How You Can Increase Sales through Customer Service, with Peter Shankman [Episode 350]

Welcome to Sales Kick-Off Week!

Joining me on Day One of The  Virtual Sales Kick-off Week is my guest Peter Shankman.

Peter is one of the most sought-after keynote speaker on customer and social economies; founder and CEO of The Geek Factory; founder of Shankminds; the author of multiple books, including Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans, and the host of the Faster Than Normal podcast.

On Day One of our 2017 Virtual Sales Kick-off Meeting we are focusing on your customer.

In this episode, Peter starts kick-off week by sharing lessons about how you can use customer service as your engine of revenue growth in 2017. Among the key lessons provided in this episode are: how to always exceed your customer’s expectations, why referrals are more effective than advertising and how the role of the sales professional will be changing in 2017 and what that means for you.

Don’t miss this essential start to your ongoing sales education in 2017!

Key Takeaways

  • Peter runs Shankminds.com, a 150-person online Mastermind working through the entrepreneurial process. He is a corporate keynote speaker; he does video stand-ups; and he has published four books, with a fifth coming in 2017.
  • Andy asks about Peter’s ADHD; Peter was perceived as a difficult child in school. Faster Than Normal, which is the number one podcast on ADHD, discusses ADHD as a gift, when it is mastered, and correctly managed.
  • Bosses need to understand that chances are one of their team has ADHD, and trying to fit them into a mold is a mistake. Let them work the way they need, and they will be more successful.
  • Customer Service is a revenue generator when you do it right. Your customer isn’t generally used to great service. If you provide service better than they expect, they will buy more from you. And praise you around the world.
  • No one believes how awesome you are, if you’re the one to tell them. If their friend tells them, then you’re awesome.
  • Ask your clients how you can make their experience better. Show them that you’re listening to them.
  • Customers don’t need balloons, or ‘freemiums.’ They need you to know their name, and that this is not their first visit to your company. Just be attentive. Don’t focus on the sale; focus on what you can do to solve their problem.
  • B2B buyers are people, too. They buy at work the same way they buy as consumers, getting recommendations from trusted friends, just in larger orders. Be a little better than your competition’s horrible service, to win their loyalty.
  • Advertising is a weak tool, contrasted against personal experience, and referrals.
  • How Peter sees the evolving role of salespeople.
  • Value is specific to what the customer wants. Why customers aren’t interested in “dinner and drinks,” but getting their job done on budget in the least period of time possible.

More About Peter Shankman

What’s your most powerful sales attribute?

I like to be a connector. To do things for people, that don’t cost them money. Sharing ideas.

Who is your sales role model?

Richard Branson, Seth Godin. The non-traditional ways they sell. When you’re doing stuff to make me happy, I’ll buy from you every time.

What’s one book that every salesperson should read?

Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service, by Kenneth Blanchard. The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. Anything that makes me think differently. Vertical Run, by Joseph R. Garber. Every time I read it, I figure out new ways to attack problems.

What music is on your playlist right now?

My 2016 Marathon training playlist, with everything from Audiomachine, Nickelback, Pitbull, Hamilton, OneRepublic, Taylor Swift, My Chemical Romance, LunchMoney Lewis, a lot of Broadway.

Episode Transcript

ANDY PAUL: Hello, and welcome to Accelerate. I am very excited to be talking with my guest today. Joining me is Peter Shankman. He’s one of the most sought after keynote speakers on customer and social economies. He’s the founder of HARO, a founder and CEO of the Geek Factory, a digital agency based in New York; founder of Shank Mines, an online community for entrepreneurs; author of multiple books including Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans, and is the host of the “Faster than Normal” podcast, which embraces the concept that having  ADD or ADHD is a gift and not a curse. Peter Shankman, welcome to accelerate.

PETER SHANKMAN: Good to be here. Thanks for having me.

AP: So take a minute and if there’s anything left out of the introduction, fill that in.

PS: I spend the majority my time now focused on running a mastermind for entrepreneurs called Shank Minds. We are a 150-person, online mastermind at shankminds.com and we sort of get through the entrepreneurial process because sometimes, it’s not an easy one. I am a corporate keynote speaker, I do stand ups for companies in the aspect of either contributing to them or being an influencer and things like that. I have four books. I have a fifth one coming out in November of next year. I don’t do a lot.

