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“Cut ourselves some slack.” With Mitch Russo & Scott Ingram

We should also be a bit more forgiving of ourselves and similarly cut ourselves some slack. Working under these conditions is extraordinarily draining emotionally. We need to recognize that and work that much harder to maintain our mindset and be available to support those around us. As a part of my series about how to […]

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We should also be a bit more forgiving of ourselves and similarly cut ourselves some slack. Working under these conditions is extraordinarily draining emotionally. We need to recognize that and work that much harder to maintain our mindset and be available to support those around us.


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 Scott Ingram.

Scott Ingram is a quota carrying sales professional who works almost exclusively with Fortune 500 clients. He is the host of the Sales Success Stories podcast where he interviews top performing individual contributor sales professionals. Scott lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and two daughters.


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?

I started my first company when I was 20 years old. It was an IT Consulting firm in Orange County, California called Grey Matter Technologies (this was long before Breaking Bad). I learned very quickly that if you don’t have any clients, you don’t really have a business and so I had to learn to sell very quickly.

After selling that company and moving to Austin, Texas about 16 years ago I realized that my favorite part of running a company was the sales and marketing aspect. Finance, operations and HR were not my favorite. So, I decided to pursue a career in professional sales where I remain what I call an intentional individual contributor.

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?

A number of years ago I was working with a company that sold a ratings and reviews solution. I was working on an opportunity with one of the largest digital camera manufacturers in the world to bring this solution to their website.

About three days before the end of our fiscal year, I called our champion on my way into the office to make sure that things were still on track to close before the end of the month. He told me there was just no way. They didn’t even have redlines back on our agreement, and there were just too many approval steps remaining to make the deadline.

My heart sank as I arrived at the office. This deal was massive and would have made me a hero and allowed me to qualify for President’s Club in my first quarter selling for the company.

After thinking about what I could possibly do to make this deal happen I decided to write an email. I summoned all the passion I could muster and poured it into this email. I reminded my champion of how much of a difference this was going to make as they launched their new online store. Additionally, I told him about the heart of our Don’t Stop Believing culture (we played Journey in that office A LOT!), and just how much we believed in this partnership.

About an hour later I got a 3 letter reply. It just said: “DSB”

Together we worked together to make everything happen. We got the lawyers on the phone together to review redlines in real-time. We scheduled meetings with key executives to get the final approvals that we needed. And, not only did they sign the agreement in time, they began their own journey to become a massively successful client, one that was ultimately worth over seven figures annually.

One of the best descriptions I’ve ever heard about sales is that it’s the transference of belief. You have to believe in your product, believe in yourself and believe in your process. It’s less about what you say and more about how you say it and the real intent behind it. Working to make your clients successful is the path to real sales success.

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

In April I finished a project where I reached out to a few dozen of those in the sales profession who I thought were driving the most meaningful results on LinkedIn. I even created my own model for measuring that success using publicly available data. The goal was to understand what they were doing to be successful, and the result was a free PDF with 108 Tips from 36 LinkedIn Sales Stars, plus an even more detailed eBook “Finding Sales Success on LinkedIn.”. Now that that’s done, I’m committed to maintaining a list of the top 100 LinkedIn Sales Stars for at least the next 12 months. I’m a huge believer in learning from those who are actually doing it the best, and the insights from this collection of practitioners is priceless!

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?

You just asked me about my real secret sauce. I’ve always done a pretty good job of surrounding myself with great mentors, and have built a variety of mastermind groups over the years. I took that to a whole new level a few years ago when I launched my Sales Success Stories Podcast. Since then I’ve interviewed over 90 quota carrying sales professionals who are all either the #1 top performer in their company, or at least in the top 1% of performers inside a very large organization like ADP, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Teradata, etc.

This process of going deep and deconstructing these world class sales performers has massively accelerated my own success. I’ve always been a student of sales and read tons of books, but there’s nothing like learning directly from those who are at the top of their game right now.

So, it’s not just one person. It’s this collection of real-world experts who have taught me not just about sales tactics, but about the habits, routines and, most importantly, the mindset required to achieve elite levels of performance.

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

First and foremost, it’s all that I’ve learned from dozens of deep dive interviews and many follow-on conversations with the top performing sales professionals I’ve interviewed on the Sales Success Stories podcast. But I don’t just live in a world of theory. As a quota carrying sales professional myself — responsible for a $3M+ annual revenue number — I get to put what I learn into practice every single day.

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 just a bit more patient with each other and with ourselves.

A couple of weeks ago somebody suggested to me that we all need to just dial back our expectations a bit and be more patient with everyone that we’re interacting with. At this point, everyone is dealing with a lot and there’s probably more than you know going on behind the scenes. They said that, if we expect that they’re maybe 60–70% as effective as they are normally, that will probably be about right and will help us to be more patient and understanding.

We should also be a bit more forgiving of ourselves and similarly cut ourselves some slack. Working under these conditions is extraordinarily draining emotionally. We need to recognize that and work that much harder to maintain our mindset and be available to support those around us.

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?

I think there are really three things going on here:

  1. Very few people really understand what sales is. Sales has a bad reputation because of the awful manipulative sales tactics that many of us have experienced and negative stereotypes that are often perpetuated in the movies. Until people start to realize and, ideally, experience the fact that real sales is about service, this isn’t going to change anytime soon.
  2. There aren’t many of these true sales professionals who work as educators
  3. Sales is as much art as it is science. It’s not a formula that you can teach, and maybe not something anyone can actually learn out of a book. The only real way to learn sales is through experience.

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?

This is a perfect demonstration of the negative stereotypes. If sales is a bad word, turning it into an adjective and calling something “salesy” is just that. It’s negative. In this case I think perception is reality. What we really need to avoid is manipulative tactics and approaches that make our buyer feel “icky” or not OK, in any way. We have to approach sales and our sales process as a much more constructive and collaborative process.

