I believe most sales people struggle with Handling Objections because they don’t listen or they are quick to react to defend their point of view. One of the things we recommend in our training is to follow the E.A.R. model. Empathize: “I understand why you feel that way, we’ve heard this from others;” Ask: “Would you mind sharing with me how often you believe this will happen?;” Respond: “What if we decided to provide you a solution that reduces the likelihood of…” This simple framework is designed to help the sales person to pause and listen to what the customer is saying instead of quickly defending the objection.
I had the pleasure interviewing Steve Gielda. Steve Gielda is the president and co-founder of Ignite Selling, a global sales performance improvement company enabling businesses to exceed their revenue goals by improving critical on-the-job behaviors.
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 sales career with Harris/3M in 1987 selling copiers in Northern Virginia. This was a straight commission sales job, that might seem daunting to some people, but the training I received enabled me to succeed. I stayed with the company for 10 years and moved from sales rep, to Sales Manager, to District Manager, and finally to Regional Director. While I was in my 10th year with the company, I was approached by a sales effectiveness/consulting company called Huthwaite. The founder, Neil Rackham, was a very well-known and respected author. Neil has written SPIN Selling and several other books. Neil and I spoke, and after 3 months I decided to leave the company to enter this market of sales enablement consulting.
I spent four years working with Neil and the team at Huthwaite. It was a very special opportunity for me to learn the business under such a well-respected company and authority in the market. As a lead consultant, my job was to work with the CROs, CSOs, and Sales VPs to explore ways to improve the performance of their sales team. We explored topics such as competitive landscapes, new product launches, sales process, effective coaching, fundamental selling skills, strategic account management and many others. In 2001, the company was sold, and this provided me the opportunity to stay with the company’s new owners or take a chance and start my own company. So, at the end of 2001, I decided to start my own sales enablement company.
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’ve been in sales now for 33 years and there is no doubt that anyone who has been in sales for a number of years has many interesting and amusing stories, but I think one of the most interesting stories that comes to mind stems from a “ride-along” that I participated in a few years ago. I was asked to observe a number of the sales reps and provide feedback to the strengths and weaknesses I observed. The sales rep I was working with worked for a global shipping company where the culture is very buttoned up; the sales team is well trained and the expectation is to wear a suit and tie every day. On this particular day, the sales rep I was with pulled into a warehouse distribution area, parked his car and asked me to take off my tie, jacket, and roll up the sleeves of my shirt. He then said; “I’m going to step outside of our traditional sales protocols and you have to trust me on this”. I said OK, no problem, and followed him inside the warehouse office. Well, what took place within the first 3 minutes of interaction between the sales rep and his customer sounded like lines from the movie Scarface. The customer was using language with the sales rep that I never expected to hear on a sales call. They both were laughing and teasing each other, and the salesperson, trying to remain professional, jumped in with his own four-letter words to connect with the customer. Needless to say, I was shocked at what I was watching, but at the same time it was a smart move from the sales reps perspective. He knew this customer well, and knew that he had to play along if he wanted to continue to build his relationship with the customer.
When we got back to the car and put our ties back on, he asked me my opinion. Did I think it was appropriate for him to mirror the customer’s style? My quick response was that it wasn’t necessary to use similar language, but it was smart to remove our tie and jacket. But as I’ve looked back on that situation and shared it with others, most people believe that the sales rep was right to meet the customer’s communication style and as long as the four-letter words weren’t targeting a person, it would be OK… but not encouraged.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m working on a few really exciting projects right now, but the one project I find most interesting is a project where we’re helping a global sales company accelerate opportunities in their pipeline. There is no doubt that COVID-19 forced many sales opportunities to stall in the sales pipeline. The challenge now is how do you kick-start those opportunities? Well the short answer is, it depends on a few factors: is the opportunity with an existing customer or new prospect? Have you established a few strong advocates? Where is the opportunity in the pipeline, early, middle or late? The answers to these questions and maybe a few others will determine your strategy or approach to “kick-start” the opportunity. For this global sales company, our work is focused on helping them better utilize the custom sales process and critical milestones we built for them. It’s only been 3 weeks since we started our project, and we’re already seeing movement in their pipeline.
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?
