Miles Austin, Founder of Fill the Funnel is the “Web Tools Guy.” He is the expert on the sales automation tools and technologies that can truly drive improved sales performance. He’s my go-to resource when I need help choosing a technology solution in my business.
Miles ran high-performance sales teams for Dell during their high-growth days so there isn’t much he doesn’t know about sales. Combined with his technical savvy Miles has become the expert who know the apps and hacks that can make a big impact in your sales results.
In this episode, Part 1 of my extended conversation with Miles, he shares his recommendations for tools you absolutely should be evaluating and using today.
It’s time to Accelerate! Hi, I’m your host, Andy Paul. Join me as I host conversations with the leading experts sales, marketing, sales automation, sales process, leadership, management, training, coaching, any resource that I believe to help you accelerate the growth of your sales, your business, and most importantly, you.
Hello and welcome to the show today. Today my guest is Miles Austin. Blogger, speaker, author, trainer and one of our industry’s leading experts on sales tools that can help you grow your sales. Miles, how are you doing today?
Fantastic Andy. Glad to be here with you and looking forward to our conversation.
Oh, great. We’re really looking forward to this. You can find Miles online at fillthefunnel.com. But he’ll give you more information on that later. Miles, rather, have me do some extended introduction, read a bio that you provided me once. Why don’t you just introduce yourself to the guests. Tell us what you do and who you do it for?
Thanks. I appreciate it, Andy. Yes. Look, I mean, you already hit the key piece. My base, my home base, the place where all of my work emanates from is fillthefunnel.com. I’ve been a sales guy for over 30 years now. And about eight years ago, I left my last job. I sold my last company where I was the leader and the founder of a sales organization selling technology. And I thought, what I really love doing?
I’m just going to start sharing some tips and some pointers and some highlights of web tools of technology that’s helping people and sales really grow and expand. And I had no idea where it’s going to go. I was really kind of doing it more just for the fun of it and to share some ideas and some observations with some friends of mine. And eight years later, I’m still doing it and I’ve written over a thousand posts total. And it’s led to an amazing third career for me. And I’ve had a ball.
Yes. Now people are paying you for that.
Yes, they do. Never enough, Andy. Never enough.
Let’s start back at the beginning. How did you get your start in sales?
Well, I was going to school, I was going to Colorado State University and I was an athlete on scholarship. I was a runner, believe it or not. Really? Battle body used to be a sprinter and it was my junior year and in track season there is an indoor season and an outdoor season. Indoors, kind of over the winter months fall and then spring, you go outside.
Well, right at the beginning of the outdoor season. My junior year. One of the big events nationwide is the Kansas relays. And we were there. We travel, we get in these vans and drive from Colorado up to Kansas. We’re out there.
And long story short, I’d never been injured in my life. As far as sports go, and long and short of it is, it was kind of a cold, overcast day in preliminaries. I blew a hamstring very, very badly. First time it ever happened, I thought I was going to die there and at the chop off my leg. And over a period of many, many months, I went through rehab and all that stuff. And the start of my senior season, I went in and coach said, hey, I need to talk to you.
Miles came in and said, look, if I could take your heart and the healthy legs of one of my other athletes, we’d have an Olympic champion. But I can’t do that. And as a result, we’ve got to have you make a change. And I thought, oh, geez. And I was kind of wondering about it because my recovery had just not been complete. I still to this day, if I go out and sprint on a tennis court for a ball, I feel it for a day or two later.
Wow. But what he said, he says, look, here’s what I want you to do. I love your attitude. I love your mindset. I love you can do I’m going to keep you on scholarship. But I need you to coach not only all of your peers in sprinting and all that, but I also have a summer program, a spring program for young kids in the community. This is in Fort Collins, Colorado. Would you be willing to do that? And I went from despair-thinking man alive.
I wanted to do this for a career for a while to think. And you know what? I also want to be a coach. I also want to be a teacher.
And so, I jumped into that. And so that got me through my senior year.
But during that time, I was also working at a restaurant in Fort Collins. And I kept watching different people, as I observed. And the people that I kept thinking, man I want to be like Mike if you will, where are these guys and gals but they came in at that in those days in a three-piece suit, wining and dining different individuals or couples over and over again.
