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“Why transparency is important.” With Mitch Russo & Glenn S. Phillips

Bad sales is pushy sales. It is the image we have of overly aggressive used car salesmen. As I first heard in a class lead by Jeffery Gitomer, “No one wants to be sold, but they do want to buy.” I agree. As a part of my series about how to be great at closing […]

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Bad sales is pushy sales. It is the image we have of overly aggressive used car salesmen. As I first heard in a class lead by Jeffery Gitomer, “No one wants to be sold, but they do want to buy.” I agree.


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 Glenn S. Phillips. Glenn is the CEO of one of the fastest growing real estate companies in the country, Lake Homes Realty , as well as the lead sales trainer for their real estate agents across the country. He speaks at conference across the country on innovation, entrepreneurship, and effective communication.


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?

Sure! Business networking lead to this opportunity. Networking is how I met my COO Doris Phillips, our investors, and many of our key staff.

I had been running a custom software company for years, and dabbled in angel investing. Doris founded and operated an innovative real estate title insurance company.

Investors had started this business but it had not gotten traction. They approached us first for our input, then an offer to run the business. Together we vetted the business model for 15 months before we jumped “all in” in 2013. There were just too many rare “unfair market advantages” for us to let this opportunity get past us.

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?

My business partner, best friend, and bride is Doris Phillips. We work as an interdependent team. While growing Lake Homes Realty across the country we don’t make any major decisions without conferring with each other. We don’t always agree, but we never fight. Really. We have too much respect for each other to insult the relationship by losing control and hurting each other. Mad is a choice we choose not to make.

Interestingly, we met at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon we had each been attending every month for years, yet our paths had never crossed until that one day.

I stayed after the meeting to talk with her. I didn’t know if this was only business or might could be personal.

She said, “Let me give you my card.” I thought, “That good, but hey, it is a business event.”

Then she said, “Let me write my cell phone number on it.” Again, good, but it might still just be a good business habit.

After I left, I looked at the business card. Her cell phone number was already printed on the card. At that moment, my brain said, “I can call this woman.”

And the sales lesson from Doris: Make it easy for others to know how to proceed!

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

We have multiple new projects in the works. Our new website will be out soon, and it will be the best way for people to find, buy, and sell lake homes and land across the country.

For our agents and clients, we are about to deploy a new approach to digital sales funnels, something unique in real estate. Our goal is to help our agents spend more time doing what they do best and less time screwing with the CRM and creating content (because, let’s face it, most real estate agents are not professional writers and purchased articles are not genuine).

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?

I was “late in the game” understanding the incredible value of mentors and coaches. That delay almost cost me one of my businesses years ago. Now there are so many who have had a profound impact on my skills and outlook.

One person I really appreciate is Roger Daviston. Roger has been invaluable, and I met him by accident (he was the replacement teacher in one of the first formal sales classes I took).

I was already working to be better at personal and professional boundaries. Roger is an expert at saying, “No.” Not as a weapon, not in anger. It is almost pleasing to hear because it is genuine and presented politely. And doing so can leave the door open should the situation or facts change.

Roger also taught me the importance of giving permission to others to say “no.” For example, “I want to share how I see us working together, but if this doesn’t work for you, will you promise to tell me, ‘no’?”

This gets the other party commit to clarity of communication and to feel control of our discussion. If they do say “no” they almost always explain, and now I am more likely to know the real objections.

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

When I built my technology company, I had to learn how sell custom software. In that sales process, I’m selling a product that does not yet exist, can never be physically held, likely can never be resold, and if we fail on the project we may put the client out of business.

At the same time, we were competing with other companies, selling to clients who often think what we do is some “magic at the keyboard.” So our customers would typically struggle to know which company to select.

As an entrepreneur, you sell or your business dies. We started that company in 1991, and it is still viable today from the sales I’ve closed for almost 30 years now.

For Lake Homes Realty, when we started our business model was very different from other real estate companies (and still is). We had to convince real estate agents to move their license and book-of-business to us when we had absolutely no track record to back up our projections and ideas. How did we do? Since 2013 we’ve grown fast enough to be ranked on Inc Magazine’s INC 5000 list every year we’ve been eligible, and we now operate wholly-owned brokerages in 30 states (and growing).

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?

Transparency is critical. Relationships need trust, and in times of distress it is critical to be as transparent as possible. This includes bad news without sugar-coating it.

In March, as COVID-19’s impact was becoming obvious, we began company update meetings with our local corporate team and our agents across the country. It is included the opportunity to “Ask us anything” (where “us” is the management team). Not all of our news was good, but our staff and agents have thank us for not keeping them in the dark.