There is no doubt that it’s difficult to make it on your own. I am grateful for the dozens of people who have coached me along the way. These people stem from many aspects of my life; from my wife, to my family, to close friends and professional colleagues. I believe it’s critical to have people in your life to hold you accountable for doing the things you’re capable of and passionate about. However, there is one person who I am most grateful for, especially over the past 10 years. That would be my business partner Kevin Jones. Kevin doesn’t come from a sales background. He is more of a creative design and process guy. In addition, he is someone who sees things through what he calls a “realistic” lens, and I see things through what I call a “clear lens of possibilities”. Needless to say, I am the ultimate optimist. And even though we don’t often agree on things, he does challenge my thinking. I believe it’s important to see the counterbalance of a situation. If we only hang out with “yes” people, we’ll never grow. I am grateful for Kevin as he has enabled me to grow which in part drives the growth of our company.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
The term “authority” seems a bit unilateral for me, so I prefer to say that I am a “thought leader” on the topic of sales. I believe I am a thought leader on this topic because I have observed well over 10,000 sales calls in over a dozen different countries, conducted hundreds of win/loss analyses, researched sales behaviors, published several papers, and co-authored the book Premeditated Selling: Tools for Every Sales Opportunity.
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?
There is no doubt that the news related to COVID-19, as well as the racial and political unrest facing our nation, is causing many people to feel anxious, isolated and maybe fearful. The advice I am offering to friends, family and colleagues is to lead with a heart of compassion. Understand where the person is that you’re speaking too. Don’t assume they are aligned with your thinking or belief. I encourage people to ask more than they say and listen more than you speak. If people would simply start asking more questions from their heart and truly listening before they respond, we wouldn’t have as much divide. Instead, people allow the ego factor to kick in and ask questions to merely defend their position.
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?
Though it’s true that most universities don’t provide any form of education on selling, we have been seeing a trend over the past 15 years where universities are not only teaching the fundamentals of selling, but also competing in a NCAA sales competition. The University Sale Education Foundation, www.salesfoundation.org was founded by Howard Stevens and is making some great strides in expanding the topic of “sales” within our university systems. However, with that said, most universities still are not teaching “sales,” and I believe this is because most universities look at “sales” as part of “marketing.” There is a belief that sales is merely an extension of marketing. But, as people in the industry know, those two roles are very different.
This discussion, entitled “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy”, 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?
I believe the terms “salesy” and “pushy” are perceived in society as being negative; therefore, sales professionals try to avoid being those things. However, top salespeople in any profession have become masters at selling because they know the critical skills, process, and knowledge they must have, and more importantly, they know how and when to use it. When skills, process, and knowledge are not used properly, salespeople are looked upon as unprofessional, or possibly “salesy or pushy.” Top sales professionals today understand that they must know how to listen with empathetic ears. Top salespeople understand that their success is merely an economic output from helping their customers be successful. The moment the customers believe the salesperson is only there to help themselves, they will turn off and begin to feel as if the salesperson is becoming too “salesy or pushy”.
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 see the stages of a sales cycle differently. A sales cycle in my mind begins with Prospecting, Qualifying, Strategizing, Negotiating, and finally Implementing. I believe what you’re referring to is a Sales Call process, the process that takes place when interacting with a customer. I believe this Sales Call process could take a short as a few hours or as long as months, possibly years depending on the complexity and cost of your product. Using the stages you provided, Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Objection Handling, Closing, and Follow up, I think I am best at the Approach, if you’re defining “Approach” as the initial engagement. I believe this is a strength of mine because I believe it’s the most fun part of selling. It’s at this stage where you have the opportunity to to learn about your customer’s challenges and get them to talk about the value of removing the challenges. If I had a “secret sauce,” I would say it’s asking more than you tell and listening more than you speak.
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?
You’re right that prospecting is one of the most basic steps of selling, and it’s also probably the most dreaded part of selling. I believe many salespeople dislike prospecting because it’s time consuming and the hit rates if you’re calling on new prospects is low. I have found prospecting through LinkedIn to be extremely profitable. There are systems and tools that can be put into place where you can reach dozens of prospects a day with very little effort. Success from this type of prospecting stems from your ability to align quickly to the business challenges of your audience.
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’?