Sometimes two and even three times in a day, lunch, maybe an early dinner and a late dinner. And they always had hands on business. I mean, I was serving these people, but I kept thinking, man, these guys look sharp. There’s always pens on the table. There’s sign an official looking contract and stuff. And I get to listen in to some of the conversation.
I’d never owned a home in my life at that point. I had no idea what was going on. But these guys were real estate people and they were some of the top realtors in the market. And then what started to happen, I’d look out the window, I’d kind of follow them discreetly out the door. And they’re pulling away in these new Caddy’s, these new Lincolns, and once in a while a BMW or Mercedes. And I thought, I want to do that. That looks like what I think business should be like. And I want to be like that.
So, I got my license, gotten involved, got out of school, was already working, got my real estate license, had my broker’s license within a year, started my own company about six months after that and had a grand old time.
And by the way, it was at that point, I had the 30 year into my real estate career, when someone accidentally gave me access to a little typewriter looking device with a couple of Kepler’s four ear cups on the top, which was called a Texas Instruments Silent 700.
And what it was, was a terminal that you put your handset for the old fashioned phone into and you’d hit a button and you got that old dial and connect in to a brand new early stage service called Electronic Multiple Listings. And I was involved in Fort Collins. I happened to, at that time, to be serving because I was a political science major. So, I love that kind of thing.
I was involved as the chairman of the Multiple Listing Service, which up till then it basically been a fat paper book that we got every week with all the new listings and the price changes in my lap while I watch this. And I played with this and it blew my mind. I remember sitting in my room at home late at night doing research and playing with this thing and thinking this literally I could run the world from this little terminal. I didn’t know what a computer was.
I never coded in my life. So, from there I started using it and my business did triple or more what it had ever done in the past. And people started coming say, what were you doing? Well, we were a pilot for this program with McGraw-Hill at the time. We were the first board in Fort Collins that had this. And people say. You got to show me. What is this?
So, I’d get him signed up and I didn’t get paid or anything for it, but I was just enthusiastic about this technology to help me sell more and serve our clients. So, from there I started getting invitations.
And next thing you know, I had people in other board of realtors in the Colorado saying, can you come to our board and speak to us and tell us what this new technology is about and what we should be aware of. So, I started doing that and then I made it to a couple national and N.A.R conventions. National Association of Realtors. Thank you. And said they said, hey, tell us about this.
We did a couple of workshops and people kept coming up and saying, man, it’s just. Is this real? Are you really able to do these things? And I think what I learned there was two things. Technology is a powerhouse. If you learn how to use it and really understand how to use the technology and secondarily, most people are afraid of technology.
And as a result, will follow the curve rather than lead the curve. And that realization helped me throughout. But what it also did, it showed me. Look, I got to get this now. These start these computers started to come on board. The early Commodore 64 is and then later computers and even RadioShack computers. When I started playing with them, it’s a hobby, but I started realizing I can’t just run my company from this and my business from this. I could run the world from these little spreadsheet kinds of things.
And I remember the day when I was introduced to a program that was loaded on my little computer via a tape deck, and it was a mail merge program. So, a word processor with mail merge from a database of customers or in my case, people that live in a certain neighborhood we called a farm area. And I hit the button and it made custom letters for like 200 people addressed to them personally, had their own unique their mailing address and all that. And I was sold. I thought, wow, this will literally changed my life.
And it has, because ever since then, I ended up getting leaving the real estate business, selling my brokerage clothes in our offices, moved to Seattle because I heard that there was a lot of technology up here. And I really loved the market. I’d been up here a couple of times on vacation and I kept hearing about this little company that was just in the very early days called Microsoft.
Well, I wasn’t smart enough or well-educated enough to get a job there because this was for the really big head thought kind of people, right? Right. But what I knew was I don’t care because I don’t want to learn how to code. I want to learn how to sell this technology and train businesspeople on how to use computers. It wasn’t really being done much. It was still a hobby kind of a thing for most people.
I remember the typical explanation was, well, you can put your recipes on there and your mailing card, your mailing list for Christmas cards and that kind of thing. But I, as a business owner and a businessperson, saw immediately how if you take this and you leverage the tech, it was there. So that’s how I got into sales. And I’ve never left it. And thank goodness, early on, I was fortunate enough to be able to be exposed to some very successful people in sales with high integrity, with character. And they lived their life in a way that I wanted to live mine.