Fear is enhanced by the unknowns. While I don’t claim to know where the economy will really end up, I do know how we are adapting, why we are adapting, and how we adjust as we move through this mess.

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?

I think there are a host of reasons that sales is not taught within formal education. Really great salespeople go sell instead of teach. Teachers don’t understand sales and have not been trained.

And let’s be honest, while everyone is selling something (even an idea, or where they want their spouse to go on vacation), somewhere along the line, “sales” has gotten a bad rap as a career.

Lastly, too many people think sales is something some people just do naturally, and so they believe you are born a sales person or not. So they don’t teach it (which may be just as well, as so few who are great at sales can teach it well).

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?

Bad sales is pushy sales. It is the image we have of overly aggressive used car salesmen. As I first heard in a class lead by Jeffery Gitomer, “No one wants to be sold, but they do want to buy.” I agree.

If you take this further, people don’t like to be tricked, and the old “salesy” methods are very manipulative. Sooner or later we realize someone is working to manipulate us, and then we feel foolish if we fall for it. Or we feel great when we escape it. Either way, it is rarely a successful approach for the long-term.

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’m told that I’m good at handling objections. I work hard to not just understand the verbal objection, but to have empathy for the other person. What they say may, or may not, be the real issue. Sometimes they may not know where they are stuck, so they just think up obstacles that “seem reasonable” and spit those out.

When I had just started my technology company, I really needed to get this particular large project, and I thought it was almost a done deal. Then the CEO calls with a curve. The owner had decided to hire a new employee to do the work in-house. I fumed about it after the call. I was positive this would not be a wise choice for that company, even if they didn’t hire us.

After I got past feeling sorry for myself, I thought, “Well, if my company is really the best choice, I should be able to prove it.” I spent hours to validating my evidence, then more work to make it super easy to review.

So the next day I called the CEO and said, “I understand your position, but I’ve put together some numbers and a risk evaluation to explain how we compare to your owner’s plan. Can I come see you for ten minutes?” He agreed, and I drove an hour for the meeting.

I presented a spreadsheet with costs and risks for every scenario, including their new idea of hiring. I didn’t print it, I took a computer (which was harder to do in the early 90’s). I even offered to edit any number he thought was wrong.

He took my numbers, without changes, to the owner. They reversed their decision and hired us.

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?

Lead generation is about offering real value to the right potential customers. That’s it. It is also how to start and build a great business relationship with the customer.

For example, we used paid and SEO strategies to get visitors to our website. Our ads and articles and offers are all things that we provide that are often not available from any other real estate company. We give our unique information away, and in turn, people will share their contact information and give us permission to keep in touch with them.

Put a simpler way, if you want good leads, offer something of real value to your ideal customers. Then do that again, and then again, and don’t stop.

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’?

Handling objections requires active empathy and great knowledge of your benefits. Empathy requires that you try to really understand what and HOW the other person feels, then respond accordingly (even if you think it unreasonable or irrational).

Knowledge is not valuable unless it is used to help the other person, but you have to be an expert in your value proposition. It is not just listing facts about greatness.

When someone has objections, they are either lacking information or they don’t feel safe yet. Great answers can often solve the information shortage. Safety can come from information too, but it has to be presented differently. It has to show how the offering is a safe and wise choice and that is not always a logic statement.

After all, it is the rare child who is scared at night that will gladly accept proof their closet has no monsters. They want security and love, not facts.

Lastly, some late stage objections are not real. The person does not feel safe, has no idea why. So they feel they must say something, and so they offer made-up objections to justify how they feel.

The idea is that if we feel unsafe and we can think of a reason, then we must be reasonable people. Shooting down objections does not solve this problem, as the objection was not real, just an excuse.

I like to have empathy and offer a personal story (and yes, it will be real and candid). For example, “You may be a bit unsure about joining us. I get it. When I was offered the opportunity to join Lake Homes Realty, I was not sure either. It was a big step, and we took fifteen months to evaluate the move. Of course, at that time the company had no revenue and no staff, just unfinished software and debt. Now we are profitable, operating in thirty states, and the agents who join us typically double their income in time. All that to say that I understand how you may feel about a move, and I promise we’ll work hard to help you be very successful.”

(Yes, every bit of that is true.)

‘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.

  • Don’t “sell.” Help people. Offer solutions to someone’s problem, need, or desire. If you can’t do that, then you can’t avoid salesy.

I didn’t get a great wife because I sold her about what a great husband I would be for her. We built a great relationship, each mindful to never take the other for granted and to always be sure we each are giving.

Relationship laziness kills many deals and many relationships, so it takes regular, mindful focus.

Doris and I built a relationship that we value so much, and neither of us wants it to ever end. In reality, our relationship was “a closed deal” well before we were married. Marriage was just the formality.