AP: No, you’re taking it easy these days. This is a spectacular example of what happens when you merge the power of pure creativity with ADHD, add a dose of adventure, and make it work to your advantage. I think you probably came of age before all the media and medical attention was really paid to ADHD, and back then you were just perceived as a difficult child.

PS: I was. I had “sit down and shut up, you’re disrupting the class” disease. What’s funny about that is, the one thing I haven’t mentioned is I actually run the number one podcast on ADHD on the internet called “Faster than Normal.” We look at ADHD as a gift, not a curse. If you master it, and you know how to manage it, it actually winds up working really, really well to your advantage.

AP: So was there a particular sort of breakthrough or epiphany moment for you? Some point where you said, “Yeah, this can work to my advantage”? I ask because I’m sure lots of us have family members – I do – that have ADD or ADHD and who – in my case – feel like it defines them.

PS: For me it was really sort of waking up. I had one job in my life at America Online. I worked there for three years, then I left AOL and moved back to New York in 1997. I started consulting, and then I took a job and a week into the job I like, “Wow, I don’t know how to work in an office. I don’t know how to work for other people. I don’t know how to punch in for a timecard. I’m going to kill someone.” That’s when I realized that I needed to be on my own. My motto has always been if it fails, I’ll get a job and it’s been 18 years and I’ve never had to get a job. So, I’ve been very, very fortunate in that regard.

AP: So what aspect of it have you used to your benefit? You talk about combining it with a dose of adventure and encouragement actually to make it work for you.

PS: You have to know yourself. For example, I understand that I work best when I’m fueled with endorphins, so I do everything my power to get those in a healthy way. I’m up at 3:45 every morning. I’m at the gym by 5:30. Ironically, as I talk to you I currently have a foot that was just operated on and I can’t go to the gym and it is destroying me. I’ve had to find alternate ways to get endorphins and it’s difficult. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs, my only outlet for endorphins was exercising and skydiving -I’m a licensed skydiver. Not being able to do those two things with an injured foot makes it very, very difficult. I’ve seen a tremendous sort of downward spiral where my mood has not been as good. I’ve had everyone going, “What’s wrong, dude? You don’t look up.” I’m fine. Leave me the hell alone, you know. Another week, and the stitches come out and I could get back in the pool at least. I understand myself, I know how I work, and I know exactly what causes that and how to fix it.

AP: So, let’s take this a little broader. As we have a sort of primarily sales and marketing audience and entrepreneurial audience, it’s the message for people who don’t fit the mold. I say this because a lot of times I find that as sales becomes more data driven, it’s trying to fit people into a mold. mistake. What’s the advice you give a salesperson whose boss is saying, “Hey, you have to follow this process.” A lot of times if they would just give them a little leeway, they could exhibit and use their own skills and their own specialness to succeed in that role that doesn’t necessarily fit to that process.

PS: I think the best thing bosses and hiring people need to understand is that chances are that one of the hires is going to have ADHD and to try to fit them into a mold is a mistake. The best thing you can do is let the people work the way they want and know that they will be more successful that way. I have certain rules. If you want me to do something you can’t tell me “Oh, just do it.” If you tell me to do it whenever, I will not get it done. You must give me a deadline. That’s not up for discussion. Even if you don’t need to give me a deadline, give me a deadline. If you don’t need it for another week, tell me you need it in six days, and you will have it. When you have ADHD there are two speeds: now and not now. There to two times: now and not now. That’s it. So if you tell me, “oh, just whatever,” that’s not okay. You have to make sure that you give me a deadline. I think you have to know those things and learn those things about yourself. That’s important.

AP: Okay. Well, sort of broaden that discussion a little bit as it this episode’s going to air at the beginning of 2017. Lots of companies are finishing their planning for that new year, so what should be people’s first priority as they’re starting to plan for the year or finish up their plans for the year? There’s a lot of focus on people product and activities, but I rarely see – and this is something that you talk about -anything about customer service.

