Shari Levitin, speaker and bestselling author of Heart and Sell: 10 Universal Truths Every Salesperson Needs to Know, joins me on this episode.
Andy Paul 0:00
Hey friends, this is Andy. Today is Episode 742 of Accelerate Sales podcast. So another excellent episode lined up here today, first of this year. You’re the first of this decade. And it’s only appropriate then that my guest is Sheri Levitin, the author of a best selling book, titled Heart and Sell 10 Universal Truths Every Salesperson Needs To Know. And we’re gonna be diving into these universal truths for salespeople. Now, Sherri, used her sales consulting experiences to write a sales book that’s really more of a life book. And I think it’s so important to talk about sales because we’re going to talk today about why who you are, matters more necessarily than what you do. So we’re gonna dive into why it’s necessary for a company to not only reward quota achievement but also to put an equal emphasis on rewarding personal growth, personal individual growth. Sherri gives an example of how her company provides a budget for everyone can spend on their own personal development. And I think it’s so important for sales because we put increasing targets on our salespeople, then we don’t measure whether we’ve invested or they’ve invested appropriately to grow in order to hit those increased targets. So where are you joining us from today.
Sherri Levitin 5:00
I’m in Park City, Utah, where it’s going to hit 12 degrees by the end of the day. It is gorgeous. It’s sunny.
Andy Paul 5:21
So I’ve got friends that are planning on retiring to Park City, so it’s a nice place. All right, well, we’re going to talk about your book, Heart And Sell 10 Universal Truths Every Salesperson Needs To Know. So my first question is what was the impetus to write the book.
Sherri Levitin 5:42
I had wanted to write a book for years. I started my company in 1997. And, you know, we grew mostly on a live training model. So corporations would hire us and it was very expensive to have us come in. Either I would come in or one of our trainers would come in. And then we had lots of products. I mean, this is back in the day where we had audio tapes and videotapes. And then of course, we moved to online learning. But for so many years, there were two factors. One was that I didn’t have a product that I thought could help the individual seller without them having their company bring me in to do something live that was very grand in scale. So we were getting requests from as far as India and Africa and there was no way we could serve all those people. So having a $12 product was huge for us. And I did have an epiphany later in life, I became an accidental parent. Six/seven years ago, I told you that story and I realized actually through parenting, that the soft skills of empathy and curiosity, they’re not something you do. I had been teaching sellers for years. Here’s the three step method and the four things you need to learn. I always wondered, how come some sellers will make $300,000 and the other will make $30? How come some of them are retiring and others are struggling to pay their rent, yet they’re using the same system. They’re using the same methodology, there’s selling the same product. And I had this huge epiphany become apparent that what you do matters, but who you are matters more, right? So these soft skills had been missing in my training for years. The skills underneath the skill, so the 10 universal truths are separated as there’s five truths on what you need to do to be successful, not only in sales and in life, and I think that’s what’s critical to me in writing this book. Because it was more of a life book. And if you follow these truths, you’ll not only have a better life, you’ll sell a whole lot more. So it’s five on what to do and then five on who to be. And so the combination of the two.
Andy Paul 8:16
Well, I think it’s such a critical point to bring out because for one thing, I think in general, when you look at sales, hiring managers in general, this my experience based on worked with hundreds of companies and thousands of managers, is that they put very little emphasis on values and character. And in terms of assessing and evaluating people formally, this person seems like a very nice polite person, but I don’t see them asking questions that really serve. Try to plumb whether that person actually has the values and character that enabled them to be the best version of themselves.
Sherri Levitin 9:03
Yeah, there’s no question. I quote David Brooks and my book on character, and I love his distinction. He says there’s two types of virtues in life, right. There’s the resume virtues which is our experience, what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished, how we’ve crushed quota, so to speak. And then there’s the eulogy virtues which is what they’ll say about you once you’re gone. And those eulogy virtues, things like kindness, integrity, curiosity, you talk about that a lot. It’s the eulogy virtues that really make the difference in today’s environment where we’re digitizing everything. We were going to need to do everything Alexa can’t do in order to survive and make sales.
