Daniel DiGriz: So we’re here talking about whether or not selling is a specialized skill for sales people, or a core skill that every independent consultant needs to develop and learn. Of course, this comes on the heels of a couple of our other episodes and Steve, I think you have a thought or two about this right at the top of the conversation.
Steve Pruneau: Well I did think sales and selling were specialized skills that only certain people, certain personality types or somebody who had magically been ordained into the society of professional sales people. I bought into that whole myth for a big chunk of my career, both inside corporate life and also when I was only my own as an independent consultant.
As you can imagine, believing that, I went through some petty lean years and, eventually, [inaudible 00:00:50] got lean experience, not finding clients easily or often enough that finally broke me and I said, “This has got to stop. I am going to become a professional, proficient in sales and selling.”
At that point, I went to see a friend of mine who had made his entire career in corporate sales. He led corporate sales, worldwide, for a multi-national corporation, that was his last substantial corporate job. And he was able to exit the world of traditional employment early as a result of his success.
So he understood my situation and heard my case and he pulled back the curtain right away and said, “Look, there is no magic to it. It’s a myth. There is no personality type.” And he went on to tell me about one of his best sales people at one point was a former engineer. Right away you had this image of a nerd, analytical, you know, all those adjectives we use for people who have spent their lives figuring things out.
His point was, this person was proficient in selling because they could watch for problems and understand them and summarize them back to their prospective clients and, interestingly, that made a connection with clients more often than people who didn’t have the background that he had. And his point was, that establishes a relationship of trust and understanding and that’s the basis of selling, is trust, understanding, between each other and then the sales person understanding their problems so they can then go on to solve it.
That was it. That nailed it for me. That was the emotional side for me. It basically gave me the release, the permission, I don’t know, that’s what I needed to hear. Essentially, they didn’t actually say this but, essentially, he was saying, “Okay, you can do this because you’re that kind of guy so now go forth and sell.” and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
For me, sales and selling is a lifelong journey of continuous improvement and so, basically, there is no magic to it. Just watch for problems, give the other person our full attention and listen to what’s going on with them and repeat back what we think it is and then solve it.
Daniel DiGriz: It’s interesting, Steve, that I hear a couple things in that. I think we talked a little bit in the last episode about this problem solution approach being the core idea in a sales relationship, that it really isn’t the province of professional sales people. It really is anyone who solves a problem. So an engineer is a perfect example.
But you talked about taking somebody’s problems and customizing a solution to them creates a relationship of trust, but that hinges on having a direct relationship. And what I find most telling is that you’re also saying that being a salesperson is merely about indicating having an authentically meaning, that there will be a direct relationship between you and the other person.
And actually that hampers a lot of corporate sales guys. Am I still going to deal with you when the project takes off and the answer is often, “No, you’ll be dealing with somebody completely different.” And that’s often the point where we lose the sale.
I know that from my own experience as a corporate sales guy. It’s like alright, sorry, Daniel, I’d love it if we were still talking with you during the whole project, but if you’re not going to be there, I would like to talk to the people I’m actually going to be talking to.
The other point that I want to make is just that I also hear a little bit in your initial framing of the problem that a lot of people say, “I’m not a sales guy.” It almost implies a dislike of salespeople and that I really think is going on there, and I think you have some thoughts about this too, is almost a moral qualm with selling. Almost a perception that selling involves some kind of thing that morally we can’t countenance if we are straight shooters. And I wonder if you could address that.
Steve Pruneau: Well, I’m not in the camp of disliking or having some concern about salespeople, but there was a time in my life when I wrongly believed, and this is why I emphasize the word “myth”, I wrongly believed that selling was about getting people to buy things that may or may not be good for them, but it’s good for the salesperson or the company. And that’s not it at all. That’s what the conversation with my friend was about.
True professional selling is finding people who need what you have and showing them how to improve their personal life, their professional life, you name the problem. That’s genuine selling and that is, if you talk to any sales professional worth their money, it’s that, that they are truly genuine.
Because they know if they talk somebody into their product or their sale and the other person really doesn’t need it, that’s not a longterm loyal customer and that’s not a genuine sale. That’s just a con. And so yeah, absolutely, I think, if anything, we should unpack this point, this belief for some people, that it’s all about a genuine exchange of value and nothing about talking someone into something.
Daniel DiGriz: It’s interesting as I hear you talk about it, I want to pull out this concept or phrase that you used, which is showing them how to improve something. I actually, I think that’s brilliant. I wouldn’t have thought of that. We use this term of pairing somebody with a need. They have the need and I have the answer. They have a problem, I have the solution. But this gets down to the nitty gritty. Showing them how to improve something. And I suppose, I would say to somebody who was struggling to be effective as a salesperson, without becoming a professional salesperson, I would basically ask two questions. What do you know how to improve for someone else? And can you show someone how you can improve that? If you can answer those two questions, you’re selling, essentially. That’s really the core of it. All the rest of it is fluff and everybody knows there’s a formula. Like let me uncover your need. Let me find your pain points. Let me understand the hurdles of why you didn’t go with somebody else and what concerns or objections do you have?
