Joining me on this episode is my friend Alen Mayer. Alen is a sales thought leader, CEO of North American Sales Training, and author of Selling For Introverts. Among the many topics that Alen and I discuss are how he learned to ask the right questions to prospects, how your mindset influences your selling behavior and the buying behavior of prospects, whether most sales professionals actually identify the right concerns of prospects, and how buyers expect to be engaged by sales reps.
Is it easier to teach a technical non-salesperson how to sell, or to teach a salesperson to sell a technical product?
I have taught sales skills to technical people. For the salespeople, I would rather that a salesperson have a technical person in the room, than to try to teach them the technology.
One non-business book every salesperson should read?
Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill.
Andy Paul: Joining me on this episode is my friend Alen Mayer. Alen is a sales thought leader, CEO of North American Sales Training, and author of Selling For Introverts. Among the many topics that Alen and I discuss are how he learned to ask the right questions to prospects, how your mindset influences your selling behavior and the buying behavior of prospects, whether most sales professionals actually identify the right concerns of prospects, and how buyers expect to be engaged by sales reps.
Alen, welcome back to Accelerate!
Alen Mayer: Andy, I’m honored and thank you for calling me a friend. I’m really truly honored to be on your podcast and actually knowing you.
Andy Paul: We had the great pleasure of spending a few days together at a conference last year and that was a lot of fun. For people who didn’t hear the first episode, take a minute to introduce yourself and tell people how you got your start in sales and how you ended up doing what you’re doing today.
Alen Mayer: Oh my goodness, I’ve been in sales for over 20 years. I started in Europe selling bulldozers, excavators and I didn’t know anything about it. Slowly I climbed the ladder because I was just digging deeper, asking different questions. When you’re a 20+ year old junior salesperson, speaking with 50+ gentlemen who own the businesses, of course, they see you as a kid. I had to change my approach. I was trained on a hard sell approach, and I didn’t do that because it didn’t result in any good stuff for me. I actually started asking different questions and people started opening up. I realized that people will tell you everything you need to know if you pay attention, listen, and ask good intelligent questions. Now 20 years later, people call this a being introvert – building relationships without hard selling. This actually was natural to me, like it’s natural to many introverts.
Andy Paul: You could make the argument that it’s also natural for the way people and customers want to make decisions on what to buy is the hard sell. It causes them to put up their defenses, where if you’re trying to reach out and engage with someone, understand where they are. Questions are the way to do that.
Alen Mayer: Excellent. Yeah. I believe actually, if you don’t engage, that’s why it sells to any fails these days. Last week, I presented to a big financial company in Canada, and they asked me what I think about their sales process. I explained it’s a sales process, you have to understand how people buy. So it’s a big difference, right?
Andy Paul: That seems to certainly be one of the topics du jour in sales. Actually an excellent book, The Challenger Customer, sort of the second volume from the gentleman that wrote The Challenger Sale. And they identify that as one of the key issues is that, you know, part of the problem we have selling to large organizations and complex environments is that the customers themselves really don’t know how they buy.
Alen Mayer: No. And also I have another problem with lots of salespeople. If you’re a manager, you have a big team and you train them, you give people more tools, more knowledge, more books, more training sessions. But here’s the problem I have. You know what you need to do in a personal life. I know I need to lose 10 pounds, right? I know logically, but I don’t believe I should start doing it right now/today. So it’s something underneath the surface. In the sales environment, managers and directors are providing salespeople with lots of new books, new training, etc., but people just got more tools, those behaviors do not change because the beliefs are not changing.
Andy Paul: Okay, so let’s talk about that. So you’ve introduced this idea of what you called the iceberg sales model, which is an interesting metaphor. Obviously the sort of forming premise of this is that what’s really important in sales is really below the surface. It’s not the things we focus on, the obvious targets. And the conventional sales training is large to carry out today. So why is that? Because it’s purely focusing on skills and doesn’t address the underlying behaviors that have to be in place?