PS: One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen is companies looking at customer service as a cost structure, when it’s actually a tremendous cost benefit. You can actually generate a ton of revenue if you do it right. You have to understand that your audience wants to share how great you are, they just need a reason, and that reason is they expect to be treated like crap. So, if you understand that and you treat your audience a little bit better than what they expect, you’ll actually do very, very well. Then, they will go out and tell the world sort of how great you are. Here’s the thing: No one believes how awesome you are if you’re the one that has to tell them. If I’m in a bar and I go to someone and say, “You don’t know me, but I am amazing in bed.” They’re going to throw their drink in my face and go right back to doing whatever they were doing.  On the flip side, if I’m just sitting at the bar by myself, and the best friend of the girl I’m interested in turns around and says, “You know, I know that guy. That’s Peter Shankman. He’s pretty amazing. You should totally go talk to him.” At the very least, I’m getting her number. That’s how these things work. You’ve got to understand your audience. Again, no one believes you if you’re the one who has to tell them.

AP: So if we make customer service and improving the customer experience part of the integral part of the plan for growing sales in the upcoming year, how do you start that process within a company? I mean, a lot of times it’s really an afterthought, and as you said, it’s a cost center so it’s perceived to be a pain. You talk about Zombie Loyalists, which I love. The way you describe it is to serve people, thinking like you’re buying what you’re selling. How do you start that process? To me, it seems like starts at the top.

PS: Yeah, the premise is very simple. You have to understand what your audience is looking for and what they want. The best way to do that is to start off by asking them, “How can I make this better for you? What can I do to help you?” The simple act of asking and listening is just ridiculously easy, but no one does it. Just talk to the people.

Surveys drive me crazy. I’m one of United Airline’s top 1% of fliers, and they treat me very, very well. Every time I have a flight, they send me a survey at the end of it, and the last question on every survey – they’ve sent me 240 something surveys – is “What can we do to improve your next flight?” For 240 something surveys in a row I’ve sent the exact same response to that survey. Here it is: “On my next flight, please refer to me as ‘Peter, Lord of the Skies.’” I don’t ever expect them to do that. I’d love a phone call where someone says, “Hey, asshole, stop. We’re not going to do that. We’re not ever going to call you, ‘Peter, Lord of the Skies.’ Just stop it.” Because you know what? That simple act of showing me that you’re pissed off means that you’re listening. You’re listening to me, and that’s all I want. I don’t need more than that. I just want to know that you’re listening and that I matter.

AP: I was thinking about this example about my wife and I. We own this fractional ownership at a resort in Hawaii. We’ve owned it for nine years now, and every time we stop and check in the first question they ask us is, “Is this your first time staying here?” It just drives me absolutely nuts. I’ve done the same thing, I’ve put it in surveys. They’ve never paid attention or responded to it. I finally spoke to the general manager of the property but it’s a simple thing.

PS: I don’t need rocket science. There’s so much about customers don’t need. I don’t need balloons. I don’t need special whatever. I need you to know my name. Don’t be focused on the sale, focus on what else you can do. How else you can help me. If I’m coming to you, if you’re in a sales position, I’m coming to you because I have a problem. If I go to the airport, what’s my problem? I want to travel somewhere or I need to fly somewhere. I go to McDonald’s, what’s my problem? I’m hungry for crappy food, you know? So, if you approach each customer in the respect of ‘Here comes a customer to my booth, my station, my whatever, what is their problem? How can I solve it? That changes the entire perspective of what that issue is. That’s just a massive, massive difference

AP: And it’s evident to the customer. So in the business to business space –

PS: It’s the same exact thing. I’ve never seen a business buy from a company. People in that business buy from the company. That is a massive difference. It’s no different than if I’m buying from you. As a consumer, I just happen to be representing a business in a much larger order. I’m still going to get my recommendations from people I trust, I’m still going to get the ideas of what I should buy from people. It totally works.

AP: I think that in today’s environment it’s really hard to establish or maintain any sort of meaningful product differentiation, since technologies and ideas are copied so quickly. All the vendors look alike, so what are customers basing their decision on? Exactly? It’s based on the individual they’re dealing with, no question about it. It seems like one of the key criteria to me is when they give you some of their time, you need to make sure you’re giving them something of value for that time they’re giving you.

PS: No question about it. You know, again, I don’t need anything special. I just want you to be a little bit better than what I expect you to be. That’s all. That’s not that hard.

AP: Yeah. Well, I call it the 1% differences. I put this question out on a talk to groups: “Well, tell me how much you won your last deal by? Did you win by 10%? By 20%?” No one knows the answer, obviously. But you only have to be 1% better. No question about it.