Andy Paul 9:57
I think that two points may amplify the point you just made. I think that these have always been important virtues. But I think I think they’re becoming more important. I think as we see more automation technology come into the sales space, I was just interviewing someone right before you about AI and sales. We can have a point where there’s more sort of guided selling, you know, automatically. But that experience for a buyer is whether they’re dealing with one person’s automated sales system or another person’s sales machine, pretty undifferentiated. And so, at the end of the day, people still want some expertise. They want some insights, some validation, they want something from another human being, which research has shown in medical decision making and algorithms today that could probably give better advice than talking to a doctor statistically, in terms of outcomes, but people still feel more comfortable having that human intercession and judgment applied to things.
Sherri Levitin 11:46
So you know about oxytocin. You know, when there’s an oxytocin release. When you and I met at the Gartner conference, we obviously trusted each other, you need to be on your podcast and we must have been releasing this oxytocin, the trust hormone, and even by phone by zoom right now, there’s actually a smell that enhances trust. And it’s that same hormone that women release when they give birth to a child. It helps them to bond, to have trust, and it helps them to spend money.
Andy Paul 12:33
Right. So I don’t have a sense of smell. So it’d be interesting. I caught my superpower living in New York during the summer. You can come across smells that I remember hearing comedians joke about but yeah, not impervious to those now so that’s my big city superpower so let’s dive into some of your universal truths. I enjoyed the book and I recommend it to people listening to the show. You’ve got a sly sense of humor that I really appreciate in there and especially like your Nelson Mandela story with your husband, so the shortstop for the Mets. So you talk about the 10 truths about using proven sales skills without losing your offer? So, two words we see a lot in sales are just proven and authenticity. So just want to sort of dive into that as is. And I tell you the reason afterwards was proven but so what do you say when something’s proven?
Sherri Levitin 14:21
That is a great question. You know, because research shows 98% of the people and you know, we all love statistics today, right? You see all the sales influencers use these statistics. And of course, we all know you can make statistics say anything that you want them to say,
Andy Paul 14:40
Well, especially given in sales. Yeah, they’re pretty loose anyway.
Sherri Levitin 14:54
Yes. Here’s what I think. First of all, you need to look at where the proven and where the research comes from and if it doesn’t pass the good sense test, throw it out. So the way I look at proven is okay, I’m going to look at the source. And I’m going to say, okay, is this Harvard Business Review? Is this a neuroscientist I know of, but then I’m going to put it through the filter of the good common sense test and say, is that my experience? Is that the experience of others? And I think it’s a combination of both. And that’s where you get the combination of the proven and the authenticity. Does this feel right to me? And I think too many people believe whatever they see on social media or whatever research and just doesn’t pass that common sense test.
Andy Paul 15:37
I agree. Yeah, one of the problems in sales is we don’t have any good research about sales, basically. I mean, there’s Gallup has been doing research and collecting data for a long time, maybe the most authoritative source but most of what we see when we read the passes for science is really statistics, it’s not really science. And even the science that we have people don’t study, yet we tend to generalize and say, Okay, well, you know, somebody does a study saying, if you do this, this will influence people do something. But when you look at the study, it’s like, yeah, it worked. It was relatively small sample work 55% of the time. And that’s okay. If it works 35% of time, I think for people to your point, precisely as have to look at things and say, is this something that looks true for me? Right? I mean, if one person exactly if one person has done it, if these things have worked for you, Sherri that’s good for me. If I trust you, to your point, then yeah, doesn’t mean it’ll work the same way for me, but at least I can say okay, there’s some validity to it. And I sort of always cringe when I hear or read people sort of reverting to let’s cherry pick statistics from here on there. So I think a lesson just for people, is what resonates with you as true? And then, learn a little bit about the person, but then try it too.