What was your aha moment in sales and a moment where it started all making sense?
Well, probably the first real estate commission I got. I think when I sat there in a room and watched a I remember my first sale was actually I had sold a home I wasn’t the listing agent. So back in those days, the listing agent and the owners of the house and me as the selling agent and the buyers all sat in a room at a bank or a title company. We closed the deal, right?
And I remember watching the relief and the release from the buyers as they signed the papers that they now sold their home so they could move on to whatever it was they did. But they had they’d achieve their goal through my efforts. And then I watch the joy, the sheer unbelievable joy of the people that I helped buy this house.
In this case, it was the first home I remember specifically. It was a very young couple recently married. He was an engineer at HP in Loveland, Colorado, and she worked at HP and some other function. I don’t remember what it was. I don’t think she was an engineer, but I’m not sure about that. And it literally I mean, they were giddy for weeks and months after that. I’d get a call, or I’d stop by and say, hey, how are things going? And I get hugs and high fives.
And they were just ecstatic. And I thought, wow, I got paid a nice chunk of money. And look at the joy that I brought to people because I did a good job.
And that’s not relegated purely to selling somebody’s home. I mean, even in a business, the business space, I mean, if you solve a problem for somebody and you make their life better. In some dimension, they’re going to be happy.
Absolutely. I would tell you that the biggest paychecks I’ve had over the years and there’s been I’ve been really blessed, lucky in my career. There’s never been a check that was greater in payment than the smiles and the joy that comes from doing something that will make a big impact on the recipient’s life. I truly say that with all sincerity, it just makes my day. When someone goes, Damn it! I love what you’ve done for me.
Right. And I think that too often sellers overlook this fact. But yes, you might be selling to a company, but it’s individuals that are going to benefit from this. There’s an individual making the decision that is the one that it could be the business owner, or it could be a C-level person that could just be a functional manager that’s responsible for that. You make their life better. You make them more successful. You’re doing your job.
Absolutely. Well, look, I’m a big believer. I think most people, especially in business, have a list to do list that’s on their desk or on their phone or in the old days and a little journal I had every day. But they are reminded of all the time and even as a buyer. Buyers have a list of things they have got to get accomplished. And I have yet to meet a buyer that doesn’t want to buy something.
And I’ve learned over the years, these people aren’t there to make my life miserable. They want to check this off the list. They want to get it done. My job is to help answer the questions. Give them the comfort, understand what you’re trying to do and guide them and make it easy to make the decisions so they can take this item off their to do list.
Right. I agree one hundred percent. I mean, that’s something I write about my books is, it’s not more complicated than that, right? Yes. As long as you trying to accomplish that job. You can make them successful. For everybody listening. And if you can make your customers successful, then you’ll be successful as well.
Absolutely. And what’s funny is if you have the chance, because a lot of times in my career it was B2B sales and usually larger companies and it was technology. Most of my career and most times I wasn’t able to meet down to the end user level. Who would be the recipient of what we just sold? The technology, the solution. But sometimes I was able to. And to listen to the before and the after story. It just made you smile. It’s like, damn, I’ve got a good solution here. This really is working to help people.
All right. We’re going take a short break now. We’ll be back after the break with Miles Austin. Share with us more of his stories about how to amp up your business with technology.
All right. We’re back with our guest, Miles Austin. So, Miles, we’re just talking about helping make our customers successful. So, let’s change the nature of the debate or the discussion a little bit here is. You had some major sales teams that some pretty big companies like Dell during some of the go-go periods. I mean.
What did you learn about scaling a sales organization and scaling it quickly during your experiences there?
Well, I look back. I got goosebumps when you said that because I would tell you when I went to Dell, it was in the early days and they were just starting to really go nuts. And I went to Dell to run the inside sales team for large corporate accounts. I’d never done inside sales. I always looked at and viewed inside sales as kind of a training ground for real salespeople who were on the outside. They were the outbound people, right? Right.
