“Take every opportunity to meet your prospect in person.” With Mitch Russo & Brian Grushcow

The art, science, and psychology of sales take patience. There is an emphasis on asking questions and listening. Sales should be studied as a foundation of any curriculum. Rather, it’s taught on-the-job at a school of hard knocks. As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, […]

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The art, science, and psychology of sales take patience. There is an emphasis on asking questions and listening. Sales should be studied as a foundation of any curriculum. Rather, it’s taught on-the-job at a school of hard knocks.

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 Brian Grushcow.

Brian Grushcow is CM.com’s Director of North America, responsible for spearheading and establishing the company’s business in this key region. For more than 25 years, Brian’s success has been building early, high-growth VC and PE-funded technology companies. Brian has a track record of introducing innovative sales tactics for lean sales teams to drive results. Brian has helped many brands accelerate growth, taking them from startups, and turning them into profitable enterprises.

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?

Right after college, I got a job at a Los Angeles-based feature film distribution startup working with their film production team. From production, I was allowed to work alongside the CFO in film financing, where I focused on our strategic development. This was truly eye-opening for me when I was presented with the invaluable opportunity to play a key role in helping the business secure $100 million in funding. It was an exciting start to my career path that provided me with experiences that don’t come around every day to just anyone. I was extremely fortunate that I was given the trust and responsibility to learn about and focus on financing, but also distribution, marketing, and production…all at once.

I became drawn to early-stage technology companies during the young dot-com days and decided to pursue a role at a startup incubator where I worked with several innovative companies changing the world through the “internet.” The startup incubator then introduced and led me to become one of the founding members at a company that consulted Fortune 1000 companies. From spending decisions to implementing solutions to support IT infrastructure, we consulted on all aspects of our client’s operations and were an innovative partner in helping them develop cloud computing solutions that were way ahead of their time.

Around that same time, I began taking actions that supported my long-term goals as a professional; to become a manager and ultimately a business executive. I sought advice from my Dad who recommended that I gain direct sales experience, being “a highly necessary and valuable skill” to help pave my path to achieve my career goals.

I then got my first sales-oriented role at an AT&T Business Partner company. I took on a Senior Account Executive position selling to named accounts in the airline, banking, and dot-com technology sectors. AT&T was where I got my first formal training in sales. This experience gave me an important foundation to support me evolving into a highly effective and efficient sales leader. Most importantly, it helped me accelerate my sales competency and values when I transitioned back to working with early to mid-stage tech startup companies.

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 it comes to tradeshows or conference events, never take the bait and spend too much time at an open bar or partying… it is not only a trap but a novice mistake. I learned this the hard way after I missed a breakfast meeting with a quality opportunity after a night out in Las Vegas at a convention once. To this day, I’m still kicking myself because of how I lost the prospective client’s trust, credibility, and the chance to work with the great team of people involved in that exciting deal.

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

As the Director of North America at CM.com, my team and I have the exciting opportunity of launching the North American headquarters for CM.com, a publicly traded, communication and payments technology company originated in Europe and founded in the Netherlands. It’s a fantastic undertaking. I’ve been able to leverage my past industry experience, startup, and entrepreneurial DNA and deep appreciation for the skill sets and resources I need from sales to execute on our business plan.

You’ve heard it before, but it is critical to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and share your ambitions as a team. I support our salespeople with resources to make sure they have what they need to produce the best results and ROI. My successes and experience selling in different environments to a variety of buyers and verticals is a direct effect of my Dad’s advice, that was, to enter, study, and excel at direct sales.

Though CM.com was founded in 1999, has 15 global offices, and over ten thousand clients worldwide, at the end of the day, we function as a startup in some respects. For one, we’re establishing a brand unknown to the U.S., Canada, and Mexico by building the brand from the ground up and developing a sales-driven culture, which is rooted in CM.com’s overall brand mission. This culture of sales bleeds into all roles and deliverables of our company. It unifies every function to work in alignment with achieving sales-oriented objectives.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I was the first salesperson and part of the founding team at a company in Los Angeles which was a pioneer in the mobile text messaging technology industry. It was very exciting, and we sometimes would get carried away describing how innovative we were. My VP and I noticed that. He and I joined forces and brought a piece of paper with a “Q” written on it to each of our calls with prospects. He gave me this life-long lesson which reminds me that the most important way to understand your customer and help solve their needs was to ask QUESTIONS and listen — hopefully, the right questions! Ask. Be probing.

