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Building Better Sales Habits, with Liston Witherill [Episode 859]

Liston Witherill is B2B sales consultant, trainer, and host of the Modern Sales podcast, on which I was honored to be a guest. In this episode Liston and I dig into the topic of building better sales habits using the science of habit formation. This whole topic of habits is a favorite of mine. Where many people see skills, I see habits. Habits practiced over and over can become skills. The ability to connect with another person on a human level? That’s a habit. Curiosity is a habit. Work on your curiosity habit and the skill of asking great questions emerges. So Liston and I go back and forth on the basic habits that all salespeople need and various schools of thought behind the science of habit formation.

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul: Welcome to the show.

Liston Witherill: Thanks for having me.

Andy Paul: It’s a pleasure to have you, so where have you been hanging out during the pandemic?

Liston Witherill: Mostly indoors as people are at home. So I live in Portland, Oregon. We have tried to get out a little bit. We haven’t traveled at all. But yeah, we built a patio. Or actually, I paid someone to build a patio and then, I bought a smoker this summer, which has been awesome. So now I’ve become obsessed with smoking meat. so that gets me outside too. ot too far from the house, but outside.

Andy Paul: The Pitmaster. So what are the things that you’ve smoked that you enjoy the most?

Liston Witherill: That’s a good question. I think my wife prefers the whole smoked chicken. I am really partial to pork ribs, but I’ve done brisket. I’ve done pork ribs. I’ve done pork butt or pork shoulder, which most people know is pulled pork. Whole chickens. We’ve done pizza. I haven’t done Turkey yet. Turkey is easy. we’ve also done pork loin, which is also incredibly

Andy Paul: Yeah. Yeah.

Liston Witherill: Pizza on the smoker is actually excellent too. So we’ve done that several-

Andy Paul: So interesting. So what do you use to smoke a pizza?

Liston Witherill: Oh, so I got a, I’m a cheater. I bought a Traeger grill. And, for those of you unfamiliar with how smoking works, typically there’s like a fire box and you put whole pieces of wood in there and you turn it into coal and that’s what provides the smoke. and you have to constantly monitor it for temperature but with a Traeger grill, you just dump these special wood pellets in and it automatically does all the monitoring for you. And it has a feeder where it feeds the pellets in to maintain consistent temperatures.

Andy Paul: Sounds good though.

Liston Witherill: It is good.

Andy Paul: Yeah. Unfortunately I live, I can’t have a grill or a smoker, otherwise I’d probably be onto that by now. I’d love that. All right. so here’s a question for you is what lesson have you learned about yourself personally during the pandemic?

Liston Witherill: That’s a good question. probably more than one lesson. I think the thing that, so I’ve worked from home for about six years. or maybe, yeah, maybe coming up on seven years. I don’t, I’ve lost track at this point.

Andy Paul: YEah, we’re in the middle of the pandemic. six months seems like six years, but anyway, go ahead.

Liston Witherill: Yeah time, the passage of time has gotten incredibly weird, hasn’t it? yeah. And given that I’ve worked from home and independently for so long, I think I discounted the importance of all the little micro interactions I had with people throughout the day. So going to the coffee shop, I’m an avid gym goer and I haven’t been to the gym since March, but I would go five days a week to the gym. And I really miss that. And even though I didn’t go there to talk to people, just being in the presence of other people matters. And so I think I had underestimated how important all of those interactions were in how maddening sometimes it can feel to just be on the other side of a computer constantly, even though I do meet with people, I think you’re my sixth phone call today. I meet with people constantly, but it’s not the same.

Andy Paul: Yeah. Interesting. So what are you doing to replace the gym?

Liston Witherill: LUckily we have equipment in our basement. We have a basement with tall ceilings, and so I’ve got enough equipment downstairs to do a full workout. So that’s what I do.

Andy Paul: You’re a powerlifter.

Liston Witherill: YOu can’t do power. I can’t do power lifting in my basement because I don’t have the equipment, but yeah, I did powerlifting like I would, deadlift once a week and bench press and all kinds of main powerlifting movements. so yeah, I do miss that. I’ll be keen to get back in the gym and start that up again.

Andy Paul: Yeah, absolutely. Wow. You asked, on my morning bike ride. Then, on one of the routes I take, I pass by a gym where they built an outdoor cage and put all the equipment out there. And, yeah, there is masked up and working out outdoors. Yeah. all right, we’re going to talk about one of my favorite topics. We’re gonna talk about habits and how to build better sales habits. And, I guess the first question is what’s the difference between a habit and a skill ?