And again, a lot has changed since then. This has been many years ago now. But what I learned pretty quickly was if I go in with a closed mind, I’m going to fail pretty darn quickly. Because what I started to realize was, open my mind and observe and learn from my team as well as meet sharing my experience, et cetera with them. And what I came to realize was the power of focused, concentrated sales effort without too many distractions.
So, let me use an example, right? I came from companies where we were selling HP and IBM and Compaq and you name it, and we’re all over the map. We’re selling servers and desktops and laptops and whatever it was, we were selling, routers and all that.
When I got to Dell, Dell had two basic product lines. They had a consumer line and a business line and business line was called OptiPlex. Right. In OptiPlex all I had to sell was a one desktop and then a very few variations on configuration and one laptop. That was it.
Well, they didn’t spoil you. Well, you know what’s funny? I thought, man, this is nuts. How are you going? But here’s what it was really fun is I was there. I was fortunate enough to be there when Dell decided to go into the server business. Right. And I was Mr. Cool. I kind of puffed up my chest. I said, look, guys, I came from the channel. Let me make it really clear we’re not going to have success here because we don’t have system engineers.
You need technical people to sell these things. And then I sat back, I said, but I want to see how we do, right? Well, here’s what I learned. Relationship wins out every time in a sales endeavor compared to those that don’t have it. Pretty powerful for me because what I saw was individuals with no technical background, but it developed over a period of months or even years with some of our reps there at the time had developed a level of trust and a relationship where the company trusted what the sales rep was presenting and knew that whatever happened, they would be taken care of.
So, it’s not get in the door. I mean, you’re a brand-new offering compared to those other guys that trust that relationship was the door opener.
Absolutely. And I watched with amazement. Mr. This Will Never Work because you don’t have system engineers on every call and it has to be whiteboard it out and all that. I watched literally within this in that first year we went from selling a server to someone as kind of a trial and just test it out and see what you think. And if you don’t like it, send it back to selling pallets and pallets of servers to people.
I remember one of our big customers at the time was Nasdaq during the Nasdaq boom, your stocks blitz and all the crazy stuff that was going. And I was just dazzled. And I got to tell you, honestly, with all respect to the individual rep, she had no clue what IO was or any of the other basic activities for servers, didn’t matter. She understood and made the customer gave them availability to anything and everything that they had questions to.
And the trust with the company is large and is significant. And as important as Nasdaq was willing to put that trust in an individual salesperson. Plus the company behind it had done well for them over the years, right? They had earned that, but that rep was unbelievably crucial. So, I think I learned from that is two things I learned is don’t ever underestimate whatever your role is within an organization, specifically a sales organization.
And I left with a very deep respect for inside salespeople because I realized in many cases that can be your only contact with the customer. And it allowed Dell to scale to your original question. Because now I wasn’t in a car with the sales rep making four or five calls a day in person. I could make 30 or 40 calls in a day and never leave the comfort of my desk and be much more effective and have all the technology for measurement and monitoring and everything else as it developed.
I’m going to go back and explore a couple of points you’ve brought before. One is you talked about keeping an open mind. Biases is a big thing because as I’ve written about this recently, about the biases, the built-in biases that salespeople have and it’s true in numerous professions. The example I gave in a blog post or as my wife is a medical educator and they teach prospective doctors. Studies have shown they have up to one hundred twenty-five biases doctors have to work through in order to arrive at a diagnosis, right?
How do you train people to have an open mind? I mean, you’re talking to a salesperson or you’re a sales manager in charge of a sales team. How do you do that?
Two things. I think mentoring is something that I’ve always benefited from. And I’m convinced that the easiest way to demonstrate this power is experience. When you get older, you just fall because pretty darn clear to us, right? But I think that ability to take someone who’s new, who really is early in their sales career, and mentor. Bring them a partner, a mentor, doesn’t have to be people sitting side by side, but establish a true mentoring program where they can sit once a week, once a month, once a day. It doesn’t matter.
And just kind of talk and explore and say, how are you handling this Andy? I came up with this. The customer was upset, or the customer asked for something. I knew I didn’t have the ability to deliver. How do you handle that? And for you then, as the seasoned pro who understands this at a deeper level to share that. Mentoring to me face to face, direct or over the phone doesn’t matter is probably the fastest way to transfer knowledge that the old term tribal knowledge from one person to another in a sales organization. Mentoring works.
