“Turn off the TV.” With Mitch Russo & Dawn Dugle

One of the reasons I left the news business was because I was tired of telling stories about the terrible things human beings do to each other. When we focus on the negativity, that just generates more of it. I decided to spend the rest of my life talking about what’s going RIGHT in the […]

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One of the reasons I left the news business was because I was tired of telling stories about the terrible things human beings do to each other. When we focus on the negativity, that just generates more of it. I decided to spend the rest of my life talking about what’s going RIGHT in the world. Telling the positive stories. I have dedicated my life to positive storytelling and encourage others to do the same. Instead of sharing the story about someone who got arrested for something stupid or a celebrity who has a drinking problem, how about telling people about your neighbor who goes out of his way to make sure the trash collectors on your route have a cold drink every week? There are so many people who are kind and give us hope, we just need to know about them! Share those stories!

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 Dawn Dugle. Dawn is an author and keynote speaker who spent two decades as an award-winning journalist. Since 2015, She has trained more than 15,000 people how to use storytelling as a marketing and sales tool. Dawn is also author of The BRAVO! Way: Building a Southern Restaurant Dynasty.

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?

Ihad started consulting after retiring from journalism, and a friend of mine asked me to help sell memberships and sponsorships for the local chamber of commerce. I told him: “I’m not a sales person.”

When he stopped laughing, he reminded me that I had spent 20 years getting people to say yes to telling their stories on the news, that I had “sold” plenty of consultations.

I realized he was right, and I had never thought of it that way because all I was really doing was helping the customer. We became the top two “sales people” of the membership drive — and we each won two tickets for a cruise!

All of the business leaders in the community wanted to know how I did it — especially getting some businesses to sponsor something when they’ve never sponsored anything before. It wasn’t all that hard either. All I did was listen and then connect them to something that would help their business. My friend reminded me that it wasn’t hard for me because that’s how I roll! So when business owners asked me to train their teams, I agreed to do it. It’s actually quite fun when the light goes on in their eyes (because this is a much easier way to do things!)

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 come from a long line of storytellers and story collectors.

People would stop what they were doing to go tell my grandfather a story and he’d sit down with them, slap them on the knee and say: “Tell me a good lie.” (And they’d always oblige.)

I inherited that gift. People will cross the street or a room to tell me their stories.

And there have been many cases where I didn’t know who I was talking to until much later. In one instance, I was at the Delta Sky Club in Salt Lake City. The weather was frightful and flights were delayed right and left. There were quite a few people in the lounge who were pissed off at the Delta agents. There was grumbling and arguments.

My flight was delayed too, but I’ve always had travel zen — meaning something better always comes along, so I didn’t sweat it. I just wanted to find a quiet place to eat some snacks. There was only one available chair and there was a guitar leaning against it. The guy sitting next to it asked if I would like to sit down and I did.

We started talking and before long, it was time for me to board my flight. Turns out, I had been talking to Jerry Cortez, the guitarist for Tower of Power — THAT Tower of Power group. He had great stories and we became friends. We’re still friends to this day.

The moral of the story is: if I had been mad at my flight delay — because of the weather, something we have yet to control — I would have missed out on meeting an amazing human being. The people who were mad didn’t get their plane there any faster, they just made themselves (and some of the people around them) more miserable.

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

When a big chunk of your business is in-person speaking events, a global pandemic can really throw a monkey wrench in the works as conferences got cancelled right and left.

I decided to pivot and create some online training for businesses that I hope to launch this fall. That will be more accessible and more affordable to small businesses who need marketing and sales help.

I also spent my lockdown time writing two screenplays and am working on three more.

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 friend Jeff Good who reminded me I was actually a “sales person”. He’s the ultimate sales guy and I learned a lot from him. I was also impressed by the way he ran his business, with exceptional customer service, so I wrote a book about it!

The BRAVO! Way: Building a Southern Restaurant Dynasty is about two entrepreneurs who created their empire, simply by using creative customer service solutions. They also got creative during the pandemic when all of their restaurants were shut down and managed to keep the lights on and their employees on the payroll!

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

One example: I worked six sales teams in 2019, teaching them how to sell digital advertising to their customers. When they followed my guidance and training, they met their yearly sales goals, six months early.

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?

I spent a lot of time with my parents during the pandemic, and my dad is always watching the news. And as a “recovering journalist” I can tell you — it’s disappointing to see what local and national news organizations are doing these days. They come on and breathlessly tell you the worst of the worst things in the world, and if you were to saturate yourself in that, you’d think there was no hope — or toilet paper!