I believe most salespeople struggle with Handling Objections because they don’t listen or they are quick to react to defend their point of view. One of the things we recommend in our training is to follow the E.A.R. model. Empathize: “I understand why you feel that way, we’ve heard this from others;” Ask: “Would you mind sharing with me how often you believe this will happen?;” Respond: “What if we decided to provide you a solution that reduces the likelihood of…” This simple framework is designed to help the sales person to pause and listen to what the customer is saying instead of quickly defending the objection.
‘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.
No doubt that without the “Close,” you’re not selling anything. I believe there are several different approaches I take when closing a sale. My sales range from a minimum of $15,000 to a high of $500,000, but an average contract for me is about $125,000. Closing a six figure contract takes time. Of the best practices that I’ve seen top performers use to successfully “Close” a sale, here are a few that I use regularly:
- Make the close the natural next step: This means that because you did an excellent job exploring the challenges and discussing the pain of not making a change, the only logical next step is to resolve the problem — to buy your solution.
- Sharing the vision of the benefits of your solution: I was working with a customer on a global contact and I knew their concern was the complexity of the implementation process. Once I was able to remove the concern and get them talking about the potential value of our solution, the contract was signed.
- Weighing the Pros and Cons: Sometimes a customer struggles with making a commitment. One way I have found to help them through this dilemma is to help them weigh the pros and cons. I was working with a new prospect and they were becoming paralyzed from making a decision. I sat down and weighed the pros of taking action vs. the cons of not taking action. The buyer in this situation created the list, I of course helped by adding to the pros. The pros outweighed the cons and they bought.
- Understanding the decision criteria: Too often salespeople don’t understand the decision criteria their customer is using to make a buying decision. One of the things I always do is to explore the decision criteria early. Decision criteria could be things such as ease of use, experience in the market, breadth of product portfolio, and of course price. Knowing these criteria up front and understanding how the customers perceive your ability to meet those criteria makes closing the sales easier.
Coming up with a fifth best practice would be pushing me into closing tactics that I believe don’t work.
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?
I think “follow-up” is critical for anyone that had shown interest in your solutions but elected not to make a buying decision. In fact, I believe that the customer is expecting you to stay in touch with them. My rule of thumb starts with asking permission to keep in touch and to send information from time to time that might be relevant. With that permission in hand, I will typically touch base every 30–45 days, but I don’t ask for a meeting. I am merely sending them information that might help them do their job better. It might be a whitepaper, some research in their industry, an invitation to a webinar, or just something to keep my business on the front part of their mind. Depending on how the last dialogue ended, I will eventually ask them to reconnect on the phone to explore the potential changes in their business or the market that might make our solutions more interesting to them.
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?
There is no doubt that all forms of communication are being used more frequently during this pandemic. In fact, I am finding more customers quickly inviting me to a video conversation where just 6 months ago we would have had a phone conversation. With that being said, when it comes to closing a sale, the best mode of communication depends on the relationship you have with the customer/prospect. When I am working with an existing customer, it would be 100% acceptable for me to send a text message asking if the customer was ready to move forward with our proposal. However, when working with a new prospect, I haven’t earned the right to be that informal. Therefore, I would avoid texting a new potential customer to ask for the close. The best method to close the business in my opinion is face to face or through video chat. This provides you to read the customer’s body language or facial expressions when talking with them about your proposed solution. One of the largest contacts I ever closed was a $1.2M contract, and it was done totally over the phone and video conference. When it came down to the negotiation, I wanted to fly out to the client location, but it wasn’t possible, so we simply conducted a video conference. This provided me nearly the same experience as being across the table from the customer and we both were able to share information that made the negotiation easier.
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. 🙂
Wow! That is a meaty question! The movement I would like to start is one of simple compassion for others. There is a saying I learned long ago that says; “If you have the ability to ____, then you have an obligation to do it.” Just fill in the blanks with something simple. If you have the ability to pick up trash from others, then you have an obligation to do it. Too often people struggle with doing the easy things to lift the burden of others. If you have the ability to provide water to the homeless people on the streets, then you have an obligation to do it. Now, I recognize that we can’t do everything, but if I could start a movement that could create goodness to lots of people, it would be to simply remind people of the easy things that can be done if we just take action. People have the ability to do so many things to ease the burden of others. Let’s take action together to encourage people to fill in the blank when they see the opportunity to do something.
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Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!