Good business is really much the same.

  • Make sure you listen, and what you are offering is what they want (or need) and/or is of clear value to the client.

Pushy is shoving the wrong answer down someone’s throat, no matter how polite or well-intentioned that shove may be.

If what you offer does not help the client, figure that out and move on to someone it will help. To linger and keep pushing an undesired or unvalued offering is like trying to teach the pig to sing: It simply wastes your time and annoys the pig.

  • In advance, give genuine and clear permission for the client to say “No.”

“I want to explain my offer, but if it doesn’t work for you, you’ll tell me ‘no,’ okay?”

This gets the other party to agree they won’t throw up false objections instead. A clear “no” lets us quickly move on to why they really said “no.”

This approach also shows trust and allows the other person to have some control. It is hard to be seen as pushy when you have given them the control (and honor it).

  • Focus on one of three outcomes: YES, NO, or a very clear future, with dates, times, and mutual expectations.

Too many people meet and meet and meet. That might be okay IF you are making progress instead of creating new objections each time. That is often not the case.

So, at the end of meeting or call, I often ask if we are at a YES or a NO. If not, or I realized that before asking, then I want a clear future.

For example, “I understand you are not to a “Yes” right now and would like some more information about XYZ. I will have that to you by Thursday at noon, and you agree to call me on Monday. And if you don’t call Monday, you won’t mind me calling Tuesday and you’ll take my call. Does that work for you? If not, what does?”

  • Present the closing offer clearly. Don’t dance, don’t use word-play. It sets off B.S. detectors.

Early in my career, I wrote long proposals with the price hidden near the end. I wanted the potential client to read it all so they would see what a great job we did understanding their need and see all our great planning.

It was a lot of work, and because we had not really discussed budget very well beforehand (a HUGE mistake), I was sometimes way off on price.

I learned to simplify the offer. The follow-up paperwork can take care of the details and any legal requirements. This approach shows knowledge and trustworthy confidence.

Here’s the number. If it doesn’t work, we can change the scope of the work or agree this is not a fit.

During the 2009 economic bust, I emailed a new car dealership an offer to buy a new truck. I sent a description of my very old truck and how much cash I would bring.

I told them I didn’t know what all their rebates and instant offers and invoice prices were and was not interested in understand it all. But, I could bring my trade-in and a check for a specific amount for this one specific truck on their lot.

The dealer’s salesman responded, “Yes, I can do that if you can do it today.” I was there half an hour later and bought the new truck. That salesman also did a great job of “Yes” and establishing a clear future!

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?

Follow ups are important, but can be challenging. The other party knows why you are following up. They may still not be ready to decide. Or they not interested but afraid if they tell you “no” you won’t like them (and are hoping you’ll lose interest and eventually go away).

A good follow-up is relational. It brings value to the relationship, not begging and not fake engagement.

I find too many follow-ups I receive bring no value. That degrades the relationship and the opportunity.

Think of it this way: Suppose every time I came to see you I took too much time, ate your snacks, came by too often, and kept you from what was important. You’d likely run me off or at least work to avoid me.

On the other hand, what if every time I visited, I didn’t stay too long and I gave you a $100 bill. Would you welcome me each time? Probably.

Follow-ups are the same. Value, or lack of value, to the other person will either help or hurt you. Choose wisely.

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?

Closing is always easier in person or through some active dialog, such as a call or video conference. Emails and texts leave too much gap for others to create fuzzy or unclear answers, or to create pauses in the discussion where new obstacles can arise.

As we’ve grown our business across the country, we meet with prospective agents in person as often as possible. We may drive or fly to them, or bring them to our corporate office or company meetings. I’ve had hundreds of these meetings and thousands of miles of travel.

Why? Real estate agents who commit to joining our company almost always do so during a meeting or call, not through an email or text exchange.

Human connection matters for important decisions.

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. 🙂

Think bigger, and then make that come true.

As little children, we have big imaginations of what we may be when we grow up. Then we grow up and don’t think big anymore. Some say it is because life’s responsibilities force us to reality.

For some, this is true. But for most of us, we get lazy. We settle. We believe our own excuses. We blame the world around us, and the people who (we falsely believe) limit us. We avoid discomfort even though that is the only place where growth occurs. And worst of all, what big ideas we have we expect others to build, never taking the responsibility and initiative to lead the effort through work and example.

What did you dream big when you were a child?

What would you dream big if you were a child today?

Make that come true.

How can our readers follow you online?

I can be found on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/glennstewartphillips

and twitter at @glennsphillips1

and I post videos and articles on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LakeHomesRealtyLLC/

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

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