Sherri Levitin 17:16
And if you try it, I think what’s important, I was thinking about this just yesterday, try one thing at a time, that we’re working with a company, we’re consulting with them. And, you know, they just brought us in, they had a big trigger event, and when a CEO or a business owner or a VP of Sales, you know, when things aren’t going right, it’s Q4, you’re not hitting quota. That doesn’t mean you try four new things at once. No, because then you never know what thing made the business impact and got you the results. And I think people panic. They press the panic button, and they don’t introduce one thing into their sales process or into their marketing or whatever the case may be.
Andy Paul 17:57
I’ve had that conversation recently. A paper an MIT scientist put out about the late 80s, early 90s. It’s a simple formula for change. Right? Introduce one new factor. Yeah, try it, test it till you’re sure you’ve got it and introduce the second new factor.
Sherri Levitin 18:21
That is marketing 101, isn’t it?
Andy Paul 18:23
Not necessarily. But it’s from a change management standpoint. And if you think about it, if you’re in sales, and you’re wondering, okay, things just aren’t clicking. This can happen when you’re new and when you’ve been in business for a long time. I mean, sometimes we lose the recipe and we lose our way. Trying five new things all at once is never a recipe for success. So in the converse, what we’re saying about universal truths is that there are proven universally bad behaviors, though. It seems like sometimes we’ve sort of lost sight of that. We seem to keep having to reteach these generation after generation of sellers. And we don’t seem to be getting any better at eradicating them. I mean, to one of your points in the book, what your truth is, talk, talk, talk, talk, not listen, not ask questions.
Sherri Levitin 19:29
Anything that can be told can be asked.
Andy Paul 19:32
If you’re in a presentation, at least, the way I presented, and I learned this from a boss early in my career is, anytime you want to ask somebody or tell something. You can phrase that as a question in a way that forces the customer to think.
Sherri Levitin 20:02
It’s much less combative and you get information. Particularly today, you know, in the old days, it was just consultative selling, right? We wanted to find a problem, we wanted to find the implications of that problem today, we have to help people learn how to buy. So we have to ask them questions. So that they think, okay, what is my criteria to buy? What is my decision making process? I think what Gartner just came out with now is 10 decision makers. So it’s gotten much more complex today in B2B sales. So, yes, those questions are key. And really thinking them through in advance and knowing what you’re trying to achieve. So not just willy nilly asking a bunch of questions, but saying, what am I asking in these questions? What information am I trying to get? And more importantly, what do I want my customer to get? So I have more impact.
Andy Paul 21:00
So here’s a question for you. And it’s sort of triggered by what you’re saying. But you and I are part of this group of Gartner, we get insight to their research before they release it. And I’m a big believer in their buying process, the buyer enablement study with the spaghetti diagram of the buying process. And the very opposite of a linear sales process that every company has. So a couple questions. One is there’s a lot of who have not altered their sales process in response to that research right. So here’s a company that’s done pretty much the most authoritative research on least enterprise buying behaviors, but I think that extrapolates into even smaller companies as well. And yet, you haven’t come across one company that says, we change our sales process to reflect this reality of how people are actually buying. You seen anybody that has,
Sherri Levitin 22:12
I feel like I go in, regardless of the company, B2B or B2C, we do work in B2C as well, and it’s the same what I call default tendencies. Right? And I think you have to ask yourself, Well, why don’t they change? You know, and is it any different than our buyers? Right? If the customers are unwilling to change, and then we scratch our heads and say, if the companies aren’t willing to change their behavior? I always say what happens in the training process will be duplicated by your sellers in the sales process. So no, I tend to see that the same challenges the same default behaviors that people fall into. And I have not seen it adopted at scale. Let’s say maybe little pockets but not at scale.
Andy Paul 23:01
Yeah, and I think this becomes sort of the real challenge, I think for business in general. Right is, is the buyers are moving so much more quickly than sellers. I mean yeah, we’ve got the introduction of all this new technology into sales and our sales engagement platforms conversational intelligence, yada yada yada. But trying to force this down this quote unquote, funnel the way boys conceptualized it, when instead, the buyer is all over the map. Well, yeah, the implication of our methodical sales process is, this is why we think buyers buy where buyers actually enter that process. To your point earlier. They don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Right and even if they bought a product like yours five years ago, they don’t know how to buy it today. I mean, you do something once every five years . It’s unlikely to be documented. You’ve got a whole new cast of characters who have become involved with it, and the process is just gonna be different.