Alen Mayer: Well, there are two parts. The first part is all about the salespeople. Salespeople have to understand their clients and many sales people don’t understand themselves. Understand yourself, what’s your state of mind? When I managed my team, the guys were telling me they weren’t going to call anyone on Monday morning, because nobody picks up the phone after the weekend. Right? So I said, is it true or is it your belief? People believe certain things. The guy picks up the phone, we call people, and guess what, people pick up the phone. So it’s not that it’s true. It’s a belief that salespeople have, and also believe that if you know the old saying, if you believe you can do something or you cannot, you are totally right. So, salespeople, they got lots of tools and these tools create behavior, how people do things, and behavior creates results, right.
Andy Paul: Let’s break that down. Say that the customers never pick up the phone on Monday. To me that’s less of an issue of serve, having to do a sort of self belief and more about mythology. I mean, we have all of these myths that can be brought up. And that sort of gets passed. So that’s one myth, the customer won’t pick up the phone on Monday morning. Another one, you give a customer a proposal and you give them two- three days to read it, because they need to have time to absorb it as opposed to following up with him right away. So we could write a series of books about the myths that exist. It seems like part of it is not so much behavior, but how do we clear the air of these oral traditions that are passed down that impede people’s progress?
Alen Mayer: Well, there is a self talk, we all have stories we say to ourselves. And these stories are actually our beliefs and beliefs are something that’s below the surface. So you cannot understand people’s beliefs just by observing how they act and how they interact with clients. For example, if you’re a manager, you observe your team, you see their behavior, you see the result, you see the techniques and ways they approach people. But you don’t pick up on beliefs. If you don’t work with the quality, don’t go underneath the surface, so to say, because everything we do, it’s on the surface, we have our selling skills, we have our knowledge, experience, product knowledge, but there are three parts. 1) Do you believe in your product? 2) Do you believe in your skills? 3) And what do you believe about your customers? This is what makes a great salesperson, same thing when you speak with the client. So if you believe you have a great product, if you believe you can help them, then your approach, energy, and enthusiasm is totally different. So you approach client’s and then you work with them to find out their state of mind. What’s happening behind the closed door once you leave the appointment so you can uncover the issue focused on uncovering the state of mind, their values and their criteria. Now not talking about the decision criteria, the committee sits around the table, they make their decision to buy something or not, but what’s their Buying Criteria in their mind? What’s truly important to the person you speak with? If the three part team, each and every person, what’s important to them? What are the values? What are the beliefs? So this is what I’m calling “going below the surface”, digging deeper, finding out not just what skills they have, or what the client’s situation is, or what the sales process looks like. What are the needs and the issues and chAlenges, but honestly, what are the criterias the values there, the entity, the mission, the purpose, everything, what makes the person a person.P
Andy Paul: Okay, so we’re gonna go back and unpack this a little bit. It’s probably safe to say that the vast majority of existing sales training is focused on skills development. Do you really agree with that?
Alen Mayer: Yeah, definitely.
Andy Paul: Okay. And so what you’re saying, the issue is if unless we have these underlying behaviors, as I call them habits is underlying sales habits, then skill training is kind of useless.
Alen Mayer: Well, if you are proficient, if you’re in sales for five plus years, and you do things the way that you always are doing it, there is also a reason why you do things in a certain way, why do you do what you do. Some salespeople want to help customers. That’s fine. Some people want to make as much money as they can. Some people want to prove something to themselves, or they want to beat their colleagues or they want to help other people to achieve their goals. So these are the things that we do, why we do things, what we do in sales. But again, you have to close the deal, you have to sell. But if your team, or if you’re if your manager does not understand your motivation, why you do the things, they will miss the mark, they will just go and put more money on the table. Here’s your bonus if you reach x y Zed goal. But the thing is, you have to work with the salespeople to understand the values and belief structures, and then they will be able to pick up to help understand the clients and how to improve their situation by understanding the values, belief structure, and mission. So it’s not just throwing more money at sales training because many sales training models today don’t work. 50% of the learning during sales training is gone after a few weeks. Within 90 days studies shows that 84% is going to be gone because money is invested in staffing that people don’t really need. You don’t need more cold calling or objection handling training.P
Andy Paul:Okay, so sorry for that. What do you need to be trained because you’re talking about below the surface, you’ve got the managers need to understand their sales professionals, state of mind, their values, their mission, their passion. So really not talking about training at all. You’re talking about trying to change their state of mind or the first level is just understanding what it is.
