I believe people have a hard time handling objections because they get offended or defensive. In general, people don’t like conflict. But truly, conflict is where you have the opportunity to get more connected with your prospects. I recommend that you have a mindset of curiosity and spend time to ask questions. In the acting world, when we are analyzing a script, we are looking for what the inner desires, conflicts and motivations are of the other characters in the scene.
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 Cindy Ashton.
Cindy Ashton is presentation strategist, professional speaker, singer, award-winning TV host of Cindy Uncorked on e360tv, and author of Liberate Your Voice. With twenty years of experience, she is an authority on presentation skills, speaking voice, body language, content delivery, and leadership presence. She has received awards from President Obama and Queen Elizabeth II for her lifetime of volunteerism, and has appeared in multiple media including ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, Inc. Magazine and Forbes.
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?
Since I was a fetus I have known that I wanted to be a performer but my body had other plans. I was born with heart failure, a 20% change of living and the left side of my body was structurally damaged. After having multiple heart surgeries, going through speech therapy to learn to speak and wearing casts on my legs so they would grow out so I could walk, I went on to be the award-winning TV Host of #cindyuncorked, a musical actress and opera singer.
In my early days, achieving my performing career was extremely challenging as all the trauma from my health challenges left me in chronic pain. As I was working through releasing the pain, I decided to supplement my income by teaching others how to be great presenters whether on stage, camera or in business. What was supposed to just a side hustle turned into a life-long career. People are truly amazing and having the opportunity to lead my clients to unlock their genius and present it to the world with truthfulness, power and impact is such an honor and a gift.
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 had a Domantrix Prostitute hire me to teach her how to present herself at high profile events. She wanted to connect with men who would pay her significantly more for her services. I was fascinated that she had deliberately chosen this profession, really loved it and had a family who knew what she did for a living. She explained that her clients were lonely men who were under huge pressure to be the breadwinner. They never felt like they were doing enough. Half of the time they didn’t even want to have sex. They simply needed to heard and be the submissive so they no longer had to have all the responsibility on them.
It was an eye-opening experience for me as it broke down some myths and barriers on what a Domantrix actually is verses what we ‘think’ it is. It was also refreshing to see someone who CHOSE to be a prostitute as opposed to those who are forced into the sex trade or do it because they have nowhere else to turn.
Ultimately, it taught me to be curious to learn and understand the differences of others instead of being judgmental.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! Two projects in fact. The first is my new show. Every person on this planet battles their own challenges that are quite often ‘invisible’ to others. Liberate Your Voice is a sassy, gutsy and touching musical show with songs from the Broadway stage and beyond, along with stories that share deep wisdom around how to be seen and let your voice be heard when you are navigating illness, conditions and obstacles that are unseen. I performed the show in NYC back in January and now I am working on the re-writes so I can start touring it when we are let out of our cages again 😊
The second project is an ongoing, free video series on how to leverage the power of presentation when you are working both virtually and in person. Whether someone is leading a sales conversation, having a business conversation or delivering a presentation or webinar, virtual speaking skills are essential.
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?
When I was in grade 9, I was kicked out of choir because the teacher said I couldn’t sing. I felt invisible and deflated. When I changed high schools in grade 11, Mr. St. Cyr asked me to audition to sing solo for his stage band. He knew I could dance and he needed a singer who could dance. I said to him, “but I can’t sing.” He insisted I audition. After I sang, he looked at me and said, “Cindy, what a great voice you have.” 3 months later and I was on stage in front of my entire school singing and dancing in a gold dress with long white gloves. I got 2 standing ovations and it changed my world. He was the first person who recognized my talent and gave me a voice. It was the first time I thought my singing dreams may actually be possible.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
Being great at sales is all about connection, emotional intelligence and deep listening skills. Having trained with top Broadway professionals and being a seasoned performing artist demands that I am able to deeply listen to my audience (aka prospects) and respond truthfully to what I am hearing in their words, body language and energy as well understand their underlying emotions and motivations.
For over 20 years, I have been training business owners, speakers, executives and sales professionals how to use their speaking voice, body language, energy and words to increase their sales and buy-in.
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?