Liston Witherill: OKay. that is a good question. So I’m just looking up the definition of a skill. It says the ability to.

Andy Paul: Ladies and gentlemen, he’s going to Google.

Liston Witherill: THe definition of a skill is the ability to do something well or expertise, right? Whereas a habit is something that we do on a recurring basis, right? And the definition of a habit is three things. There’s a trigger, there’s a routine and there’s a reward. Those are the things that we need present in order to have a habit.

So we apply skills in our habits. So if, for instance, one of my skills may be, podcasting, but it doesn’t matter that much if I don’t show up and do it on a regular basis. and so I think in the context of sales, one of the places where I see this manifest the most is people may have some skills when it comes to prospecting, but they haven’t built up the habit.

They’ve, they say things like. Gosh, my pipeline is looking lean. I know I should be doing this more often, but I’m not, or I’m reaching 10 prospects a week, but I should be reaching 30. and so there’s a lack of a habit. They know what they should be doing. They basically know how to do it.

And actually their skills often will become enhanced if they make it a habit or something that they do more often because that’s, what’s happened, happens with practice. But, the habit is the missing piece.

Andy Paul: Yeah. I think the habit and that’s the reason I was asking it, the lead into this is that yeah, in my mind, the habit is the base, right? You’ve got this behavior and you can’t become proficient at it or turn to a skill unless you do it repetitively, to your point. so I think when people think about, yeah, I’ve got to get better at whatever part, what our sales skill is. The first step is you have to think about, yeah. How do you change your existing habit, to make it something that you do on a repeated basis, consistently?

Liston Witherill: Is that the question?

Andy Paul: That sort of a statement, and you can respond to that or not. That’s up to you. So in your mind, what are the baseline sales habits that sellers need? I spent some time thinking about this and wrote about a fair amount, but it is curious what you, what’s on your list?

Liston Witherill: It depends on their role, right?

Andy Paul: let’s just take an account executive.

Liston Witherill: And I think it depends on what are the requirements of the job of the account executives. And what I mean by that is in some cases there are organizations where the roles are very specialized and there are clear boundaries between an SDR or BDR and account executive and a customer success person.

So I think though that in that case, one of the core habits that a salesperson needs to have the account executive would be maintaining and following up on their pipeline would be an obvious one. Where it’s like we should always be checking in and reprioritizing, what are the key activities that I can undertake that will help my clients the most this week or my prospects the most this week, and are most likely to create results.

So I’m a big believer that focusing on the results is not the right way to focus, of course results matter. But the right focus is what activities do I need to do in order to increase the likelihood of driving those results? Like in other words, you’re not going to close anything if, or you’re unlikely to close something if you’re not following up or executing the tasks that you need to on your pipeline? I think another one is, another habit, also a skill. but in this case, a habit, meaning you should be doing it every single time is, asking great questions and I think reflection, right? So it’s not enough to ask great questions. You also need to reflect afterwards what happened? What did I hear from the person? How could I phrase that question a little bit differently? Did they interpret what I was asking correctly? The, for me, those are the kind of key things that are going to make a huge difference. And then of course, I believe outreach is a core habit. That everyone needs to start adopting. And I don’t mean that strictly from, contacting prospects that could also be contacting industry thought leaders that could be contacting people. I appreciate that I could be contacting peers at other companies, having created a habit so that you’re extending. The size of your network and the resources within your network. and also giving back to that network, I think is really critical.

Andy Paul: Yeah, absolutely. And we’ll dig into that some more. I agree on all those that you talked about. What about mindset? Is that a habit?

Liston Witherill: I don’t think so.

Andy Paul: HAving, let’s say a growth mindset is that a habit? Because you have the ability to change that, or you believe people have the ability to change and so on, but that outlook is that because it can be acquired. So if a mindset could be acquired, can it really become a habit?

Liston Witherill: I don’t think the mindset itself is a habit. I don’t want to get into a semantic discussion, but I do think that, so for instance, in order to adopt more of a growth mindset and we could get into a separate discussion about freewill and the plasticity of the mind and how much could someone reasonably change, but certainly most people can improve or make some marginal change in their mindset. so when it comes to a growth mindset, a habit that could lead to more of a growth mindset could be something like asking yourself why you see your sale as a zero sum game, as opposed to. a situation in which two people or two entities can both win. And there can be a world of abundance. A Habit could be some sort of mantra or phrase you repeat that can lead to more of a growth mindset, right?

Andy Paul: right? Yeah. that can contribute that something that you do that in order to use it on a daily basis in order to, remind yourself if nothing else is a trigger, if you will,

Liston Witherill: but I don’t think the mindset, I don’t think the mindset itself is a habit.

