily exceeded their goals because they were able to follow the process that we taught them. I believe that sales education something that should be part of a curriculum because in my opinion, no matter what your role is, everybody is in sales. Think about it, you are either in sales or you support sales, otherwise there is no business. If everybody were to appreciate and understand the importance of sales, companies would be more successful.

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 wholeheartedly agree with the statement that sales people shouldn’t be pushy. Sales people have a bad reputation and my motto is “I am on a mission to improve the reputation of sales and its practitioners, because somebody has to do it!” I could give you a gazillion examples of bad sales experiences and only a handful of good ones. We need to change the mindset of what sales actually is. It should be a practice of understanding the needs of the people who you are targeting. Many sales leaders still manage their teams to encourage them to make as many phone calls our outreach attempts as possible without regard of a qualifier. Not everybody will be a good client for your service or product. Without research and understanding who could benefit from what we “sell”, we will be perceived as annoying people who are trying to push something down our prospect’s throats. Personally, I never had to “sell”. When you engage with people who are a good fit for your service offering, the conversation quickly shifts where you become a trusted advisor who can help to improve a business challenge.

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 believe that my core expertise lies in prospecting, it’s how I started my business prior to launching my sales training organization. I was prospecting on company’s behalf to connect them with high-level decision makers. What I found was that if you are (again) disciplined and structured, you will succeed. I was always able to connect my clients with prospective buyers, but sometimes it took time. Sales is a Process, it’s not a one-time event.

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?

Of course, I would love to do that. The first step is to identify your target audience. Who will most likely benefit from your solution? Then you develop a message that focuses on how your solution could be of value to that target audience. And then you Go-To-Market, applying an approach where you develop an outreach sequence where you touch base every second day (combination of email and phone calls) until you get a response. Some people might think that’s overkill, but trust me. We are not that important or memorable, so we need to apply advertising principles such as repeating the same message, using different terminology until it sticks. The key is also, to give people a way out by saying “it’s ok if you are not interested” and most people take you up on it. Understanding that not everybody is a good fit is essential. Don’t chase the shiny object. In other words, don’t chase people who want to chat with you, target people who you can serve and you have a solution that will improve their business.

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’?

There is a huge difference between Objections and Stalls. Objections are legitimate concerns that your buyer might have. Stalls are often an excuse to get out of the process. Let me give you an example.

If a prospect says to you “I’m not sure if I want to move forward, I need to talk to my boss”, that statement could either be a Stall or an Objection.

It’s easy to qualify by asking. “Fair enough, what do you think your boss would like to see for us to continue the dialogue?”. Depending on the answer, you will find out if there is real concern or if the person just used an excuse to get you off the phone.

Asking questions is really important but many sales people don’t ask the tough questions, because they are afraid of the answer and they don’t want to be rejected. The deeper you dig, the better you will understand if an opportunity is real, or not. Once you start asking the difficult questions, you will get a better picture of who will be a prospect that you can turn into a client and who isn’t.

‘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.

I was prospecting Fedex for over 2 years. Finally, they asked me to provide a proposal and I sent it through and then there was silence. No surprise there, we have all experienced it. I continued to reach out to my contact, sharing news about the industry that I found through research and also sharing some success stories from other clients in the logistics industry. After 6 months my contact got back to me and requested a conference call. It was 2 weeks before Christmas and everybody was in a bit of a rush. My contact (the HR manager) invited her training manager to the call. Once we all gathered the HR manager said to her training manager. We are here today to review the proposal, but what we will be doing is closing this business, because Monika has been so diligent and thoughtful in her follow-up, she really deserves us working with her. Basically, she closed herself, I didn’t have to do anything. Of course, this is the best-case scenario but if you close a little bit every single time you interact with a prospect, always planning a next step and always adding value, asking the tough questions, you won’t have to do a BIG closing in the end. Nothing that you discussed during the process should come as a surprise once it’s time to close. If it does, then you missed a step.

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?

Again, research and asking the right questions. It’s nice to have interest and conversations, but in the end it’s all about a good fit. Be genuinely interested in the industry, share news and updates, add value. You also need to determine if the prospect is a good fit and if they are, then you will close them if you are following all the steps. If they are not, no biggie. Leave a good impression and move on.

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?

There is no silver bullet. During my sales training sales people learn about communication preferences. Some people are more auditory, some people are more visual and others are kinesthetic. Once you have identified your prospect’s preferred communication style, you want to act accordingly.

People who are visuals will prefer email or text (especially Millennials). People who are more auditory want to listen, so voicemail or phone calls are better. But here is a good tip, even without knowing your prospect’s communications styles, to identify a preference. Just ask! Going forawrd, how would you like me to communicate with you? It’s that easy!

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 start a movement that will help people understand that we are all people with the same desires and anguish. Sometimes, that’s forgotten, especially in the sales world. Technology is great, but it is people who buy solutions and products. We all have fears, we all have dreams, we all want the same thing and that is being heard. We also want to matter especially in times like these where fear is so wide spread. People are fragile, we can see that clearly right now. Also, people buy from people……once we remember that we will be better sales people.

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

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