If you’re a small business owner and you’ve got a small sales team, maybe you don’t have a sales manager. How the CEO go about them?
Two things I think, first of all, you’ve got to see who in your organization has that capability and identify that person. If not, then I think what you’ve got is an ample selection of people and companies to pick from. To find someone that can be that trainer, that mentor in that role, especially in the early days. Because if you think about it, if you’re a small company, maybe just one or even two salespeople. Well, it’s pretty easy to find. I wouldn’t say it’s easy.
There’s a lot of choices for you to go find someone that can come to your company and serve in that role. And again, you can structure it in a lot of different ways. But the ability to be there as someone to counsel, to guide. And I think a lot of times human nature is we’re going to find our way given a little bit of guidance and kind of like the bumpers in the bowling lane, right?
Sometimes you put those bumper pads in those ends and in the alleys there, she kind of just keep the ball going straight. But you don’t need to do too much. I think in my own experience into my is if you give me a manager or a mentor that’s telling me exactly, step by step, word for word, what to do. I’ll probably fail because I’m not he or she, right? Right. But give me the guidance. Keep me in the lane with a little bumpy here and there but keep me moving down the path.
Yes, I agree. I think the easiest way to train people, salespeople in the best way they learn is through seeing how other people model that particular behavior that they know want to emulate. Absolutely. So, the same thing applies to building relationships. And you got a new rep. Yes.
How do you help them learn how to build a solid relationship with a client?
To me, I would tell you that the most valuable sales skill I’ve ever been taught how to listen. Every time I talk, I’m in jeopardy of talking myself out of a sale. And look, I speak for a living. I make a living talking. So that’s kind of scary to admit. But the truth is, I do if I my mouth is open. The odds of me closing a sale successfully go down.
When my mouth is closed and both ears and a pen in my hand or some way to remember and capture sincere feedback from a client. And just their own sharing of what they’re dealing with and what their challenges are, whatever it might be. Product specific or solution specific or general. The more I can listen, the more successful I will be in a sales role.
Couldn’t agree more. I think it’s a great lesson for everybody out there that’s listening to us. Well, I’m hoping we’re done that they need to learn how to listen, right?
Absolutely. And it’s hard. I mean, I think sales in general, the perception or the stereotype is some guy in the used car lot with a flashy jacket just flapping his gums. And yes, we should do this. Wait a minute, I was just going to ask directions to the gas station. Well, no, you should buy this one. But no, that’s not what I’m even here for. So, it is important.
Right. And I think part of that comes from salespeople. If they’re uncertain about what they should say, they’re trying to guess what the customer wants to hear, and that’s what causes a lot of, to my mind, that’s what caused a lot of that unnecessary talking, right? Though, to your point, you don’t worry about that. If you just ask a question and listen, then you never really worry about what you need to talk about.
I remember an early day sales trainer and my real estate days. He’s one of the one of the training events I went to the seminars was when you ask a question, shut up, because the first person that talks after you’ve asked the question loses. And I thought, okay, well, obviously today losing doesn’t mean it’s bad for them. But the net, if you ask a question, the next person that talks loses an eye many times, I think. Okay.
And it’s hard sometimes when you ask a question, general or specific to a making a sale and you’re quiet. It could seem like five minutes of dead silence. And really, it’s only probably five or six seconds because what I learned is if it’s uncomfortable for me, it’s probably uncomfortable for them.
Right. Yes. I mean, I think for young salespeople, they hate a vacuum. Right. So, there’s a temptation to want to fill in the vacuum by saying something which is the wrong response. If you ask a question as you put to point, the first person to talk has to be the customer, you know, even if you know the answer.
Back to you as a sales manager, tell us what the biggest mistake you made as a sales manager and what was the lesson you learned from that?
Boy, there’s a bunch, there’s a bunch Andy. And I think some of the things that I look back on with the most disappointment would be a belief that indeed I can. I can train or teach anyone to be a salesperson. So, maybe the short answer to that is selection of personnel. Boy, it’s a lot harder than I thought and a lot harder than I ever wanted to admit early on anyway. But there is a lot more to hiring than just a…
What are your qualifications? Are you from the industry? Do you know our technology, do you know our solution, etc. There’s a lot more to it. And I think probably what I didn’t learn early enough in my career in management was the function of career and personality.