Sherri Levitin 24:00
And they revert to the status quo because they don’t want to lose their job. They don’t want to take a risk.
Andy Paul 24:05
I think it really inhibits sales growth and productivity growth among individual sellers. You know, again we’re not responding to the reality of the way things really are in the field. Is it sort of the same question I was reading. I forget who it was yesterday some sales author and and talking about really a Gartner statistic I think from other studies along when the challenger sale came out is that you know buyers or challenger customer buyers are the two thirds away through their buying process for the engage with sale sellers and then yet we’ve got this whole other you know, substantial portion of the sales world, sales thought leader, and saying absolutely wrong. That’s not what it is at all. And so you throw that into the mix is like okay, well doesn’t really importantly sort of fundamental agreement on this. I think Gartner sort of answered that question with their buyer enablement study. Yet we still have people that aren’t adapting to it. I mean, it’s really the issue of how do we get people to change right because I was reading your book. And I was thinking it’s not that the people aren’t writing some really interesting things about sales. This is a rolta since no one’s reading it.
Sherri Levitin 25:29
Well, that’s true. The Dunning Kruger now, is that the one where if I bought the book, I think I’ve read it.
Andy Paul 25:40
Dunning Kruger is people overestimate the extent to their knowledge, they extend their expertise and their knowledge and don’t have the emotional intelligence to realize that and then change, right. But at certain places that, you know, it’s like, we have to issue in sales is that there’s all these great materials, great books, great training and selling. Well, the people we’re doing are the people that are good already. Right, that my conviction is that people who read sales books are the people that don’t need them.
Sherri Levitin 26:14
Well, it’s not that they don’t need them. But they’re learners. They’re like their learners. Right?
Andy Paul 26:21
Right. So like, you and I are their lifelong learners that any little bit of tidbit they can pick up to help them so it’s always a constant quest. to So how do we reach that? That group that aren’t learners? And I am interested in your response to that because I think it’s a culture issue within companies. That’s really the driver on it, but I’m interested in your take.
Sherri Levitin 26:43
Okay. So this is going to be a very different answer that you’ve heard before. You make it fun. Truly, I think we are so serious with ourselves. And what I find is when when we do an event, we talk about it, in one of our talks, we do a three day course called, it’s showtime. And it’s all about the four pillars of an effective training and coaching program. And the premise and is is that, you know, there’s all this talk about coaching, I know you make a great distinction I heard on one of your podcasts between education and training, you can make a distinction however you want, but what we call it in the four pillars is you’ve got to have education, which is lifelong learning, right? That’s the ongoing education, I call it. The growth equation, right, leads to a growth mindset. But the second pillar is key and we forget it, and it’s entertainment. Is it fun? Look, we don’t learn unless we’re in the neocortex part of our brain. And we have the brain research on it, but we don’t implement it. When I say it’s got to be entertaining, I don’t mean like La la la, there’s banjos and other though could be and gamification. Those are great, are you creating an emotional connection? Is it creative? Are you coming at them from different angles through storytelling through games because then when we’re in this peak emotional state, we learn better. So number two is entertainment. Number three is facilitation. People don’t believe it. When we say it. They believe it when they do it. And then the final pillar and you need all four for a successful training and coaching program is that coaching pillar is the ongoing coaching like you do at the sales house. Because as you know, you can tell somebody how to do something all you want, but the devils in the details, it’s the nuance, right? It’s all of a sudden, somebody says, Oh, yeah, I did what you told me to do, and then you sort of roleplay it out on your show, and you’re like, yeah, I didn’t say to do that. You know, you did that. And, and there’s nuances that you wouldn’t even think To train on or to coach on, and then all of a sudden those come out in that ongoing coaching and development. So the short answer, the long answer to your short question is I think if we can make it more engaging and more fun, particularly with a generation of millennials, and Gen Z, is there going to be bored, they’re gonna go down to something else.