Andy Paul: Yeah, I’m not sure I agree, but yeah. Okay. I understand. What

Liston Witherill: your argument.

Andy Paul: because I think it’s, it is an acquired behavior and habits are fundamentally behaviors. I don’t think I have a mindset.

Liston Witherill: Mindset is not a behavior though.

Andy Paul: It is.

It’s a 

Liston Witherill: is a frame. It’s a frame. It’s a way of viewing the world and thinking about the world.

Andy Paul: ANd that’s not a behavior? Of course it is. To me, that’s yeah. It’s all behavior. Cause it’s something you’re changing from one way of behaving to another way of behaving and that behavior comes with a perspective, but it’s not something that’s inherent in you as a person necessarily. Anyway, let’s move on. Let’s move on. The next one you

Liston Witherill: Yeah. We’ll agree to disagree on that.

Andy Paul: Yeah. Okay. Perfect. Curiosity

Liston Witherill: Yeah. So curiosity. the reason

Andy Paul: habit or not.

Liston Witherill: it’s almost like a natural disposition for a lot of people, right? And so one question that I’m interested in, that you hear a lot in sales is like around motivation. How much can you give someone else motivation or make them more motivated? And I would argue, you can make a small difference, but there’s not a lot you can do to make an unmotivated person motivated. And some people will just be naturally. More motivated or aggressive in the way they approach the world. same thing with curiosity. I do think there are ways to become more curious and I think the manifestation of having the I don’t know if you’d call it a skill or just the disposition or personality trait of being curious. One of the ways that would manifest is by asking questions and focusing primarily on other people. And I think that’s a behavior that can be learned and we’ll have the effect. Is it the tail wagging the dog? IT will have the effect of making you more curious because you’ll learn interesting things about people, where if you’re asking a lot of questions, you’re going to be surprised at what you find. You’re going to be surprised by how often your assumptions about people are wrong or about how. Unlikely. It is for you to be able to know as much as you think, about other people. YEah, curiosity, I think is an important habit and I, I follow your stuff, Andy. So I know it’s a core tenant of what you talk about and it’s you find that very important as well. And I think there’s no two ways about it. The curious person will be more successful when it comes to selling than the person who is more self-interested or just oriented towards going out and pitching and talking your ear off.

Andy Paul: Yeah, I agree. And I, it’s interesting. You brought that point. Last point is because I have an article open on one of my devices somewhere. Unfortunately, it’s not in front of me, I think it was in the HBR Harvard business review. Article that the headline was. Yeah. Curiosity is more important than intelligence in terms of success.

And I think that’s the case. You, I think that sometimes people get stuck to the point you made precisely. And I see oftentimes in sales is, we arm sellers with a list of scripted questions and sometimes they’re just not the individual. Isn’t curious enough to move beyond that. They don’t ask a question that they don’t know the answer to, or that they, don’t know what to expect in terms of an answer, which to me is, behavior that you’d want people to be able to adopt as to have that now if it’s confidence or interest to ask those types of questions, those great questions that you’ve talked about.

Liston Witherill: Yeah. Yeah. yeah. And that’s, you bring up a good point. There is, for curiosity to be genuine, we can’t just be robots or monkeys asking questions about where someone grew up or whatever, the sort of standard questions are,

Andy Paul: Do you do X, right?

Liston Witherill: Do you do X? What’s the weather like? How has your weekend been? There’s all these like standard smalltalk questions we can ask. But I think true curiosity comes from having an interest in gleaning the information from the other person and really trying to understand them. That’s where true curiosity comes from. But the good news is, you can get more curious or become more curious by asking those questions and especially asking the follow-up questions in the first place.

Andy Paul: Yeah. Yeah. But I think asking the great follow-up questions is a great habit and yeah, one in particular, I love as Michael Bungay Stanier in his book, the coaching habit, what do you call all habits, awe or questioning, excuse me, which is, and what else? When you’re asking somebody a question, they give you an answer and you get in the habit of asking, what else can you tell me about that? that then to the point you made earlier, I think that just continues to breed curiosity. If you’re interested.

Liston Witherill: Yeah. And I think about it from a tactical perspective for anybody listening to this, if you’re. whether or not you feel like you’re curious enough, doesn’t really matter. But if you feel like there are opportunities to learn more about other people, and maybe you change the subject too fast, are there times when you make assumptions and you just move on?