PS: That’s the thing again, don’t be awesome. Just be a little bit better than crap. I don’t need you to be great. You know, Tony Robbins is a friend and he’s all, “We’ll walk on fire!” That’s hard. I just want you to suck a little less.

AP: Well, the suck a little less is funny. It’s really sort of based on this assumption that our customers expect the customer service to be horrible.

PS: Well, they do, and that’s the issue.

AP: Just be a little bit better than their expectations.

PS: Exactly. It’s not that hard. I think the funniest part about that all is that everyone looks at it thinking it’s going to be ridiculous. This is not going to be ridiculous. It’s not going to be difficult. You’re going to make a ton of money. Look, we’re moving towards a world where the entire premise on the customer experience is going to be based on what happens already. For example, if I go to the same Mexican place 100 times a year and it’s five feet from my apartment and you come to New York, go to Google Maps and say, “I’m hungry, where should I eat?” Google Maps is going to show you all the other restaurants near you, but the first one it’s going to show is where your friend goes, because that’s who you trust. That changes everything, because as soon as you start seeing things from the perspective of people you trust and the experiences they had, then the experiences become the sales motivation and the advertising no longer matters.

AP: Yeah, and there’s the school of thought saying that advertising really losing a lot of its value because of referrals.

PS: Exactly.

AP: So, there’s this thought that technology is going to enable companies to sort of disintermediate the salesperson and take them out of the process, if you will. It seems like that’s removing one of the key aspects to creating a differentiated customer experience. I’m interested in your opinion on this because you speak to and you work with a lot of Fortune 500 companies in certain segments, especially in the sales space.

PS: I think there’ll always be a need for a salesperson, but I think that the value we place on them will be less. That salesperson is going to become more of a friend to the customer and the customer might call the salesperson if they need something specific. In terms of the technology and things like that. It replaced the concept of the salesperson. I will call the salesperson if I have a problem, but until that point, just show me something online where I can book it. When I check into a hotel, I don’t want to talk to anyone. I want to go to the hotel. I just want to check in and if my key is already on my phone, it makes life a lot easier.

AP: I think that’s the point we’re at, to some degree, and it’s certainly the business.

PS: It’s definitely growing. In 2017, we’re going to see a massive increase in that.

AP: And how do you see that happening?

PS: I’m talking to a company right now where service is nothing but b2b, and they’re about to unveil a tech-based ordering system that’s going to completely change how the order process happens from beginning to end. That’s going to make a huge, huge difference for customers, so salespeople are going to have to understand what they need to do differently. How are they going to live their lives? How are they going to be able to work? What are they going to be able to do that changes their lives so they’re still relevant?

AP: Well, that’s the key. I think for too many sales reps, they get complacent and the fact is that you always have to measure the value you provide based against the technologies that are out there. For salespeople, they need to be able to continually increase the level of value that they can provide to the customer.

PS: There has to be a bigger version of value. You have to be able to answer this question specifically: What does the customer want?

AP: And what do they need from me in order to get their job done?

PS: Exactly.

AP: Yeah, and I think that’s really the point. If you think your relationship with your customers is based upon taking them out to play golf, then you’re wrong. It’s about what you can do to help them get their job done in the least period of time possible.

PS: Again, it becomes that question of, if you do that, you’ll find that life actually becomes easier for you, because it’s less you have to do.

AP: Exactly. Peter, we’re going to move on to the last segment of the show here, where I’ve got some standard questions I ask all my guests. The first question I ask is a hypothetical scenario. In this scenario, you, Peter, have just been hired by Company B as their new Vice President of Sales because their sales have stalled out. They’re trying to do a sales turnaround, and the CEO is anxious to make things happen. So what two things would you do in your first week on the job that could have the biggest impact?

PS: The first thing I would do is sit down and listen to their customer service team. No one listens to the customer service team. The customer service team is considered this stopgap between “we have a problem” and the rest of the company, but if you sit down and actually listen to them, they know lightyears before everyone else in the company, what’s wrong. So I’d sit down, I’d buy them all pizza and I’d listen to them. I’d hear their top complaints and hear the biggest complaints from their customers. From that you could start building an idea of what’s wrong with your sales model. Why are sales stalling? The people who were buying once, have they moved on? Have they gone somewhere else? Are they dead? Are you targeting the wrong audience? Is the audience that you used to target no longer valuable? You have to ask those kind of questions, and the best way to do that is to start with the customer service.