Alen Mayer: First and foremost, you need to understand your team properly, what motivates them, why they do what they do. So their identity, their mission within the company, and the mission is not the paper on the wall, here is our company mission, but what’s their mission? They just want to keep their job, or they want to make as much money as they can, or they want to really help clients. They want to be seen as a helpful person or educator. So understanding your team will help you understand how to approach the clients. And the problem is, you know, engaging people in the process of selling. If you ask high school students what their first job is going to be, nobody’s going to say I want to work in sales. Now they end up in sales until they find something better. So this is the starting point where we throw as much money as we can on the people who do not have their heart in it, and engaging people who are just going through the motions, or having habits. That’s also fine, if you know the internal motivations that drive behavior. These are the values and beliefs, the criteria that will make star salespeople, or they will just go through the motions and do average sales and life is going to be okay. So, little changes below the surface make big changes above the surface. If you change the beliefs of salespeople, you can do this. You can sell to huge corporations. Here’s how you can do it. Here is how you can uncover your clients values, beliefs, everything that’s below the surface to help them to realize you are the best solution. Then this little change, they will find the tools, they will find the sales process or steps they need or words or techniques, that will actually increase/improve results tremendously.
Andy Paul: So as a manager, if you’re working with a sales leader, if you’re a sales leader and you’re working with your team, the first step is to understand their state of mind as you said. In your model, is there a preferred state of mind that you’re trying to help them change to?2
Alen Mayer: You know, honestly, every person is different. And of course, as a manager maybe you have a big team, you cannot work with them on an individual basis. But if you understand what are the beliefs about sales in the first place, what are the beliefs about the clients in the market? How do they feel about the company/the products they’re telling? What motivates them to succeed? So that’s the first part. The second part is how to help your sales team uncover the client’s motivation. What’s their buying process or decision making process? What’s the buying criteria? So, if your organization struggles to meet sales today, ask yourself – should I send them to a five day or two day sales training that will teach them better cold calling and objection handling skills? Or, should I actually teach you how to uncover clients values, beliefs to really work with them to be on the same side to be the choice they want to go with?
Andy Paul: What are the keys, what are the tools that you give people to help them uncover the criteria, the state of mind, the values of their customers? Because you’re really talking about a duel assessment, right? Sales leaders need to understand the state of mind, values, mission of the individuals that are on their team. And having done that and assessing that, you also have to do the same thing with your customers. Right?
Alen Mayer: So how can you engage people in a true dialogue, not monologue or engaging in a sales process. If you read books like The Challengers Sale, sell the different personalities, or if you go through a DISC assessment, it’s all fine, but it’s not important if your salespeople are introverted or extroverted. It’s not important if there are D’s or I’s or S or C’s. More important is how they can understand who their clients are, and then there are two parts. 1) How to develop/sharpen your senses to pick up the oldest signals to understand with whom you’re dealing with, and also how to change your behavior. So behavioral flexibility is the key. If you’re a salesperson, you can be an introvert, like I am, but if I speak with a tech sales or a buying agent, guess what, I need to be flexible to be more like the other person so they can open up my ears and engage with me in a dialogue.P
Andy Paul: So really, when you’re talking about that, in terms of understanding the customer’s decision criteria, how they intermixed with their values, what’s in it for them. So in the description as you’re saying, it’s really about practicing empathy.
Alen Mayer: That’s a good point, practice empathy. It’s a good starting point. I actually trained one software group recently on the big challenge of engaging people in dialogue. Most of them were engineers, very based on the facts. When you speak with your clients, of course, here’s the problem I have. Everybody’s pitching the product. Instead of pitching, stop doing what you’re doing. Ask questions. There are three major groups you can ask about 1) the facts 2) the opinions 3) the emotions. And fourth party’s hot button or decision criteria. So when you speak with your clients, when you start interacting with them, engaging in dialogue, asking questions, you should be able to pick up if they’re saying something “Oh, guys, I hate dealing with salespeople”. So that’s not the fact based conversation. It’s emotional, and how to dig deeper and ask emotional based questions to understand what’s happening behind it, and how to translate in the fact based conversation, and then how to uncover the criteria that will make or break the deal for you. So it’s all about questioning skills, but it’s not just basic questioning skills. Like if you approach somebody asking “Hey, you know, what challenges do you have? None. Do you have any needs? No.” So that’s not a really intelligent way of uncovering the situation.