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 constantly working to improve all aspects of my sales process. If anything, I would say that I’m best at managing the entire process and, it is just that, a process. It’s a series of steps that you’re working through WITH your future customer, from initial conversations and discovery, all the way through to success. Notice I didn’t say close. If you’re thinking about closing the deal as the final step in the process, then you’re thinking about sales wrong. We should be thinking about how we help our clients get all the way to the outcomes we promised early in the process. This applies even if we’re not the ones who are actually delivering those outcomes.

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 really don’t love the idea of “leads.” First, there’s a lack of definition. Is a lead a name and phone number on a list, or is a lead someone who calls you directly or visits your website and explicitly states that they’re interested? That’s a huge range. Instead, let’s talk about what you can control more directly. You can control who you proactively reach out to. Who should that be? What does your ideal client look like? The clearer and more specific you can get about that ideal client, the easier it’s going to be to apply a high-quality approach to reaching out and creating new opportunities. I typically think of generating leads as a marketing function, while reaching out and creating opportunities is a sales function. I function best as a sales professional when I can focus my efforts on a small number of companies or individuals who have the highest propensity to work with me.

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’?

At a high level there are really two types of objections. The first are just blow-off type objections. ‘I’m not interested. This isn’t a good time. We already work with XYZ.’ These are just things that are often said almost automatically, most commonly in response to undifferentiated sales outreach attempts. There’s lots written about how to deal with these, but generally I think the answer lies in being more relevant and delivering more value in your approach.

The second type of objections are those that you get later in the deal cycle. These are actually a good thing. Objections like, ‘We don’t have the budget for this,’ or, ‘This isn’t a high enough priority for us right now’ and thousands of other variations are super valuable. These are important conversation starters that will help you get to the truth of what’s really going on. You just can’t take them at face value. You’ve got to dig deeper, ask more questions and seek to understand the real situation.

To be better at handling objections, stop thinking of it as handling them. They’re not something to be overcome; they’re something to be understood. Once you understand what is at the heart of an objection, you can begin working with your buyer to resolve them.

Know that you’re going to hear “no,” even as you’re working through a solid sales process. It’s an important part of the process. It’s counter intuitive, but “no” is often a sign that you’re making good progress. Keep going. Have more conversations and dig just a little deeper.

‘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.

There’s one big thing that you can do to successfully close a sales without being perceived as pushy. Partner WITH them to co-create a mutual action plan. Some call this a close plan, but it’s even better if you create it as a working document that you and your future client can use to hold each other accountable. In this plan, you’ll identify all of the steps between where you are now and where they are in terms of realizing the outcomes they’re looking to achieve through the purchase of your product or service.

Typically, when I explain the desire to create this plan with my champion, I will quickly find out if they’re serious about buying or not.

If you get a lot of early pushback or they just want to wing it, they’re probably not serious. That is a giant red flag that you may be wasting your time. The best sellers realize that the next best thing after winning is losing early.

If they’re serious, then you can dig in. This is an amazing opportunity to talk to them about something similar that they’ve recently purchased. You can learn about all of the steps in their buying process, who needs to be involved, and when.

If this goes well, you’re going to feel like you should add “project manager” as a skill to your professional profile. Each step or action should have a date and identify who is primarily responsible, as well as who else is involved. You should be holding each other accountable throughout this entire process.

Once again, I’m going to emphasize that the “close,” or contract execution, is just another step in this mutual action plan. If there is a downside to this approach, which will very likely significantly increase your close rate, the actual “close” is going to feel a little anti-climactic. That’s just because it shouldn’t be the giant surprise that it was when you didn’t have a more disciplined and coordinated approach. Now you’ll know exactly when your agreement will be signed and you can finally be accurate in your forecast!

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?

If follow-up is a challenge it probably means that you screwed up the end of your last call. At the conclusion of each and every conversation you should reserve time to talk about what happens next and actually schedule that next step. You and your customer want this. I typically just tell people that we should save ourselves the dozen back and forth emails trying to schedule our next meeting and just have everyone open their calendars then and there so we can get the next step booked. It’ll save you from the vast majority of your follow-up headaches.

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 worst communication channel is the one the person you’re trying to communicate with doesn’t like or typically doesn’t respond to. The best channel is the one they like and where they reply the fastest. How do you figure out what those are? Ask them! This is about their preferred channels, not yours. Talk to them where they want to be talked to.

In addition, I think text is almost always the best channel. The sooner you can open up this channel as a line of communication the better. However, you have to be respectful. I like to ask for their mobile number as we’re booking our very first meeting by simply explaining that things sometimes happen last minute and ask if it would be OK if I texted them. Then send a quick message. This tends to be the ultimate channel for real-time updates. Be human. Have fun with it. Your buyers are real people. Treat them that way!

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’d love to inspire a movement where companies put people over profits when that’s appropriate. As we get ready to face what will likely be a very significant recession and potentially even a depression, we need to reward the companies who take care of their people. These include the companies that went above and beyond and perhaps faced some discomfort in their efforts to keep people on the payroll so that they can continue to support their families and receive benefits. We’ll quickly face a downward spiral if companies take the opportunity to cut their staff and contribute to the unemployment stats. Just like we should reward the companies that serve their people and their communities, we should punish and avoid doing business with companies who are sitting on large cash reserves and yet still let people go out of greed.

Success is a long game and the spoils should go to those who do the most good over the long-term. We should all encourage our friends and families to work with those who are doing the most good in the world. This goes for companies and sales professionals alike.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me on https://top1.fm or on LinkedIn at https://linkedin.com/in/scottingram

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

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