The question I like to ask comes from Alex Bloomberg, the co-founder now of Gimlet, but there is the guy who started planet money, His key question, which also comes from IRA glass. This American life is what do you make of that? So someone will say something, in this case, we’re in a sales environment and our prospect says something particularly about the problem that they’re having.

I would always ask, what do you make of that? And I think the power there is, they’re then going to try to. Come up with an explanation and it can shine a light on how good that explanation is. what else is going on with them. And the more we ask these follow-up questions and what else, what do you make of that? There’s lots of other variations of this. If we ask that question two, three, four times, you’ll be shocked at how much more you learn, as opposed to whether you just moved on from that.

Andy Paul: Absolutely. Absolutely. it’s I think people get, so sellers get so anxious to get through the list of questions they have, oftentimes that yeah, they don’t devote the time to stop and say, Oh yeah, they really opened the door for me to ask a follow on question. Let me do that. And the simple one.

Yeah. What do you make of that? And what else? Can you tell me about that? Oh, that’s really interesting. Tell me more, all examples of things that you don’t need to have any knowledge, any greater knowledge about the subject in order to ask those and people love to respond.

Liston Witherill: Exactly. Yeah, I totally agree.

Andy Paul: So another thing about questions I’m interested in your perspective on is, and this is an area that I see increasingly that’s missing because I think partly because sellers are being trained, that this personal connection is less important with buyers than it used to be, which I completely rejected out of hand, but.

For me when, yeah. And that’s to my sales career before doing this stuff is I understood that people had dual motivations for the decision they were undertaking to make that they had something from the company perspective, Hey, this is what’s best for the company. And they always hold this what’s best for me as an individual.

And I, I think a really important habit that I’ve always worked with sellers to develop is make sure that you ask about both perspectives when you’re asking questions, because you, in essence, I believe that if you have five stakeholders that are making a decision, that when you understand their motivations on two levels, you really almost have 10 stakeholders and you really need to understand the point of each of those.

What do you make of that?

Liston Witherill: I see what you did there. I agree with you. I think. It’s tricky to thread the needle 10 different ways, right? At some point we need to decide what’s in and what’s out, in the way that we’re approaching our sale, but generally more information is better. So I totally agree with you. I do think that the likelihood that we would have direct access to really intimately understand five people seems unlikely. but certainly , your point stands, which is, it’s not enough to just understand the company’s goals. You’re going to have usually at a minimum, one decision maker, if not also an influencer two or two and a champion. And I think whoever you’re speaking to, understanding why they care about what they’re trying to do or what they’re trying to buy.

But more importantly, what they’re trying to accomplish will help, to serve as motivation to sell the change that you’re trying to implement with them. So that, to me, that’s always a reference point because it not only tells me how to, what are the notes that I want to hit for this sale to really make sense and have some urgency for the client, but also, how motivated are they?

yeah, I totally agree. I think there’s the personal level and there’s the company level and it’s something that we always need to think about when we’re talking to our prospects.

Andy Paul: So another one that I believe is hugely important and people have various names for this. But for me, after talking about listening I don’t ever have been a big fan of the active listening thing, but yeah. I like phrases. You have to listen to understand as opposed to listen, to respond. What are you talking about in terms of listening habits?

Liston Witherill: Why do you not like active listening?

Andy Paul: Because I’ve seen too many people practice it where it’s an affectation, as opposed to actually listening to understand.

Liston Witherill: Okay, that’s a separate problem.

Andy Paul: Yeah. But still. But oftentimes in sales, we know that we see this problem all the time, especially again, for less experienced people, a little more reliant on the script is they’re just listening to hear somebody talk, stop talking so they can ask the next question.

Liston Witherill: And I would say what that reveals is a lack of mastery in the material and the sales process. Because if you’re listening, if you’re doing, I think what you’re saying is active listening as a way for people to go through emotions without listening. But I think you can, you’re going to have the same problem if you instead say, listen to understand, like they’re going to have the same problem, which is, they’re always thinking about the next thing that they want to say, and they’re not thinking about what the person is actually saying or what they can do with that information. So, I think what ‘s revealing is this lack of mastery in my material. So if I understand my sales process and I don’t have to reference a script that is actually going to free me up a lot more in order to be in the moment and talk to the person, because I already have it down pat. I know in my mind I have a mental model for how I want this conversation to go and the different points at which we can make a left turn or right turn or whatever it is. .

Andy Paul: I didn’t realize my mic was so sensitive. You could hear me catch my breath. It was I’m sorry, but this is. I think the listening goes hand in hand with the curiosity when I say it to listen, to understand as part of it is, it’s a part of your human selling skills are that you’re attuned enough to the person you’re speaking with that, whether you’ve got to the point where you understand whether it’s three times you’re following up with, what do you make of that?