Andy Paul: So what are the questions that you ask that you start uncovering, so we are able to separate facts from opinions from emotions, as you’ve talked about. In my mind, I can find the facts and opinions, but it’s really the emotions that are going to drive that engagement that gives you the sale eventually.
Alen Mayer: Well, once you develop your sensors, you’ll pick it up easily. Because you will know when people have emotion, the ladder and content or statement. If I say “Well, I think you guys cannot help me” or just saying as a statement “you guys cannot help me”, that’s an opinion, but that’s an emotionally loaded statement. And the problem is when you approach people who are sharing this kind of stuff. Many salespeople are sticking with their own agenda, not understanding. Yes, start with what are you doing for us on that? Dig deeper? What happened? Ask open ended questions that will uncover “I’m sorry to hear that, why do you think or why do you believe or why do you feel that way?” And it’s also including, I explained this many years ago on the Tripoli reputation system approach where if people are focusing on visual elements you talk about in visual terms. If they are emotional, if they’re feeling things, then you don’t ask them why you think that way? Why do you feel that way? So it’s all about your behavioral flexibility. Adjusting yourself to your audience. And that’s what the majority of salespeople are still not doing. And then pick up the phone, they book the appointment, and then not understand why people are rejecting. Guess what? You’re not flexible enough to actually engage people in a dialogue.
Andy Paul: So this gets back to that same question again. How do you make this change? How do you inculcate this change into salespeople to have this emotional flexibility? What’s the training or the things they need to learn to be able to apply to help them do this?
Alen Mayer: Excellent question. And thank you so much for asking this. First and foremost, salespeople, people with five plus years of experience in sales, they don’t need another cold calling objection handling training. They need to start actually learning things. How to sharpen their sensors, how to understand with whom they are talking to. If the client is more visual, or kinesthetic, what words/expressions/phrases they’re using to pick up all of this. If clients are proactive or reactive, if clients are generally specific, if clients say introverts and extroverts or internal external. There’s so many things that people will share with you. And you have to learn. There is a cheat sheet you have to understand based on an email, and if people send an email, you can get so many good clues from within the email if you know what you’re looking for. Noone is providing this kind of training. I’m surprised! That’s why we created the Iceberg ales Model – to teach people that you need to engage people in a conversation, and here are the tools and the basic stuff, first to read their mind, to speak the same language, with one big goal. You want two people to open up their ears to listen to what we have to say. So if I approach Andy today, and I just push information towards you, naturally you will block me. You will say “no, I don’t need that, life is good go away”. But if I’m sounding more like you, you will give me a chance to speak about the important things for what’s important to you.
Andy Paul: Yeah, I think this is really interesting, but it also seems like a large chAlenge. I’ve listened to what you’re saying and I get it, it makes a lot of sense, because again, I’lll bring it back to a form of empathy. What are the things you have to learn to do to apply? It’s one thing to say they need to be open and flexible, but what’s that really mean, tactically for somebody? If you’re having a conversation with a prospect, what’s the mindset you need to have and how do you develop that mindset? It seems a little complex to say we need to be flexible. People sort of learn by seeing some specific examples. So anything you can give them around that.
Alen Mayer: Thank you. This is a great question. Before I answer it, just one thing. This is not the revolution. This is an evolutionary approach. So whatever people are using, is it based on The ChAlengers Sale, you name it, you’re gonna need to change entity. This is adding the extra layer to the conversation you had. So you have full control of what’s happening if you want to add this to your environment as a sales leader, but you don’t need to forget about The ChAlengers Sale. This is adding an extra level of communication. So when you walk into a client’s office, here’s an example, instead of pitching what you’re doing, and this is what salespeople do (small sale, complex sale, you name it). Instead, focus on what’s important to your clients. Ask questions about that. And if you dig deeper, and there are a few levels that you need to go deeper, because on the surface level, they were just told “Here’s what you want to do. What’s important about that, and what’s important about this” so there are different strategies that you can dig deeper. Time is not sufficient here to give you all the examples, but as long as the mindset is different, instead of walking in and telling people what they need to hear, why wouldn’t I start with questions and understand what’s important to them. And digging deeper, this is how you get to your core values. You cannot change people’s values, but you can change beliefs. And I’m saying this because I change beliefs on a weekly basis. For example, you can say in the US we won The World Cup in soccer in 2018. This is your belief, right? And I can tell you’re not delusional.