Andy Paul 29:26
So what about creating as part of the incentive package for a salesperson, some goal metric, whatever I call it related to learning.
Sherri Levitin 29:39
I talk about that all the time. I think it’s necessary, right? That we not only reward quota and the result, but we reward this idea of a growth mindset and we monitor in my company, we like to let people do what they want to do. But we’ve got a certain amount that everybody can spend for their own growth and education. And it’s sort of the old inspection of what you expect. And we tell this of our clients as well. And what we say is, pick something that you want to delve into every month. And then we have them share what they learned. I mean, it’s got to be, you know, have something to do with what we’re doing. But you’d be surprised at what people find and what they do. And I have just found it by building this sort of culture of you know, you’ve got so much money to spend, it can be a podcast, it can be a video, it can be a course. People, the right people crave that and I say the right people and you have to hire for curiosity. If you want a culture of learning and development, no, don’t expect people to do it unless that’s who they are and what they’re made of. And I believe that’s interesting. You either have that sure you can build your curiosity but if you want to sort of go home watch football and eat bons bons and you know get drunk every night then then you might not be the one who’s gonna, you know, want to keep learning. And mindless is good. Don’t get me wrong, but I am amused. I will tell you because I’m on a lot of airplanes. Notice what people are doing in business class versus coach and I’m not trying to be a snob here. But you will find that the greater the position and the greater the stature and the higher up somebody as a company in a company, the more you will find them learning, working, researching, and the less you’ll find them playing video games.
Andy Paul 32:20
Actually, I think I think part of the reason that you see that in business class or first class is that there’s more privacy so they can actually do meaningful activities.
Sherri Levitin 32:29
So you’re gonna refute that. Okay.
Andy Paul 32:31
No, I’m not refuting it. I just know there are times I’m on a plane on my plane a lot. It’s like I should have bought a privacy screen for a Mac because this person next to me, I don’t know who that is. Right. Like we’re working on writing my book or something notes or doing a report for a client and don’t feel like having the world see it. But that’s my completely unproven theory as to why people in business class are arts majors because they’re drinking more and they feel relaxed and ready to focus. I just want to go through one of the 10 truths since we haven’t gotten any of them yet. As you said, trust begins with empathy. And so to, you know, trigger words, their trust and empathy. Tell us what you mean by that.
Sherri Levitin 33:45
This is probably the most important thing I can tell a seller or a leader and this and that is this. And I do this at my workshops all the time. I say there’s two critical elements to selling. You’ve got to have your competency or you’ve got to know your product. And you have to have your empathy or you need to know the customer. And I pose a problem to the audience and I say if you could only have one, empathy or competency, which one’s more important knowing your customer or knowing your product? It’s usually about a split. Well, here’s the result and it’s from Harvard Business Review. First Connect then lead. But this I know to be true. This follows the good sense test. And what they say is empathy and competency are the two most important components to influence and what is sales if not influence? So empathy and competency, create 90% of influence. However, the order matters. And most sales reps get this wrong. So I would say if you take nothing else out of what I say in that book or said today, get this empathy gets you in the door, competency, reliability and integrity keep you there. Those are the four components of trust. But most salespeople do it backwards and you’ve had it happen a million times, you connect with somebody on LinkedIn. And immediately they’re telling you about their state of the art custom solution that’s going to make us zillions of dollars. But they haven’t shown you they know you. They haven’t’ looked you up. They’re just spamming you. So that’s the classic example of this sort of leading with competency or in a sales presentation in a demo in a conversation. It’s the seller that starts out with the slide deck, here’s who we are, here’s how great we are when the customer is like Yeah, but what do you know about me? Yeah. And so that’s why I talk about trust begins with empathy with caring about the customer caring about their world, learning about their world. And if you look at any big deal you’ve ever gotten? Or any new deal, my guess is you really learned about the customer, you focused on the customer. And you’re better off reciting to them what their problems are in meeting one and meeting two and then meeting three, and waiting for them to say. So what’s your solution? I always say, if we can exactly pinpoint what their problems and concerns are, and the outcomes they desire are of all the stakeholders. If we can diagnose a problem, we’re given the right to solve it that begins with empathy, or knowing your customer.