When you’re pitching, you’re not hearing your customer, creating value, and making the conversation about them.

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

I’ve built a track record of success building innovative and successful technology companies from the sales and revenue side of the house. I’ve led lean sales teams and leveraged all of my years of experience to make more informed decisions and business plans. My focus is less of a sales-method but rather creating an experience driven by customer solutions. The journey I’ve taken, especially through the successes of launching early-stage companies, has created my unique perspective. I believe in Amazon’s Leadership Principles. When I look in the mirror, I see several key sales characteristics: Learn and Be Curious, Earn Trust, and most importantly, Customer Obsession.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious about 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?

CM.com is showing itself to be relatively virus-resilient considering the current business environment. We’re fortunate to be actively hiring to expand our team. It’s important to be grateful for what we have and aware that others around us may be struggling. Our company is doing several things to provide support for our Netherlands’ and global offices, so we all continue to feel the really special culture that is part of our company’s DNA. We’ve sent CM.com flowers and special Dutch cookies all over the world.

Employees are hosting video conference exercises and yoga classes to support a sense of togetherness. I’ve learned a lot from seeing other companies’ examples of extending this feeling of comradery to everyone working in their homes. Amazing support programs are being organized and it’s important to tap into.

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 ignored?

Throughout my experience, I’ve also learned that business plans, accounting, and cap tables are taught in both undergraduate and master’s programs but not how to sell… Even the top ivy-league MBA programs provide you with a “book education” with your degree but few practical skills for how to attract, sell to, and retain customers.

Sales lead to revenue. Sales lead to growth. A successful business has its foundation in sales.

The art, science, and psychology of sales take patience. There is an emphasis on asking questions and listening. Sales should be studied as a foundation of any curriculum. Rather, it’s taught on-the-job at a school of hard knocks.

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?

There should be no difference between me selling and a successfully used car salesperson. Sales take patience and an emphasis on asking questions and listening. The most successful salespeople don’t “sell.” They help their customers identify their own needs through probing questions. The customer will come to the point where they conclude that your solution is what they need. You’ve handled their objections. It’s important to always ask for the sale, and the customer will be happy to sign. When was the last time you bought a car?

The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down into 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?

It’s important to be proficient with each phase and being an expert at just one or two of these will fall short with a buyer. Efficient prospecting. Diligent prep. Questions to clarify your approach. Relevance with your presentation. Consideration with handling objections. Always remember to ask for the close.

I enjoy probing questions to help customers tell me exactly what they need and to answer their challenges using my solution. They start speaking about my product in terms of what they specifically can use. At that point, the customer is asking YOU for a contract.

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?

This process must be efficient. If you’re generating lists all day, you’re not prospecting them. Identify relevant titles and roles which resemble your buyers and also ones that complement and influence the sale. It takes being creative as well as having a tenacious attitude. One great method I use is to search LinkedIn for keywords that should be in my buyer’s title. For my industry that buyer’s title often includes “mobile” or “innovation” and sometimes “experience”. I’ve heard some funny stories about Account Executives using offshore support to create lists, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

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’?

When you’ve asked the right questions and positioned your service and value to take the customer to their decision, the customer should be able to answer their objections. When a challenge to closing a sale happens, it’s likely because you are focused on pitching to the customer versus solving their pain so they need you.

Ultimately, it’s all about the customer. Go back to the basics. Validate what the customer requires. Re-align your value towards these individual needs. Address their feelings. Get them nodding their head and even phrasing the solution to their challenge in the context of your product.

Handling objections is hard most-often because listening is tough. Don’t sell to your prospect. Take them down the journey with you so they end up closing the deal before you ask for it.

‘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.