Andy Paul:I might be delusional. But yes.
Alen Mayer: But if I challenge your beliefs, first thing is you’re going to defend your beliefs, right? That’s why people go to wars, because of the beliefs. My religion is better than yours. My country is better than yours, or my race is better than yours. These are all beliefs that people have. We believe that the Earth was flat many years ago. Now we believe it’s round. So again, lots of things that’s happening in a boardroom seminar presentations, it’s about people’s beliefs. So you present to your client, there are five people in the room, and you want to know what’s happening after you leave the room. What’s the discussion that we’ll have? If you don’t touch on the beliefs and the ideas, never just say okay, let’s compare them with apples to apples with another competitor. Maybe we can lower the price, and then you chase them based on the price and nothing is going to happen. Or you can lose a big chunk of revenue because you need to lower the price because they didn’t understand what you’re proposing. It’s aligned with their beliefs with their values, even with the mission as a company or as a team.
Andy Paul: If I were to try to summarize, I’d say it’s really about appealing to their emotions. If I’m going to make two categories for people to understand the concept, it’s either logic or there’s emotion that drives emotion that drives decisions and beliefs and values are not logical, they’re more emotion based.
Alen Mayer:I mean, how many times did you hear that people buy with emotion rather than logically analyze everything and approve the buying thing, right? But that’s the mantra in many sales trainings. And whatever we do, as human beings, we buy emotionally. Big corporations, they buy emotionally. I’m not saying on the spur of the moment, or you know, they’re lovely, they’re gonna buy, but they feel comfortable with dandy, right? That’s emotional competence. And it’s there to help us if you have any challenge with implementation of our software, or whatever, and we’ll be there to help us. So they feel comfortable. Alen is an introvert, he’s a digital kind of guy, and he has good pricing, but there is something missing, right? So that’s the emotional component in any deal. And in this day and age, if you compare a big software solution with another big software solution, the differences are probably maybe less than 1%. So who’s the decisive factor here? It’s a salesperson who’s bringing this to the table, feeling comfortable with the person or feeling this guy really knows what he’s talking about. He’s an expert, and he can help us, but people are buying differently. If I speak with the IT guy, he will not push me on the price. He’ll try to find the right solution. But again, his motivations are different, they say “I don’t want to be yelled at on a daily basis from my boss, so I need to find a solution”. And if I address this, then I have more chances then somebody who’s just gonna send technical specifications. So here’s the software, here’s what it’s gonna do for you, here’s how much you’re gonna cost. It’s a different conversation, and this is where sales people are still not engaging people in a true dialogue, right?
Andy Paul: No, I agree 100%. Just earlier this morning I gave a webinar on this topic. One of the key aspects of what you’re talking about, I believe, is that where we still fail is that we treat individuals, not as individuals, but as a type. So they’re just like this other customer I dealt with. We’re assuming things about people, instead of, as you talked about, really dealing with them as individuals, because people are diverse. If you’re selling a complex product, and if you’d take to heart what they talk about in The Challenger Customer and 5.4 decision makers, which they’ve now upgraded to 6.8 stakeholders in every decision, then that’s a lot of individuals and that really becomes the challenge is the diversity of people that you’re dealing with.
Alen Mayer: We’re dealing with humans. People hide behind the company. I worked many years ago for IBM, and if you’re an IBMer, every door will be open to you, but you still need to do your job. And you speak with 6 or 7 or 8 decision makers, but they’re all human beings, and if you don’t engage each and every person in a dialogue, then there’s gonna be a person who’s going to be sitting in a corner who’s quiet, but he will feel ignored. And when the decision time is coming, he would say “guess what, this person ignored me, he personally talked to you guys, he is now full of BS, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s technical enough, competent, let’s forget about them, let’s go to another company”. And it’s not based on fact, but it’s based on the fact that sales people didn’t engage each and every person in a conversation. And each and every person is unique and different. Somebody’s gonna block you, and it’s not because your product sucks, or your product is not good enough. It’s because you didn’t engage people in a dialogue. They didn’t share their first and foremost facts, their opinions, their emotions, their hot buttons. So it’s much more complex than just having a conversation with someone. And sales people love to listen, but they love to listen to themselves talking, and that’s the problem I have. You don’t need to do big talk, but you need to know how to listen and what to listen for.