Honestly — I recommend turning off the TV.

Step away from social media and unfollow friends who thrive on spreading negativity.

Yes, you have to stay informed, but you need to be smart about it.

The first thing I like to ask is: Is it true?

If it is, the next question I ask: How do you know it’s true?

My parents taught me to “trust but verify”, something that was reiterated in journalism school: If your mom tells you she loves you, ask your dad to confirm it!

I watch very little news these days. I don’t sit glued to social media (I long ago turned off the alerts on my phone and desktop). I look up the latest information from trusted sources and then we have a conversation as a family, which includes a retired nurse.

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?

There are a couple of issues at play.

First, you have a public school system (and many private schools too) that ignore important life skills like sales, financial literacy and critical thinking. Yes — those are LIFE skills!

Then, we tell kids “go to college” and many universities “strongly encourage” young people to declare a major. I was a 17-year-old kid from a small town in Indiana when I went to college. I had no idea what the world offered in the way of careers! What I declared as a Freshman was not the career I eventually went into.

And it was a painful process to switch.

We need to encourage young people to figure things out — by showing them options.

The truth is — EVERYONE IS IN SALES.

No matter if you’re selling a product, or just trying to get a job — you’re selling something.

The sooner you make your peace with that, and learn to do it well, the better off you’ll be.

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?

Yes. When was the last time someone “pushed” you to do something and you did it?

For me — the answer is NEVER!

When you get pushy, it’s usually because YOU want something, not because you want something for someone else. And that usually comes through — loud and clear.

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 am a networking ninja! I love it! I can’t get enough of meeting new people and hearing their stories, what you call “prospecting”.

If you can do this well, the other steps fall into place.

My “secret” to prospecting or networking is not a secret at all! I’m always networking. Everywhere.

I don’t rule out a potential customer because they’re not in the usual spots. You never know when you’ll meet someone who could use your help. (I’ve even “networked” in a long line for a restroom at a big event. You’re already standing there waiting, might as well make it interesting!)

I don’t get discouraged when someone doesn’t buy right away. I’ve had people come up to me FOUR YEARS after an initial discussion to ask me to work with them!

My favorite story? I had this boss who was very good at sales, but he also had blinders on to who might be a qualified candidate. We were at a ribbon cutting and I sat down at a table, because the heels I was wearing were killing my feet! The waiters were passing appetizers and every time they passed me, I reached out to get something and they ignored me like I was invisible. The couple at the table next to me thought this was the funniest thing ever, and started talking to me. (And flagged down the appetizers for me too!)

They were wearing shorts and t-shirts at this fancy event, but I didn’t care — they were fascinating and nice. They had such a story! My boss came over and tried to get me to “work the room” and when I introduced him — he realized this couple had more money than everyone else combined.

They liked me, so they did business with us as a result. And they always tell the story about me wearing my “invisible cloak” to the event.

Never dismiss someone you think isn’t qualified, because you could be missing out on something much bigger!

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?

1.Network in different places.

I’ll go to any networking event. And those that are regularly scheduled, I’ll try it twice before I decide if they’re helpful or not. (The first time, they could just be having a bad night.)

You want to network at the chamber of commerce, One Million Cups, entrepreneur events, social events or “after hours” events, the Rotary, women in business (if you’re a woman), etc.

Don’t just network with other people who do what you do. No one is buying there, and it’s a waste of your time.

I’m also cautious about networking groups that you have to pay to belong to. Some are great, some are not. Make sure you go and check it out before you spend any money. Go as many times as you can for free before you have to make a decision. Try other chapters of the same group, because they might be better suited for you.

A lot of those groups also require quite a bit of your time, and you’ll have to decide if you’ll get enough REAL business from it to join. Some will tell you about the thousands of dollars in business “per seat” that they have generated over the last year, but really understand what that number means because it’s usually the lump total averaged out.

2. “Networking” is not a dirty word.

If you’re uncomfortable doing it, it’s probably because you don’t know what to say when you get there.

Get your story together. Your elevator pitch.

That includes:
Who you are and what you do.

Who you help.

Why you started the business.

That’s it. You should be able to say this in 15 seconds. (Put some bullet points in your phone notes to jog your memory if you panic under pressure.)

But other than that, networking is really about getting to know other people!

You don’t have to do all the talking because…

3. Get to know people. Really know them.

Don’t be that guy who just collects everyone’s business cards and later can’t remember who’s who.

Work the room and talk to people you don’t know. Spend at least 10 minutes with people, asking them questions. Ask about their business. Ask WHY they started that business or went into it.