Andy Paul 36:37
Yeah, I mean, it’s because on one hand, you talk about understanding. I mean, this is a point that I sort of drill down on is that empathy and understanding are a little different, though, right?
Sherri Levitin 36:52
Well, if you look at the traditional, you know, meaning of empathy, if you were to look it up in the dictionary, it’s the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes. So that’s sort of the baseline right? I am willing to see this from my customer’s perspective instead of, Oh, I want to tell them how great I am because we default into competency because we’re insecure. Usually it’s the person that goes to the party and starts boasting instead of finding out about the other person.
Andy Paul 37:17
Yeah. And I’m sort of talking about different points. Yeah, I think one thing we do with let’s say, like personas, we got our marketing team or sales enablement team, you know, develop personas where people are supposed to sell to and somebody reads and says, Oh, I understand, right? I mean I get how they’re feeling about that. And I guess I’m sir from like, you’ve read Paul Bloom’s book on the death of empathy, but, you know, differentiate between emotional empathy and cognitive empathy. And emotional empathy is sort of traditional. Yeah, I can feel what you’re feeling. Whereas sort of the how, I suppose I think it’s really more important for sellers to say, I understand why you feel the way you do which is really what you were discussing as I understand that why you feel the way you do. Because then that gives me more information to take. Take action about.
Sherri Levitin 38:10
Yeah, I see what you’re saying. So if I hear you, right, you’re saying that they’re the really the cognitive and emotional empathy. You actually feel inside yourself. You just change it to monkey neurons.
Andy Paul 38:27
You’re feeling what you feel, what you write, what you do, right? Whereas the cognitive empathy is, I understand why you feel that way. And thus, I’m in a better position to say here’s a solution that will work for you.
Sherri Levitin 38:45
And I truly believe if you can have both the cognitive and the emotional. That’s gold.
Andy Paul 38:53
Yeah, no, I agree. I think you can’t have one without the other. I think if you’re gonna be affected in understanding and really saying, Okay, what is the best path forward? For the customer at this point in time? That requires a little bit of being dispassionate as well as feeling empathy. But too often I think in sales we see as the empathy source slips into sympathy. And the sellers don’t want your sympathy. They want your understanding.
Sherri Levitin 39:25
Right, like, let me do this empathy step really quick so I can get to my discovery.
Andy Paul 39:28
Yeah, I’m so sorry. This is hard for you know, not. It’s like, I understand why this is hard for you.
Sherri Levitin 39:35
Andy Paul 39:37
Cool. All right, Sherri, unfortunately, we’ve run out of time, we are definitely gonna have you back because we didn’t touch the surface of what I had planned to talk about today, but we had a great conversation nonetheless. So tell people how they can learn more about what you do and get in touch with you.
Sherri Levitin 39:53
You know, I’m very active on LinkedIn and I post a video Monday night absolutely free of charge. So connect with Be on LinkedIn. And you can visit my website at sherrilevitin.com and my book is on sale on Amazon in four languages. And also the audiobook was just released last week.
Andy Paul 40:16
I really appreciate you coming on and recommend people pick up and read your book. And we’ll look forward to having you back. Okay, friends, that was Accelerate for the week. First of all, as always, I want to thank you for joining me. And I want to thank my guests and my friend Sherri for taking the time to join us as well. So make sure to join me again next week as my guest will be Howard Brown. Howard is the founder and CEO of ringDNA. And our primary topic will be how sellers can become better conversationalists after midnight. I love this term conversationalist, because I think it really speaks to the essential core sales skills that are underdeveloped in most sellers. So we are going to dive into how to become a better conversationalist and how to use analytics to coach and improve. And I’ve just created a new word here and method or conversational icing. So anyway, I’m entitled to create new words. So anyway, you make sure you check that out next week.