Of course, I’ll answer those and belay those concerns and overcome them, but that’s just a dance we do. Like a formal dance. If you really just want to get out on the dance floor and boogie, it’s what do you know how to improve and can you show someone how you can do that. If you can answer those two questions with I’ve got something and yes, I can show them, you can totally sell, and, in fact, that’s better than 90% of the people who attempt to be professional sales people.
Steve Pruneau: And here’s the thing. I would suggest to you, whether, of all the people on LinkedIn who have a professional skill of some sort and that would fall into the category of consulting. It doesn’t matter what it is. Whatever your industry is. Pharmaceuticals, some sort of manufacturing, services, health care, just about every person is in a professional skill of some sort can solve a problem. You can see it in their LinkedIn profile. Whether they’re an employee or an independent consultant. The difference is simply, like you said, conveying it. So it’s more an art of conversation and learning to listen, but all of us can sell because we know how to solve people’s problems and that’s a big shift. And that’s the reason I wanted to talk about this today, is because there are a lot of people who either want to be independent consultants or already are who may not yet have accepted that mindset of, “Oh yeah, I can solve people’s problems.”
Well, if you can, now it’s just about finding those people and listening to them and then translating back what you heard their problems to be.
Daniel DiGriz: I think that’s where we solve that main moral qualm. People think there’s a fakery in selling. You have to couch what you really want and figure out a way to persuade the other guy and really, you want to be able to ask the other person “Do you want to partner together?” “Do you want to work on this?” I think the answer to that authenticity, how are we authentic as sales people, as consultant sales people is that we do really focus on what can we improve? What can we help with? And then can we communicate it clearly? It’s the choice of the language. So we don’t have to learn a specialized sales vocabulary.
Now there’s another aspect of this that I like, which is, you know, when I was a kid, my dad always worried that I wouldn’t cut it in the world and I think this is the fear of a lot of dads. “I’m sending you out in the world, son. You’re nearing 18, are you really going to be able to take care of yourself?” And I remember that he said to me, “You need to learn to do some basic things. Boil an egg. You need to learn to be able to buy something green and balance your diet. Don’t live off Kentucky Fried Chicken and boiled eggs. You need to be ale to change your oil. There’s a few things that are basic, you need to know how to measure something and cut something, that are going to serve you well. Let me teach you how to hammer a nail.”
And, in essence, I think, for me, that’s where selling comes in, is you don’t have to be a professional salesperson to learn how to do the basics, how to hammer a nail and boil an egg from a sales perspective. But it is something that we all need to learn the basics of. I think that’s what we’re talking about today.
Steve Pruneau: Yes, I wish, I hope, this becomes part of our national conversation. Right alongside the whole question of jobs because many of us are still in the habit of putting up our work history and letting someone else figure out whether we’re a fit. And as independent professional consultants, our job, that basically shifts the burden to the other person and our job is actually to solve people’s problems. Don’t make the audience figure out whether you’re a fit. Tell them, explicitly, this is what I do. Nowadays when people phone me up, and occasionally there will be an intermediary, some other salesperson who wants to get a commission. I’m okay with that because I haven’t met their client and there’s an opportunity to be introduced. And I tell them all the time. Let’s just have a conversation with your client. I don’t want to work on a big project where I’m not a fit. They’re often disarmed and surprised by that, but it’s true. I don’t want to be a part of a project that’s not a genuine sale. It’s awful. It’s a terrible way to work.
So yes, coming back around to what you said, in my opinion, this is a prerequisite skill, just like cooking for yourself. It’s part of our livelihood, how we take care of ourselves.
Daniel DiGriz: Yeah I love … It’s almost radical what you’ve said, that the national conversation needs to include more about how to get clients for yourself, not just how to get a job and then we rely on all these … I mean, and, in fact, it’s becoming less and less effective.
I mean, you upload your resume to some kind of database along with 30,000 other people applying for the same job. Without something beyond that, the job’s pathway is a little bit hopeless.
You’re underscoring that sales is key to personal empowerment. Not passivity, but expressing this is what problem I solve and this is why I’m uniquely positioned to solve it. And this is a point I often make to people when we’re writing a bio, for instance, a professional bio from somebody, whether it’s on LinkedIn or on their website or whatever, that a bio is a proposal, that what you’re really explaining is not really where you grew up and what your favorite color is, it is what problem you solve for people and why you are uniquely positioned to solve it. Why you and not somebody else. So in that sense, even from that basic standpoint, if you can explain that, you can sell.
Of course, the point of our podcast today is that everyone can sell. And as we wind down, we just want to underscore that our answer to this question is that this is not the province of professionals. This is rightly the “how to boil an egg” for every independent consultant out there.
May contain transcriber errors.