Andy Paul: Exactly. Alen, we’re going to move to the last segment of show. I’ve got some standard questions I’ve asked all my guests. You’ve answered some of these before. The first one is, in your mind, is it easier to teach a technical non-salesperson how to sell or to teach a salesperson how to sell a technical product?
Alen Mayer: W e are talking about communication skills. If people are willing to learn, then you can teach them everything. I actually dealt with a lot of tech guys in the last two to three months, and they were willing to learn selling skills, and they were willing to learn stuff that can help them engage the clients in a dialogue. If you speak with the salesperson, first and foremost, they know everything, right? Salespeople with experience, they know everything, they learn new stuff, but also we are sometimes rushing through things. And I would rather have a salesperson plus the tech guy in the room than a salesperson trying to explain something technical, because we are looking at the things, and our nature of the job is being proactive. We need to proactively search for new clients. We need to proactively reach our quota and our goals, and our managers are pushing us so we are proactive in our approach. Many clients are actually reactive or even worse, if you talk about motivation of direction, people will move away from a bad situation rather than towards goals in a technical role. People are either towards or away from goals, meaning I’m chasing my goals as a salesperson, I’m chasing my goals/quotas/clients to reach certain things, but technical roles, they move away from. I’ll explain this. The whole insurance business is based on “away from”. If something bad happens to you, here’s the protection you have. Selling insurance to a tourist person would be “hey, your family can be a millionaire, but you need to die for it”. I know it’s a stupid example, but this is to show you the difference in the approach, in the vocabulary and motivation direction. So towards people are chasing something. Clinical people have so many issues and challenges. They don’t care what the associate will bring to them in the future. They just want to go away from the negative situation. For salespeople, it’s so hard because it’s in our core that we talk about the goals and toward something versus away from. That’s how people buy. It’s actually a buying pattern that people have. I call it language patterns, but whatever you call it, it’s a motivation/direction. Technical people, they’re away from people. Here’s the problem. I have 137 incidents on a weekly basis. I want to get rid of this. Can you help me? And then salesperson Johnson. Yeah, we can help you do this, this and that. No, stop that needs to be addressed on a technical level. And we are too eager, too enthusiastic to address this properly.
Andy Paul: Last question for you is what’s one non-business book every salesperson should read?
Alen Mayer: Selling is Better Than Sex. Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill.
Andy Paul: Think about things in terms of helping people learn how to communicate better. Read Shakespeare. Read poetry.
Alen Mayer: Wow, that’s a good one.
Andy Paul: All right. We’ll have you back on, you can think about it. So it’s been great talking to you, as always. Tell folks how they can connect with you.
Alen Mayer: It’s so easy. Just go to Alennmeyer.com, or Google is a great sales model. You’ll be surprised what kind of stuff you can find. And I’ll promise for your audience we free educational videos on this topic. Because again, this is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Because even in the 21st century, we don’t know how to communicate with our friends or families, and God forbid, with our clients. And if you learn about this kind of stuff, it can help you not just in the business world, but also I believe people will tell you everything you need to know if you know what you’re paying attention to. So this can help you in every level of your life in a business world. Remember, you know, it doesn’t have to be revolutionary. It has to be revolutionary to evolve from what you know what you have. So you don’t need to drop whatever you’re doing, just improve it.
Andy Paul: Excellent, well, good. Well, Alen, again, thanks for being on the show. And friends. Thank you for spending your time listening to us today. Remember, make it a part of your daily routine every day to deliberately learn something new to help you accelerate your success. And one easy way to do that is take a minute and subscribe to this podcast Accelerate! And that way you won’t miss any of my conversations with top business experts like my guest today, Alen Meyer, who shared his expertise about how to accelerate the growth of your business. So thanks for joining me. Until next time, this is Andy Paul. Good selling everyone.
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