When I ask people “why” — the answers are always telling. They’ll let you know their passions and what they find important.

They’ll also usually tell you about their target audience. The people who they’re trying to reach.

You’ll know right away if there is synergy in what you do.

BUT — if they’re not a potential client, they could be a good REFERRER for you. Never dismiss anyone off the bat!

Also — if you know other people in the room that they might want to meet, introduce them.

4. Follow up after the event. Connect on LinkedIN, send them an email with the link to an article you thought might be of interest, ask them to go to lunch, introduce them to someone you know that would help their business.

5. When you first connect or go to lunch, this is NOT the place to pitch yourself or your business. Nothing aggravates me more than when someone wants to connect on LinkedIn, and the second I agree — they send me a message about how they can help my business.

How would they know? They don’t know anything about me!

So get to know your contact, learn about their business more.

I’m not saying don’t talk about your business, but it’s not about you, it’s about them.

6. Questions to ask to learn about their business needs:

  • Tell me more about your business.
  • Why did you start it?
    Who are you trying to help? (the answer is their target audience)
  • What is your biggest pain point? What’s getting in the way of success? (this is where you learn if you can help solve their biggest problem!)

7. SCHEDULE time on your calendar for networking and prospecting. You should be doing this every week. My calendar has a special color code for networking and prospecting so I can see at a glance if I’m doing it or not.

8. Set yourself up as an expert in the field.

You have some expertise tied to what you do. What can you offer your customers that can help them? (Even if it’s free?)

The sales teams I worked with in 2019 wanted to sell more digital advertising, but they had to educate their clients on it first. I created a workshop “How to Create a Business Story That Sells”. We invited current and potential clients to the workshop (which was free to them), gave them breakfast and I presented.

After the presentation (that was educational, not a sales pitch), we then offered them free, 30-minute one-on-one meetings about their business.

The meeting slots were packed! Who wouldn’t want free advice for their business?

They got to ask questions about things that didn’t pertain to what we were offering, but we had some expertise in this area. We also listened as they told us the problems their businesses were facing and we shared potential solutions for them.

The result? These teams met their sales goals, six months ahead of time.

It wasn’t just about selling something to the clients, it was about creating relationships where we shared our knowledge about something. The clients who didn’t buy right away felt comfortable asking questions and eventually did buy advertising! The ones who didn’t set the stage for educated follow up conversations for the next fiscal year.

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’?

The biggest problem people have handling objections is — they don’t believe what they’re selling in the first place.

It’s that simple.

You have to be 100% sure that your product or solution helps make the client’s life better.

But knowing that is only half of it.

You also have to prepare for the conversation.

They’ve told you they have a problem and you know you have a solution. You need to be ready to address that.

They told you what’s getting in the way of their success and that they don’t know how to fix it. You do, and you do it in the following ways: x, y, z.

The previous clients you’ve worked with who have a similar problem have had X-amount of success with it (hard numbers — is it revenue generated? A percentage of sales increase?). Know your numbers.

Example: Two clients I trained on storytelling as a sales solution added a million dollars in revenue within a year. Another client of mine made 25 times the return on her training investment within six months.

Those are good numbers that people pay attention to.

You should also be handling objections before they become objections. Address the elephant in the room. If you’re not the cheapest, explain why it’s a good investment for them. If they’re worried about the time it takes, explain how that time on the front end will help them in the long run.

‘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.

1. What are you offering them and what will they get out of it?

Do your homework and know what the client needs and how much they’re willing to spend for it.

2. Put together a customized proposal (don’t hand them the cookie cutter template!)

My proposal will often have two options. One has everything the client has told me they wanted, which is often a bigger investment than their budget. The other option is right at the budget amount, but doesn’t have everything on the wish list — just the “must haves”.

3. Include the value to the customer — what will they receive for their investment? I will usually spell that out in the proposal — that they’re hoping to achieve a 25% increase in business which would mean $X in revenue. When you put that number next to what the training costs, you can see that the investment is worth it! (50% of the time, the client chooses the larger investment option because of what it means for their business. If I hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have gotten that.)

4. Ask. For. The. Order.

It’s a Zig Ziglar thing, and it works!

Most people don’t ask for the order. They don’t ask for the sale.

If you know your product or service will make someone’s life better — you owe it to them to offer it to them!

Usually my asking for the order also includes pointing out a 10% discount I offer for people who pay the entire amount up front. Not only do I close the sale, but I get paid up front. I’ve only had one client not take me up on this.