We all need to be conscious breathing exercises to reduce the anxiety. The sympathetic nervous system is the flight, flight or freeze response which increases your heart rate, causes hyperventilation and spikes your anxiety. When that stress response is activated, you are unable to think clearly which causes irrational, fear-based thinking, poor decision making and unhealthy outbursts.
With the majority of people being highly triggered right now, it is essential for us to learn how to stimulate the parasympathetic system — the relaxation response. When we do, it slows down our heart rate, relaxes our muscles and creates calm, rational, focused thinking. In that state, we are then able to communicate from a healthy place and make far better decisions.
How do we do this? Simple. Breathe. First, lie down on your back with a pillow under your knees. Put one hand on your heart and the other on your stomach. When you inhale, you want to imagine a balloon is in your belly and it expands. In other words, on the inhale your stomach goes out. On the exhale, your stomach goes in towards your spine. Next, you want to breathe in for 3 counts — Inhale 1, 2, 3. On the exhale, exhale nice and long for at least 6 counts. When you exhale longer than the inhale, it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. Do this exercise for five minutes, several times during the day or whenever you feel anxious. You can also do this exercise standing or sitting in a chair.
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?
The education system tends to teach subject matters but fails to show us how to apply that knowledge into actual skills and tangible results.
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?
Absolutely. As a speaker, I have shared stages with some of the biggest ‘gurus’ on the planet and I would watch how they would manipulate and push their audience to buy. It made me sick to see desperate people being sold into things that were not the right solutions for them. And as a business owner for over 20+ years, I have also been in a lot of situations where I felt a sales person would be too ‘in my face’ and ‘pushing’ me to buy instead of taking the time to really connect and listen to my needs.
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 of course! Let me tell you about my client “Chris.” He worked for a company that did weekly sales training meetings. Every Friday, Chris would go to the meeting and they would review the ‘6 step formula’ on how to sell. 3 years later and he still was only able to bring in average sales and just meet his quotas.
When I asked Chris to take me through his 6-steps, I knew exactly why isn’t wasn’t a top performer. First, he was so busy following the 6 steps that he wasn’t LISTENING to his prospect. He was all in his head. And by listening, I mean he wasn’t observing their body language, energy and voice so he could respond to what he was picking up. The second thing was that he was carrying a lot of jaw tension which made his voice sound aggressive. Given his prospects were mostly female, it made them feel intimidated and pushed them away. And lastly, he wasn’t present in his body so his energy came across as frenetic which reads as untrustworthy.
What does being ‘present in the body’ mean? It means being grounded, calm and focused. One of the ways you get present is by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. When you are relaxed, you are able to listen more to the words and the body cues you are picking up. From there, you are able to respond to what the prospect is saying and deliver what they really need.
In Chris’ case, by learning to listen, have an inviting speaking voice and engaging body language, his close rate doubled, making him a top performer.
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?
I always work with my clients on identifying the values and interests of their ideal dream clients. Otherwise you are trying to generate prospects and get attention from leads that aren’t going to respond to you. People buy from people they like. When you know what is important to your clients, beyond the problem and solution, then you are able to market to them in a way that draws them in much faster.
For example, let’s say there are two business coaches, Narelle and Juan. Narelle’s clients are world travelers, unconventional, risk takers, health conscious and a little of bit sassy. Juan’s clients are family oriented, actively giving back in their community, introverted and have more conservative values. The people who choose Narelle as their coach will be very different from those that choose Juan.
Knowing those characteristics will allow you to cater your marketing strategy, videos and images to be attractive to your ideal clients. As you do your lead generation, the marketing you are putting out will have your ideal clients responding much faster. It is easy to close prospects who are in alignment with you.
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 believe people have a hard time handling objections because they get offended or defensive. In general, people don’t like conflict. But truly, conflict is where you have the opportunity to get more connected with your prospects.
I recommend that you have a mindset of curiosity and spend time to ask questions. In the acting world, when we are analyzing a script, we are looking for what the inner desires, conflicts and motivations are of the other characters in the scene. Once we uncover those aspects, we focus on finding ways to help the other characters (aka prospect) move through their conflicts and fulfil their desires so we reach the goal of the scene. It is the same in sales. Your job is to understand the psychology below the surface and help your prospects navigate to the best solution for them.
