Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your best sales advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. How did you get here?
Lance: I began my career more than 20 years ago with Dale Carnegie Training, where I built the most successful sales operation in North America. In 2010, I formed PRSPX, where I transitioned from trainer to partner to key business advisor for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and other professional sports clients. In 2017, I founded Tyson Group, with a keen focus on coaching, training, and consulting with sales leaders and their teams to better compete in the midst of complex business environments. We currently work with a long list of premiere professional sports organizations including Legends, the SF 49’ers, and the Los Angeles Rams/LA Stadium, among others.
Adam: What is the single biggest sales mistake you have ever made and what did you learn from it?
Lance: As a very young sales rep, I was dealing with a prospect who had introduced himself to me as Billy. We had a good first meeting, and were on our way to building an excellent rapport. He asked me to put together a proposal, in which I mistakenly referred to him as William in the proposal. As I opened up the meeting with him and his boss, he abruptly pointed out my mistake. In that moment, I lost a huge amount of credibility. But I learned that names are important and little things are everything.
Adam: In your experience, what are the key pitfalls to succeeding in sales and how can you overcome them?
Lance: One the major pitfalls I’ve identified is thinking that sales is all about building relationships. In reality, sales is about developing three essential elements: credibility, rapport, and understanding of the prospects business. Relationships are a byproduct. Everything a salesperson says and does, including their appearance, adds or detracts from their credibility. Credibility yields trust, and, in turn, improves rapport. When a good rapport is developed, the buyer feels confident in sharing more information, which increases understanding. Only when those three elements are established in equal measures can salespeople achieve the right solution.
Adam: What are your three best tips when it comes to selling?
1.) Predictable processes yield predictable results. You need to develop a sales process that takes into account all of the variables of the buyer’s mindset. It has to be flexible enough that you can tailor it to individual clients, but sturdy enough that it can be scalable and repeatable. Regardless of the time horizon or complexity of the sale, the process and steps remain the same. They can be adapted to suit any situation or customer, but the sequence remains constant.
2.) Listen to understand, not just to respond. Salespeople are now increasingly functioning as knowledge brokers, who are often tasked with knowing more about their customers’ industries than their customers do. But in today’s hypercompetitive environment, it is no longer sufficient for salespeople to function merely as human conduits for information that can be easily found on company websites and dozens of other online sources. If the buyer is willing to share information about their own perceptions, the salesperson needs to really listen to learn, not just listen to respond. Any conversation is an opportunity to ask questions that will ultimately lead to a better understanding of the buyer’s mindset.
3.) Shift with the market. In order to survive and thrive in a hyper-competitive business environment, salespeople need to be agile enough to deviate from the script to provide fast, tailored solutions to customers. This type of adaptive selling will be the key to success going forward. All buyers want to feel that their problem is unique, and their solution is special. So, it stands to reason that the most effective sales solutions are (or at least feel like they are) highly customized. These days, buyers are looking for “just in time” solutions that are highly tuned to their particular needs, so salespeople need to develop the ability to develop impromptu responses on the fly.
Adam: Describe your sales methodology. Have you found that different types of prospects are responsive to different to types of styles, and if so, do you adapt your style to the type of customer you are selling to?
Lance: In my book, Selling Is an Away Game, I outline my 6-step sales methodology: 1) Connect with the buyer, 2) Evaluate the opportunity, 3) Diagnose the buyer’s problem, 4) Prescribe a solution, 5) Engage in a dialogue, and 6) Close the deal. Following this simple 6-step process can solve a lot of complicated sales problems. It’s flexible enough to address the market complexities and get into alignment with the buyer’s mindset, but it’s repeatable enough to yield predictable results.
Adam: What sets your approach apart from others in your industry? Describe your industry and your best tips specific to selling within it.
Lance: Tyson Group works in a number of verticals, including business services/consulting, insurance, media/entertainment, and technology. Our strong focus on professional sports led to the development of our “Away-Game Selling” approach. In Away-Game Selling, successful salespeople need to be more like the Waze Appthan a printed map. They need to constantly identify roadblocks and hazards, adjust in real-time based on the feedback they receive from the buyer and from other drivers, and continually update with relevant, customized information, depending on where the buyer wants to go.
Adam: What do you believe is the hardest step in the sales process and how can it best be navigated?