And so on or four times. Where you understand you have the confidence that you understand and maybe, what I always like to do is actually ask them to make sure and verify that I understood, but I think that’s so important as a habit to get into, because I think understanding is a huge source of value for buyers.

Yeah. The one that complaints about sellers as well, they don’t really understand what I’m trying to do here. And if you can make people feel understood, which we know from Maslow, they don’t want people’s basics. Human needs. I think there’s tremendous value there.

Liston Witherill: I will point out that verifying that you understood them is a key cornerstone of active listening behavior. Yeah, and I agree this is exactly how I coach my clients. If we repeat what we understand from the client and ask them, did I get that right? Or would you like to clarify something or tell me I’m totally off base, do it.

Cause I want to know my goal is to understand, not just listen to you talk so I can get out my next question. Totally agree with you. I think, embedded in this idea of curiosity is, we do have to care at some level, right? So if you genuinely only care about your, whatever, your bonus, your commission, hitting your numbers buying, I once had a rep from HubSpot, which is one of my favorite stories to tell me that he was really excited to buy a new condo. And if he closed this deal with me, it would get them closer to buying the condo. And I was like, Wow. I can’t imagine a more self-serving narcissistic. Start this conversation.

Andy Paul: He’d probably been told to say that though. He’d probably be encouraged by a manager who said, look, this is how you can build a connection with the buyer when you’re completely transparent about your motivations. And yeah, you want to be transparent about many motivations if they’re the right motivation.

Liston Witherill: So you bring up a really good point there. And I want to come back to curiosity in a second, I had someone on, I’m doing this series right now called client con it’s an online speaker series. And, I had someone on whom you hear this advice all the time, be authentic. And I’ve recently, also separately had a different person on my podcast who said that. And I was like, you’re saying be authentic, but if someone’s a jerk, you’re not going to give them the advice to be authentic. That’s not really what you’re asking for. You’re saying.

Andy Paul: I never thought about it that way.

Liston Witherill: Yeah. What you’re really saying is care about the person and express that you care about them like that is what creates a sort of a collaborative, meaningful relationship. It’s not authentic. IF I go to someone and say, I just want you to know before we start this conversation, the only reason I’m here is to hit my quota go, right? Like that’s authentic, but that’s not going to solve the problem of having a really piss poor approach to sales.

So back to this idea of curiosity, I was listening to a podcast with Ken Jennings, the famous jeopardy

Andy Paul: jeopardy champion. Yeah.

Liston Witherill: And he was talking about memory. And, he must get asked this all the time. How do you have such a great memory? And he was like, I don’t, he was saying, not just him, but people who are good at trivia, they don’t have some sort of superhuman memory.

They’re just interested in way more things than the average person. And when you’re interested in things, you’re more likely to remember them. And going back to this idea of habits, if we do ask questions and one of the rewards, we haven’t touched on the habit loop, but I mentioned it earlier.

There’s a queue, right? We’re on a sales call. My routine is I’m going to ask open-ended questions and follow up with. And what else, or what do you make of that? And then the reward can be the interesting stuff I learned that I never would have yeah. Known about this person. And now I have a better relationship and wow, voila, a better opportunity than I had before.

so I think having that genuine interest is a bit of a precursor. I’m not totally sure how to make it. I am an absolute narcissist, interested in other people. I’m not sure that’s possible. so I do think about one exercise. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, Andy. This is like sales training one Oh one is to write down three things that you find interesting about people and ask questions about those things.

So like where did they go to school? Where did they grow up? Whatever it is. Find something to be interested in about everybody because. There are definitely moments of real connection. that could, that could, be found, And there are things that you genuinely are interested in about total strangers on average, right?

Again, the North narcissist can just hang up now and stop listening, but, that’s, my feeling is like that. The one thing that we were nibbling on that needs to be said directly is there has to be some genuine interest there.

Andy Paul: Yeah. Let me ask a related question. Because we were talking about this human connection, and I had a long conversation with somebody I interviewed on the show yesterday that by the time people hear this, I’ll probably have just come out as well. It’s likeability, habits. And is it important?

Liston Witherill: So making likability a habit, I would say, would run directly counter to authenticity. So if you are to truly be yourself by definition, we know not everyone’s going to like you and whatever your personality is, some people will be more drawn to you than others period. 

Andy Paul: But I think we also just established that there are times when you don’t want to be authentic, if you’re a narcissist, for instance,

Liston Witherill: Can I cuss on your show, Andy?

Andy Paul: lightly. Yeah.