I mean, culture and personality fit, right? I mean, culture. And there’s a lot of really smart people out there that write about it and teach about it and speak on this. But culture can be a magic bullet. And if you get the culture right, everything else seems to start to fall in place.
So, how do you identify that fit for our culture? I can’t tell you that I have it nailed. I can tell you that some of it is just get from experience now. But I think maybe asking and learning more about the person in a nonspecific sales kind of questioning will really bring that out. How do they handle certain things? What are their relationships like?
How long are their relationships in their personal life? Or are these people that, maybe do I look back even from a dating standpoint? Are these people who are dating someone new every weekend or do they have someone that they’ve been dating for two years or longer? Just some personality traits, because sales to me is always a long-term game for those people that are slam bam type people, at least for me. I probably won’t enjoy being around them.
And I think most customers don’t want to be around that kind of a person in a sales relationship.
Yes, they’re so obvious that they’re just looking for the next order.
Absolutely. And it comes across pretty darn quickly.
Now, I agree that it does. It’s quite a hypothetical scenario for you. Actually, I’ve got a couple more. Let me give you one here before we end the segment of the show.
You’re a CEO or sales manager with a brand-new product, innovative product. Perhaps you’re actually creating a new category or market niche with it. What the two most important things you need to do to build critical momentum for that new product, that innovation in the marketplace.
A one or two, I think two things I think first of all, I need to know if it’s a, it will vary a little bit, but let me back up. The first thing I’ll have to know is who else is in this space? And if there’s no one else, if this is a brand new category or solution, then what I would do probably the first thing is, I want to go out through lots of ways online and other ways and find out who influencers are of the people that I want to sell my product or my solution to. So, identify influencers.
And second of all, identify where the people that I want to talk to as customers are hanging out. Right. By hanging out, I mean, are they are they in a social platform like LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter? Are they involved in certain associations? But I want to understand where they’re hanging out because, the age-old adage you want to fish where the fish are, can save you a lot of time.
I mean, I love to fish. I’ll tell you efficient story later. That lesson I learned. But what was really fun for me is I can go and have all the right equipment. I can be prepared, trained, equipped. And I’m fishing in a lake that I found out later they had just treated for some algae. And I didn’t get a bite for a day. Right
And at the end of the day, some old guy said, by the way, how you doing? I said, I didn’t get a bite. And he kind of said, hey, community came walked me over a little bit and pointed to a sign that said, no fishing allowed. We just treat the blob like that once again. I’m all ready to go. I jumped in. I didn’t do my homework. I didn’t identify if the fish if my customers are in that pond, if you will, in that lake. I wasted a lot of time.
So, to summarize. One is, find out who the influences are that your potential customers pay attention to. And so, there’s people to want to go then and talk to and help educate them about your product or your new product or service so they can in turn can educate your customer, the trusted advisors, to your customers. That’s great.
And then the second one is to find out where your customers are hanging out online or at trade shows or associations and approach them, try to intersect with them somewhere in their lives when they’re interacting online or in those associations.
I would agree. I think those two are there because in my opinion. Again, I’m a sales guy. I’m always looking if there is an easier shortcut to do it. I want to explore it. And I think the easiest sale I think most of us would agree is the sale from a referral or a recommendation. Right. And with the advent and the explosion of social media, that’s becoming more and more prominent. Some stats that you say between 47 and 67 percent of us will buy a product based on a recommendation of a friend or someone we respect.
So, I mean, they don’t even have to say go sell that product for me as an influencer. They just need to talk about it and endorse or just say, you know what, this is something you guys should check out. That plays wonders, especially in a startup where no one knows what your product or service is.
Hi. This is Andy. You just listen to part 1 of my conversation with Miles Austin. Part two could be available on October 21st. If you want to make sure you won’t miss it. Go to iTunes and subscribe to this podcast. You’re not only be notified about that conversation, but all the other amazing conversations are having incredible experts that can give you information to help you amp up and accelerate your business. So, until next time, this is Andy Paul. Good selling, everyone.