  • Take every opportunity to meet your prospect in person. There is no substitution for getting in front of the customer — I’ve been on teams where we referred to this as “ass in chair.
  • It is statistically more likely to form the best personal connections with those you have met or have gotten to know in person. It allows me to humanize myself beyond a “salesy” sales guy that makes dozens of calls and emails behind a desk every day. There is also no better way to read your customer, understand their feelings, and listen to key objectives. Make it personal. Bond over mutual experiences, learn about their goals. Closing a deal is about helping a person and not just a source of revenue.
  • Leverage your strongest supporters and advocates — current happy customers. Coordinating a call from a reference customer is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. The more relevant the use case and industry vertical, the better. My best examples of this have been at industry events and conferences where everyone is in the same room and I can direct people easily and do some matchmaking. This provides external and objective validation for your prospect and helps establish a sense of confidence in your prospect’s decision making.
  • If a prospect has gone dark and taken a while to close, it’s your job to understand their challenges and roadblocks. Don’t be pushy. Keep it casual and supportive. I spoke with a prospect recently who had missed their RFP dates. The conversation focused on my offering help and support without ANY intent or mention of the deal. It was genuine. It also uncovered a new opportunity and I received an unsolicited introduction to another decision-maker.
  • Keep in touch, be top-of-mind, and use genuine outreach to reinforce that you are not only a “salesperson” but a human being they can depend on. It shows value. Help make your customer smarter and give them ammo to support their decisions. Work with Marketing to share thought leadership content. Help them understand current business conditions, trends that align with your solution, and sale.
  • Account-based marketing is a very powerful tool and an asset to make progress with a deal and close.
  • The strangest closing tactic I’ve seen was sending a prospect a single shoe. The message was that we have 1 foot in the door and let’s get the 2nd foot in there to close the deal. It worked! Our company sends special Dutch cookies. A generic message with irrelevant content hurts more than it helps. Be specific and personal in everything about your approach.

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?

It’s inevitable for companies to get leads that get stuck somewhere in the sales funnel. What I see far too often is that salespeople get consumed by manual and routine follow-ups…that relies way too heavily on automated messaging and outreach. What’s critical during each of these stages, if the buyer hasn’t directly given you the information you need to avoid the bottleneck, you must follow up with each one to process and qualify them right off the bat.

It’s really important to ensure you’re not putting your eggs in one basket by speaking to just one person. When you do this, you are taking steps that don’t flood or overhaul one person’s standard workday and routine. Find your champion. Decisions are rarely made in a vacuum or without some group buy-in. Go wide to find those decision-makers and influencers but remain targeted in your approach to identifying who these people are. There are both Decision Makers and Influencers/Champions, so you need to make sure you target both of these roles, but tailor and personalize your message and the channel you use to reach them that caters to their preferences and buying habits. One person may be at their desk all day and more likely to respond to email or phone calls, alternatively another decision-maker may be on-the-go, or away from their desk more regularly, and are more likely to respond to text messages. Find the right channel. From there, (and though some salespeople find this “cringey”) practice the fundamental sales method for “BANT” (budget, authority, needs, and timeline). This may seem like an “old school” way of doing things, but these are important questions that when checked, serve as true a pillar of any real opportunity.

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?

The best way to communicate with a customer is in person. Interpersonal communication cues and seeing feelings are amazing tools for understanding your customer and closing a sale. Try to visit each customer. Traveling to conferences gives you an opportunity to get in front of many customers who all happen to be at the same event.

COVID-19 has reemphasized the value of video calls.

This global situation will continue to affect how we interact with customers in many ways. We’ve experienced that people like to see and interact with other people. It not only creates a human bond with your colleagues, but it’s an effective way to bond with customers, understand them best, and communicate value.

I’ve only seen text messaging work well so far!

People’s text messages are often personal and exchanging quick texts to keep in touch and share updates show a relationship. Remember that your customer is not always a close friend and your use of grammar, spelling, and the use of emojis (when appropriate) is important to pay attention to.

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’m passionate about new technologies that people use to communicate. It’s an industry where I’ve spent my career. Evolutions in communications can create a bridge between age, technology, information, and geography. Now today, you text with your parents. People in the Netherlands send messages over WhatsApp with their friends in Mexico. Apple users share pictures with Android users. Every year has exciting developments.

Let’s do more to bridge that gap by reversing the flow and create a path that encourages younger generations to adopt older forms of technology while also stepping up to become the leaders that teach older generations how to adopt newer forms of technology. There is a huge amount of useful information, experience, and education that both generations have to offer that are simply not being shared largely due to the disconnect which new communication technology has formed between the two. To move forward and help everyone embrace new tech, it’s helpful (and a lot of fun) to see how you‘ve gotten there.

How can our readers follow you online?

1. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bgrush/

2. Twitter: (I have Twitter but I don’t post) www.twitter.com/bgrush

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

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