Liston Witherill: okay. I’ll pass. I, that was a polite way of saying please don’t. So I won’t, but I think my advice is don’t be a jerk, right? And this goes back to Dale Carnegie, how to win friends and influence people is like, People, I don’t think the advice is like how to be likable.

The main takeaway for that book in my opinion is how to be more other oriented and how to be more considerate. How do I empathize more with what someone else is going through and not treat them as some sort of. Two dimensional, flat being, They have all kinds of things going on in their lives.

And so there’s lots of ways for me to empathize with them. So I don’t think that likability is a habit, but I do think being considerate could be, yeah. Is it a habit or a skill? I don’t know the answer to that. but it is it, I think more than likeability in sales being considerate is very important.

Andy Paul: Which can make you likable. Yeah. Yeah. I, this is yeah. People in writing about this, first of all, there’s this whole idea of relationships and sales being unnecessary, which some of that’s really a semantic issue that people are getting into. Yeah. We don’t need to be taking people out to play golf and take them to dinners, but.

By virtue of working with someone to help them achieve something. There is a relationship that connects and yeah, to your point earlier is, yeah, there are lots of jerks and sales and some can do well. but if you have the ability to be likable, given that the difference between winning and losing is oftentimes so small, why wouldn’t you.

Liston Witherill: I just, it’s a lot easier to move through life. treating people well and being considerate to them. And. always for me, it comes back to the golden rule. if you were to create a world where you could define how people are going to treat you, like that’s how you should treat other people.

I think it’s actually fairly simple when it comes down to it. So I totally agree. I do not think so. In fact, I know from my own personal experience, you don’t need to be the golf buddy or the, someone who goes out for drinks all the time with the client that can help. But I think increasingly what we’re going to see in a post COVID world is going to continue to matter less and less, and I’ve felt for a long time that.

As buyers have more information about what’s available in the marketplace, that it matters even less than it did before in less you’re in a completely commoditized industry where there’s absolutely complete transparency in terms of pricing. And there’s no demonstrable difference between you and anyone else then likability may be your differentiator.

But I think most people listening to this won’t be in that situation.

Andy Paul: I think, serve surrogates are done. I think that people’s decisions that they make are a sum total of a lot of small things, as well as big things. And. Again, I firmly believe, and I ride them and talk about this all the time . If I were to ask a seller, which I do as, okay, so on your last deal, how much did you win?

were you, what was your margin of victory where you won by 1% you went by 10%. Yeah. Quantify for me how much you won by and yeah. As it’s virtually impossible to do that. And 

Liston Witherill: not virtually.

Andy Paul: That’s actually okay. Literally impossible. Okay. Thank you. So if that’s the case in my belief, and my experience has been by paying attention, being considered all these other things that inaccurate do make a difference could be the difference.

Yeah, there was some research done that was published by everyone who did it, but was published in a Harvard business review. I don’t know, within the last 10 years, this idea of tie breaking, selling, where people would study this particular phenomenon and found that it was yeah. Small and tangible things that made the difference and swayed the decisions.

Liston Witherill: That’s not surprising. because if you have. So I think a lot of this is contingent on how your buyers buy in how you sell and your, your market leverage is a big part of this, right? Because if you have tremendous market leverage and there’s no true competitor, like those small things are gonna matter a lot less, Because you’re going to be in a category of one. But if your buyers are putting together three to five options, which is like. The, as, the fortune, especially 500 or greater, way of doing it, then. Yeah. Those little things start to matter a lot. Yup. Things like, and I’d love to hear what you think are things that really matter.

But I would think of things like, your patients with the client, your response times, what sort of positive or negative experiences they’ve had with people on your support or technical staff? How timely are you in your email responses? Do they understand your email responses or does it raise more questions than it answers?

those things really start to matter. as you’re in a tight running, for a deal.

Andy Paul: Yeah, I agree. A hundred percent. For me, one thing that’s always been hugely important is responsiveness, but not your combined responses. And two of the points you made is it’s not enough just to be fast, you have to be complete, right? Somebody asked you a question if you’re a fast response, but you.

Don’t provide them the information they need or it’s incomplete, then you haven’t been responsive to their question. and so this idea of saying, look, I need to provide something of value. at speed is really crucial for a lot of companies, just because of the buyer experience that you talked about.

And I found that yeah, some really huge enterprise deals that we’ve worked on I’ve worked on personally in the past are a difference maker. As it was separating. I, in fact, I’m Mara with one client I worked with where we train the sales team on this idea of responsiveness and yeah, they would, they start being able to penetrate competitive accounts, installed base competitive accounts.