5. If someone is hesitating or says no, it could be a “not yet”.

Don’t take it personally or get mad at them.

I thank them for their time and tell them that if they wake up tomorrow and realize they can’t live without the training after all to give me a call. The proposal is good until whatever date you want to give it.

In a couple of cases, a client had told me they wanted to do something by a specific date. This is a good time to remind them that your calendar is open for those dates right now, but they may not be in two weeks.

Again, don’t take it personally if they say no.

I’ve had a couple of people come back a year later and hire me — for more money — because they had a change in leadership or an increase in the budget. But because I had left things on good terms with them, I was at the top of their list to call!


When you get the sale, say thank you then shut up!

Write up the order.

Don’t keep selling when you get to yes, you might actually lose the sale!

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?

Not closing enough business:

Are you dealing with the economic buyer? The Decision-Maker?

We’ve all been sucked into that where we spend too much time with an underling, and they’re not the one making the decision on the purchase.

Find a way to get in front of the decision-maker and start from the prospecting phase. You will find that the flunky doesn’t often know what the real business issues are.

If you’re not closing enough business, are you PROSPECTING enough?
You need to be filling up your sales pipeline every week. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket because it’s a big payday, you need to be working a lot of eggs. In a lot of baskets.

Put networking/prospecting on your schedule and make sure you are doing it. Color code it on your calendar so you can see — at a glance — how much time you’re spending doing it.

Don’t eat lunch alone.

Try to have 2–3 lunch “dates” each week with a potential client, referrer, connector.

Especially the connectors — people who know a LOT of other people.

These can be casual to “catch up”, but it helps you stay on people’s radars.

You didn’t get the sale:

If you’ve asked for the sale and they didn’t pull the trigger, I’d ask them if they could share why not?

If it’s a budget issue — like they don’t have the money budgeted this fiscal year, but they WILL have it next year — then I ask when do they make those “next fiscal year” decisions.

You may need to re-pitch them during that window.

Tell them you’ll follow up on whatever date, then go mark it on your calendar! And do it!

Make sure you’re listening and watching what’s going on when you don’t get the sale.

LISTEN: What exactly did they tell you?

WATCH: What does the body language say?

Are they refusing to make eye contact with you? (That’s a sign you lost them and I’m not sure you can get them back.)

If you get to no — and it’s a firm no — move on. Don’t keep pressing them because that will come across pushy and they will tell everyone they know.

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?

Did you know your phone makes calls?

Crazy, isn’t it?!

DO NOT TEXT to follow up! Even if it’s a good friend of yours!

Best thing: Just pick up the phone and call someone.

Don’t call on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons. (Do you like getting calls during those times?)

Tuesdays are great days to follow up because it’s the most productive we are all week.

I also read where 8–9am and 4–5pm are the best times to call and actually talk to someone because people don’t normally schedule meetings during that time. It has worked for me, so I recommend it!

Block out time on your calendar to make these calls and make a note in there who you are calling and what you’re talking about.

If they don’t have time to talk, ask for a better time. Would it be better if I called you tomorrow? What’s a good time? If they aren’t digging the phone call, ask to follow up by email.

One of the saddest follow-ups I was on the receiving end of happened in 2009.

I was a News Director in Northwest Arkansas and we were smack in the middle of a snow emergency. Two feet of snow had fallen on an area not accustomed to snowfall. It was all hands on deck. The phones were ringing off the hook. I was just trying to get people to and from work and I got a call from a job candidate. She wanted to know if I had received her resume.

I stopped what I was doing and got her name and phone number.

Later, when it was calm, I looked up her submission and promptly put her in the “no” pile. She was applying to be an investigative journalist, but didn’t think to look up what we were dealing with — i.e. the worst time to call.

The moral of the story is: know who and when you’re calling. Make sure they’re not dealing with a crisis when you’re just “following up”. It could be surefire way NOT to get the sale!

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. 🙂

One of the reasons I left the news business was because I was tired of telling stories about the terrible things human beings do to each other. When we focus on the negativity, that just generates more of it.

I decided to spend the rest of my life talking about what’s going RIGHT in the world. Telling the positive stories. I have dedicated my life to positive storytelling and encourage others to do the same.

Instead of sharing the story about someone who got arrested for something stupid or a celebrity who has a drinking problem, how about telling people about your neighbor who goes out of his way to make sure the trash collectors on your route have a cold drink every week?

There are so many people who are kind and give us hope, we just need to know about them! Share those stories!

How can our readers follow you online?


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

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