Lance: In this era of digital connectivity, the opening is actually the trickiest part of the sales process. The ready availability of information right at the buyer’s fingertips is fundamentally changing how customers buy, across the board. Not only does every company have a website to present what they want the world to know about their product, there is also a ton of external information available on Google, Wikipedia, Yelp, and social media sites to help fill in the gaps. As a result, buyers can quickly form opinions and make decisions much more quickly than ever before – often before they even speak with a salesperson. This makes the initial step of connecting more crucial than ever before.
Adam: What are your best tips for improving your close rate?
Lance: If you really want to improve your close rate, you need to find points of agreement with the buyer. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to “battle objections” in order to close a deal. But if your intent is to do business with someone, is that really the wisest way to approach their concerns? If two entities plan to do business with one another for a long period of time, battling won’t do anyone justice. In sales, we don’t deal with objections; we deal with people. And part of that process is resolving objections. So, rather than approaching the negotiation process like we’re going in to do battle with the prospect, it makes more sense to navigate around them. When you look at it this way, the objections and negotiation actually go hand in hand, and the dialogue with the prospect is simply a process of coming to a consensus.
Adam: What is your best advice around making the ask?
Lance: I always recommend what I like to call the Nike close: Just ask. You might want to ask, “Are we going to do business?” or “What are the obstacles to making this deal happen, and how can we get around them?” Both of these questions are designed to move the process forward to the next step.
Adam: Language is obviously very important throughout the sales process. What are key phrases or words you have found have helped or hurt your chances of success?
Lance: What we say, and the order of what we say, is critical. Sometimes, it’s not what you say, but how you say it. For example, the words cost, value, budget and price all seem like they’re the same thing, but they are actually very different animals. As salespeople, we need to dig in and really understand the difference. And in every single sale, be it complex or simple, there comes a time when you’re going to have to get the prospect to explain and defend how they are defining these terms.
Adam: On a scale of 1-10, how important are ethics to succeeding in sales? Explain.
Lance: I would say 10. There are some that say, when it comes to sales, if it’s not immoral, unethical or illegal it’s fair game. But each salesperson has to develop and understand their own code of ethics. That’s the only way to be truly successful in life.
Adam: What is your best advice on how to best manage and stay on top of leads?
Lance: Don’t be a gambler, be an odds player. In sales, it’s better to play craps rather than the slots, because if you look at the research, your odds as player are best with craps. If you pull up to a craps table, you might find it intimidating because there will be 10-12 people standing around the table, yelling and throwing things. One person will have the dice, but everyone is playing, and they will be high-fiving each other and yelling about different bets that seem very complex. It’s very distracting, kind of like today’s marketplace, with social media and people’s opinions and reviews. But if you understand the game a little bit, it’s actually not that complex, and if you keep your game simple, you can win.
Adam: What is the single best piece of sales advice you have ever received?
Lance: Try to honestly see things from the other person’s point of view — the key word is try! See the world from the prospect’s perspective. If you can see the world from their perspective, you will be in a better position to respond to their reactions and make the sale.
Adam: What sale are you proudest of? Walk through how you made it happen and its significance.
Lance: My proudest sale was more about winning a meeting. At 30 years old, I was at the height of my career with Dale Carnegie Training as VP of Sales, and an equity partner with the Philadelphia marketplace. I decided that I wanted an opportunity to purchase a significant marketplace on my own. With strong counsel from my wife, Lisa, I did some research on major markets to see what may be available and I noticed that Cleveland was underperforming. I thought a lot about how to approach the owner, but in the end, I decided to cold call him. I called him, introduced myself, explained why I was calling, and went in for the ask: “Have you ever thought of selling your business?” He initially wasn’t too receptive, but I managed to get him thinking about a price and agree to a meeting with me before he left for his annual two-week fishing to Canada. I drove 10 hours that night to Cleveland and we came to an agreement the very next day! I felt on my game, nimble, and agile — in my zone.
Adam: What is one thing everyone can do tomorrow to become better at selling?
Lance: Ask the person you are meeting with to explain what obstacles are preventing them from buying. Often times this comes from asking for the sale, when they stall or hesitate. If that happens, it’s an opportunity to ask what they like or don’t and what’s holding them back. Remember, your goal is to close the deal. Once you have a real handle on their objections, you’ve found your navigational path toward resolving them, so that you can begin to negotiate, and close the deal.