They couldn’t before, because the customer might have a question or maybe they’re looking at adding some additional capability, they’d call their incumbent vendor who wouldn’t respond for three days. Whereas my client people would be on the phone in 30 minutes with them. And you think these little things, just a little thing that responsiveness was huge.

We’re talking about 50 to a hundred thousand dollars type transaction size. Yeah. All right. last point I want to ask you about is a continuous learning

Liston Witherill: yes.

Andy Paul: for me. Such a big habit that people need to get into is otherwise. how do you stay relevant if you don’t.

Liston Witherill: Yeah. and you’ve definitely been in sales longer than I have, and you’ve probably seen phases or chapters of how the market changes. so I’m sure. my guess is you have a stronger opinion about this than I do, or at least more direct experience, but. In some ways I’m a little sad, honestly, Andy, because when I look around at the way the economy is changing and not just the American economy, the global economy, the pace of change is so fast.

And I, my sort of. I think probably innate driving motivation for most everything is to learn as much as possible so I can understand the world. And in particular, why people do the things they do that is the common thread in everything I’ve done. And I’m just racial about that. So I will study how a conversion rate works on a website, but I’ll also study the neuroscience of how people perceive a fear or, what is, I talked earlier about motivation.

Another kind of question that you and I have talked about privately before is how good is a personality test to tell us anything that we want to know. I want to know all of those things, And it’s just natural for me. No one told me to do that. And I think that in order to really thrive in the economy, people need to adopt more of this ongoing learning orientation, where they’re willing to update what they think.

They know everything. Maybe not every six months, but every 12 or 24 months, certainly. And constantly be on the search for learning and understanding more and more. And just from a concrete perspective, one of the big forces that’s really making this mandatory is. computing and artificial intelligence is vastly overused and it doesn’t truly exist, but it’s possible that it will.

And it’s certainly true that there are. Systems that feel intelligent, that can replace people in what they’re doing now. And, given that this is the sales enablement podcast, there will be a time when some flavors of sales development reps will be completely obsolete because they’re worse than a robot.

At doing it. And the only antidote for this is to continue to learn more and apply it to what you’re doing. So I know this is a little bit of a rant slash PSA, but I truly believe this. and I think it’s beyond the burden of proof at this point. We know for sure that. The economy continues to move at a faster pace.

Particularly if you’re selling technology or you’re around technology, you really do have to update what, often.

Andy Paul: Yeah, I think so. And I agree, but the pace of change, I think maybe a different frame to look at it for people listening to this. Is that okay? AI and the impact it’s going to have. Isn’t something that should catch you by surprise. Things are changing. AI is ever present in our life already in various ways apps we use and so on.

it’s it being integrated into various applications, ring DNA and our conversational intelligence, platform, conversational AI. But yeah. for sellers, it’s going to come in ways that can both help you. And to your point, perhaps certain people have a negative impact. And so the warning signs are out there.

If you’re not taking steps through learning, through changing yourself, you’ve talked about every six to 12 months. I think Stephen R Covey and speed of trust talks about, I think every year you’re supposed to reinvent yourself is. Yeah, then the faults could be on you because it is happening and it’s coming and you’ve got plenty of notice.

So the question I guess really becomes us for, and that’s, it seems to me like, think about this it’s a mix of like motivation and habit. How do you encourage, how do you teach people to, to learn?

Liston Witherill: again, I think this comes down to interest, right? I don’t believe that I can teach people the mechanics of how to become a more effective learner. So take any topic. We’ve covered a lot of different stuff, right? How memory works. Which is like a metal learning topic. but let’s just take that for this example.

I can teach you how to go research it, how to evaluate the information that you’re finding, how to validate, what are reliable sources of this, what are different opinions about how memory works? And then what are the actual actionable steps that you can apply to yourself in order to make this material valuable and useful to you?

I can teach you all of that, but none of it’s going to matter if you’re not actually interested in the topic. so I don’t know what it’s. My, is it my responsibility or my, is the impetus on anyone but yourself in order to go learn more? I don’t think that’s our role. I do want to, I just lost my

Andy Paul: different, a different perspective on that though, is that, if you’re an employer and you’ve brought people on board and you’ve onboarded them, you’re investing in training, continue to invest in supporting and developing them. At some point, if they, I don’t have this sort of intrinsic motivation to keep learning, then they become stale.