How do you do this? Ask deeper questions to discover what the REAL conflicts and desires are. For example, if someone says they can’t afford it, most of the time there is something deeper that is holding them back — their belief that the product will actually work or that they can achieve what they desire. Or maybe there is a different product that they actually need. By being willing to let go of your own defensives, be curious and ask questions, you will resolve their conflict and increase your close rate.
‘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.
What you do BEFORE you go to close the sale is far more important. At the core, people need to feel heard and listened to. When they feel seen, they will be connect with you and give you their trust. That wins the sale far more than any close tactic.
Having said that, here are a few tactics to help with closing the sale:
- Activate the love drug: Oxytocin is a hormone in your body that is known as the love drug since it increases connection to other people. When you raise your oxytocin, it makes you come across as far more vibrant, engaged and energetic… which makes people want to connect with you. You raise the oxytocin by inhaling into your belly and exhaling on a ‘haaaaahhhhh.” Here is an example: https://youtu.be/Mh7q0dgpaBY. Do this exercise before meeting with prospects.
- Ask deep questions during the sales conversation: I covered this already but as a reminder, be curious. I was once leading a sales conversation and the prospect was a life coach that wanted me to help her with her speaking. I could sense something was off. I kept asking questions and it turned out that he actually wanted to be a dog walker. She ended up becoming my client. Instead of buying a package to learn how to be a keynote speaker, she hired me to help her create engaging promotional videos for her new dog walking business.
- Speed up to generate buy-in: Speed up your tempo when you are talking about the things your prospect dreams of achieving. It gets them excited. Let them get caught up in the joy and feel the dream what they desire.
- Slow down when you are making the offer: When people go in for the ‘ask’ and make the offer, they often get nervous and speed up. The prospect senses it and then they feel nervous. When you slow down, you create intimacy which entices them to listen more intently and really hear you.
- Pause to close: Once you have stated the price, silence is golden. The fastest way to lose the sale is to keep talking. It takes the power away from the buyer to say yes as it get thems distracted. I see a lot of people start negotiating, devaluing, or over explaining before even getting a response. People need time to process what you have offered.
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?
Do your best to make sure you have an appointment set for your follow up call before you hang up from your initial call. In addition to that, be of service without giving away the boat. For example, if someone said that the timing is not right and to follow up in three months, feel free to occasionally reach out in between with a helpful blog or video so you stay top of mind. And lastly, people can feel energy. Do the breathing and oxytocin exercises I gave you earlier in this article to slow down and raise your energy so your prospects feel vibrancy instead of fear.
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?
It is more about HOW you communicate rather than the mode. Whatever you do, make it personal. People can tell when you respond with a standard follow up. People want to feel cared for and when they get something that is clearly not customized, it turns them off. But if you send a message where you mention something specific they said, they feel heard.
Being a presentation trainer, I believe that sending a quick 60 second video follow up makes a great impact. It is personal and helps build connection. Here is a sample: Hello ________, It was fabulous to speak with you earlier today. I love that you are looking to achieve/create ___________ and I am excited to support you ____________. Looking forward to our follow up call on ________.
Loom.com is a great service to help you make quick videos and send them off.
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 have been working on a movement to bring massive awareness to people like me who live with chronic pain and illness. Over 50% of Americans and Canadians live with at least one chronic condition. It is a silent, invisible thing that we live with but don’t have a lot of resources or guidance for. Because people can’t see it, we are often seen as being ‘dramatic’ or as ‘complainers’ if we seek out help. As a result, we stay silent and unsupported.
I want to give a voice to all of us living with something invisible. Having been born with illness, it took me years to figure out how to manage it and how to still live my passion every day. I am excited to share my learnings with others as give people insight into the resources they need to navigate this journey.
How can our readers follow you online?
*YouTube — http://www.youtube.com/cindyashton
*Facebook — http://www.facebook.com/cindyuncorked
*Twitter — http://www.twitter.com/cindyashton
*Instagram — http://www.instagram.com/cindyuncorked
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!