AP: It’s interesting because I’ve now asked 400 experts that question and I think that’s one of the second time someone said, “Start with customer service and talk to them first.”

PS: No question about it. It has to happen because customer service is the first line of defense. They are the ones who know everything before it happens. You want to know when layoffs are coming? Talk to the customer service team, because they’ll tell you what products are not selling. They’ll tell you what people are calling to ask to return the most and you can extrapolate out of that.

AP: That seems so straightforward. So, we’ve got some rapid fire questions. You can give me one word answers or a little word if you wish. So the first one is when you are out selling your own services, what’s your most powerful sales attribute?

PS: I think for me, it’s the other people who have heard me speak and who have worked with me who are willing to share that. You know, I like to be a connector. I like to do things for people that don’t cost money. I’ll show up at meetings and be like, “Hey, I haven’t been in the area, I have lunch.” I’ll say, “Hey, I saw that you were looking for whatever, here’s some my thoughts on that.” That’s a much nicer way of getting customers as opposed to “look at how awesome I am, hire me!” So I think my number one attribute is just that I like to help people.

AP: Okay, who’s your sales role model?

PS: I’m not a sales person, but I like how Richard Branson does everything. Mm hmm. His whole premise is that he just works. Seth Godin is very good at this as well.

AP: So which one do you like about them particularly.

PS: They are always looking for non-traditional ways. The traditional ways of selling are skeevy, they’re cheesy, they’re gross. I like it when you’re not selling to me, you’re just doing stuff to make me happy. I’ll buy from you every time.

AP: It is that simple. By the way, I try to tell people that all the time. I mean, it’s not always easy to get to that point, but it certainly is that simple. So other than any of your own books, what’s one book you recommend every salesperson should read?

PS: Well, Zombie Loyalists is a great one. That was my book on creating these raving fans. I’m a huge fan of that one. Raving Fans was the original that came out 20-30 years ago, they made me read that at AOL.

AP: That was written by whom?

PS: Raving Fans was by Ken Blanchard, I believe. I of course read anything that makes me think differently. I’ve been reading The Art of War for years. I think you can learn and get anything out of any book. Anything can benefit your career if you know how to apply it.

AP: So what’s your favorite non-business book that that inspires you in business?

PS: There is a book called Vertical Run which is about a guy who gets trapped in an office building where everyone in the building wants to kill him and he spends the entire day getting out. Every time I read it, I figure out new ways to attack problems.

AP: Do you recall who wrote that off the top of your head?

PS: Yes, it was written by Joseph Garber.

AP: Okay, last question: what music is on your playlist these days?

PS: Currently on my playlist, I have a 2016 marathon training playlist and it has everything from Audio Machine to some Nickelback. Hamilton, One Republic, Taylor Swift, My Chemical Romance, a lot of Broadway, Lunch Money Louis, it’s really varied. A lot of 80s.

AP: All right. Very good. All right. Well, Peter, thanks for being on the show today. Tell people how they can connect with you and find out more about what you do.

PS: My life is at shankman.com and I’m at Peter Shankman on all of the socials.

AP: So your mastermind group just for people who are listening who might be interested. Do you have like a community?

PS: We have in person gatherings every few months, but primarily it’s online. But 150, CEOs, entrepreneurs, salespeople, things like that are all in this group and we work with each other to sort of battle each other’s problems. It’s actually a pretty awesome group. I’m a huge, huge fan of everyone.

AP: Okay, well, excellent. Well, again, thanks for joining us. And thank you, friends for spending this time with us. Remember, friends, make it a part of your day every day to deliberately learn something new – just as we talked about here today – to accelerate your success. It’ll be worth your time to invest in us just a minute and go to iTunes or Stitcher and wherever you listen and hit the subscribe button for this podcast. I’d also love it if you take a minute and leave a review on iTunes telling others how much you value these conversations with top business experts like my guest today, Peter Shankman, who shared his expertise of how to accelerate the growth of your sales. Thanks for joining me. Until next time, this is Andy Paul. Good selling everyone. Thanks for listening to the show. If you like what you heard and want to make sure you don’t miss any upcoming episodes, please subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.com. For more information about today’s guests, visit my website at andypaul.com