They go past their expiration date. But I’m just wondering, because that, again, is something that I think about quite a bit as how do we instill in people this learning habit, or is it always, to. Just maybe something that if people aren’t interested, they’re just not interested, but it does become very self-limiting if you don’t do it

Liston Witherill: one, one of the great examples. How do you make someone more interested in the first place assessing the street? Of course. Which teaches kids ABCs and how to count. And the key understanding there. Why do you laugh, Andy?

Andy Paul: well, I’m just envisioning Sesame street for salespeople. Go ahead. Yeah.

Liston Witherill: that is essentially what online learning is at least good online learning. So the key ingredient to Sesame street or their key insight was if we also make this entertaining, in addition to being educational. More kids will watch it. And then more kids will be able to read and learn their ABCs.

Now, whether or not it’s a good idea to teach people that you can only learn if you’re also entertained, the toothpaste is out of the tube on that one. but that’s what we expect, right? I don’t know about you, but I go to YouTube to learn all kinds of nerdy things and the channels that hold my attention are entertaining.

In addition to being informative. And so I think, that’s not to say, dress up in costume and make, do a K-pop song version of your sales playbook. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is understand what’s ahead.

Andy Paul: It could work though.

Liston Witherill: yeah, I’ll pass on watching that training. What I am saying is you have to understand what your people are interested in.

And so to some degree, when it comes to. we keep coming back to this idea of motivation, but when it comes back to essentially what you’re saying is we need to sell people on the idea of continued learning, right? And if we’re to sell anything, the first prerequisite is to understand the motivations, interests, and desires of the person we’re selling to.

And so this may not. Scale to your entire team, you may need multiple versions of this. and I think what’s clear is telling people you have to be a long, lifelong learner. And that’s the requirement of working here. Clearly. It’s just not going to work for everybody. 

Andy Paul: Excellent. It’s been proven, right?

Liston Witherill: Yeah. 10% of people that’ll work for because they would have done it anyways.

They didn’t need to hear anything from you at all. Yeah, I don’t know how much motivation we can give to people. I don’t know how much we can impart on them that it’s important to learn. I want to come back to your point about AI that it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that AI is going to grow.

And I think you can say this about any long term trend. You could apply your exact message to blank. Shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. Client climate change is an obvious one if you claim to be surprised by the developments of AI, you’re just in denial. There is no possible way.

If you were paying attention at all for the last 20 years, right? Google can now call a small business and ask them their hours and publish it to their website without any human involvement. That was available several years ago. So we can only, the limits of where it could go are totally misunderstood or unknown, but we know for sure that they will be more advanced than they will be rapidly.

So if you feel as though not you, Andy, I’m talking to our dear, very dear listener. Who’s still listening to me rant about this. if you feel as though. you don’t need to learn, I would impart on you that you’re mistaken and that you’re in denial because things are just going to keep changing rapidly.

I hear from people all the time now who say, I need to learn prospecting because I don’t understand this LinkedIn thing. And now I can’t meet with anybody. And it’s okay, better, late than never for sure. But at the same time, you had to know that. This was a valuable skill, even if we weren’t in COVID times.

Andy Paul: 15 years ago.

Liston Witherill: exactly. th this is a tough love featuring Liston, and that’ll be the end of it.

Andy Paul: All right. let’s end on that note. That’s a great note to end on. listen, this is great. I went in all sorts of interesting directions, so I absolutely loved it. So hopefully people enjoyed it. It’s a big topic. one that obviously both of us are passionate about. some great books to read.

you were talking about the habit loop. People read the power of habit by Charles. Do hook, do HIG, certainly important book to read, atomic habits, James clear, another great book to read, triggered by Marshall Goldsmith. Also another great book on habits street and the others that you recommend.

Liston Witherill: the one that I always think about as tiny habits by BJ Fogg, 

Andy Paul: Another great one.

Liston Witherill: who originated all of the research of all the other books you’ve mentioned, And also near I all, I think famously applied it to software products, which we he’s now on an apology tour about why Facebook is so bad after he wrote the playbook for how to make the next Facebook in his book hooked.

but his new book, yeah, the apology tour is called in is his new book about how to break habits. 

Andy Paul: No, we’ll have to pick that one up. All right. So listen, people want to connect with you. How can they do that?

Liston Witherill: you can go to LinkedIn. Of course. I am the only list of all that you will find on there. good luck spelling that. it’s probably easier to go to my website, serve don’t sell.com. I also have a podcast, the modern sales podcast. If you just punch it in, you’ll be able to find it. Andy, of course you’ve been a guest

Andy Paul: I’ve been a guest. I enjoyed it

Liston Witherill: Yeah. And I, I appreciate you having me here.

Andy Paul: has been great. Thank you very much. until next time. You are still with us.