It might seem counterintuitive to say this, but in this booming consumer society, salespeople are endangered.
That’s because marketing is reaching prospects, leading them through the door and getting their signatures – or e-signatures. From the consumer side, the world is at their fingertips. A salesperson is often the last person in a process that relegates them to order takers – when they can get in the game.
But gifted salespeople shouldn’t let that happen. That is John Jantsch’s message in his book, Duct Tape Selling: Think Like a Marketer – Sell Like a Superstar. John is a popular speaker and marketing consultant. In addition to being the author of several books, he writes the blog, “Duct Tape Marketing,” considered a must-read by the likes of Forbes.
John has taken on a considerable challenge: to change the fundamental way salespeople think. After decades of preaching the cause of marketing, he realized that the foot soldiers of sales are getting left behind, even though they were the best people to lead the marketing charge.
He says this change in thinking not only will make salespeople’s lives more rewarding, but will accelerate the fortunes of any business.
In this interview with InsuranceNewsNet Publisher Paul Feldman, John tells how salespeople can propel their careers by learning some basic tenets of marketing.
For a longer version of this interview, please visit bitly.com/innjantsch to request your own PDF.
FELDMAN: What is Duct Tape Selling?
JANTSCH: The subtitle probably tells as much as anything. It’s Duct Tape Selling: Think Like a Marketer — Sell Like a Superstar. It is my attempt to address the fact that selling has changed dramatically over the past few years. It’s not just because of all the new tools and the online things that people use in the act of selling. It’s the degree to which buying has changed. The way in which people get information and how they evaluate one product, service or salesperson over another has changed dramatically.
This book tries to bring what I think is a new way to think about selling – and quite frankly, a new way to think about marketing – to that independent salesperson, that business owner or anybody who actually is out there face-to-face trying to find, educate and convert a prospect.
FELDMAN: Do you think getting in front of prospects is getting harder?
JANTSCH: A lot of my new approaches came about because the art of getting in front of somebody has become much more difficult. A lot of salespeople would say, “Hey, you let me get in front of that person and I’ll tell them why this is in their best interest.”
We now have all kinds of ways to block out messages that we don’t want. For example, I am sitting here in my office without a phone on my desk. The first step of getting involved in the buyer’s journey at the earliest possible point is a lot of what I try to teach in this book.
FELDMAN: You say marketing is the new selling. Why?
JANTSCH: I started out writing this book with that independent salesperson or that sales team in mind, the people I just described who are having a hard time getting in front of the right prospect. That’s because prospects are going out there, doing all the research and making their decisions about who they’re going to buy from before they ever contact anybody, including a salesperson.
A lot of what has changed in marketing is that the term “inbound marketing” has become very fashionable. It means that we have to put content out there and that we have to be found. We have to build this journey where people come to know, like and trust us before we ever reach out to them and say, “Hey, we have something for you.”
The role of marketing has changed dramatically because now the buyer has access to that information and they really need somebody to help them make sense of it, to provide insight. That’s really where I think marketing has to go.
The best people to carry it to that place, to personalize the content, to make it relevant, and make sense and provide insight around all of this education and this journey, are the salespeople. Because these people are closest to the customer, closest to the market, closest to the actual challenges and problems that a real, live person, an individual client is having.
Marketing departments always will have a role in creating the message and the brand, and getting the culture and the purpose of the business out there. But they need to move some of the traditional marketing things, such as producing content and participating in social networks, much deeper into the sales department.
FELDMAN: Perceptive listening is an important aspect of your processes. How do people do it?
JANTSCH: When you’re face-to-face across the desk from a prospect, your mind is spinning about the next thing you’re going to say or how you’re going to react or how you’re going to go for the close. The idea of perceptive listening suggests that you listen not only for what they are saying, but for what they are not saying.
True sales superstars, people who influence others at very high levels, the people who are trusted advisors, are actually able to have that hard conversation about what’s not being said. First off, perceptive listening requires being quiet. It requires you to watch the prospect’s body language.
In many cases, you truly do your clients a favor by listening, because sometimes this idea of what they’re not saying, people immediately interpret as, “Oh, they’re hiding something,” or “They don’t want to tell me this,” or “They don’t want to talk about this particular element.” But a lot of times, prospects don’t know what they should be thinking about.
They don’t know what’s behind that door. They don’t know, necessarily, the right questions to ask. A perceptive listener adds value by being able to help them understand – maybe it’s to think bigger, or maybe it’s to caution them about a particular way they are thinking or maybe it’s just to suggest, “Have you considered X?”
It takes a little bit of bravery, actually. Because some of the things that we need to get our clients to talk about are things that maybe we’re not comfortable talking about. Or they’re things that we think might kill the deal. Or they’re things that we think might actually come off as confrontational. If you have that mindset of delivering value, then you have to ask those hard questions.
FELDMAN: Please explain your concept of the “question workbench.”
JANTSCH: This introduces so many skills that aren’t necessarily natural to everyone. Like all skills, if you want to develop it, you must practice. You must go in with a bit of a strategy for when a conversation goes a certain way or if prospects start bringing up objections. Then you can say, “OK, what are they really saying? What are they really asking?”
In the book, I list 10 or 12 questions that I think you need to be prepared to consider. They aren’t going to be set questions that you’re going to be prepared to answer or prepared to ask, but ways for you to say, “OK, what’s really going on?”
Have these practice points, these practice ideas or practice questions in the workbench so that you start to recognize situations where people really are avoiding or they’re just complaining or they really aren’t telling you what they need without you kind of calling them on it.
Then you have to start to recognize it when it happens out there in the wild. You need to become good at using those verbal cues to keep a conversation on track, to keep the engagement at the highest level possible.
FELDMAN: That is certainly a good way for younger salespeople to keep from sabotaging their own presentations.
JANTSCH: Many times, particularly when people are just getting started in sales, we are so desperate to get the conversation over. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with salespeople who actually are just looking for the “OK, that sounds good. Send me more information.”
Anybody who has done any selling knows that is absolutely the worst possible place to be, right? That means: “I don’t really understand it; you’re providing no value; I’d like you to leave now, please.” But a lot of salespeople want to get as quickly as possible to that, because they are uncomfortable in the situation. They don’t feel as if they have enough information or enough knowledge or enough practice to handle all the situations coming to them.
I think that there are a handful of responses that set off the trigger that tells you to go deeper immediately. I often tell people that what they’re really after is either “yes” or “no.” That doesn’t mean that you are going to push somebody to say “yes” to buying, but you might actually push somebody to say, “Yes, that’s something I need to go deeper,” and “Yes, that’s something I need you to help me figure out,” or “No, I don’t want this. This isn’t for me. I have all the information I need. You can move on now.”
FELDMAN: You have said educating is the new presenting. Do you find it hard for some salespeople to think of themselves as educators?
JANTSCH: Yes, because I believe the old model of “I’m here to present my information,” is unfortunate, because it packages every single situation as the same. In some cases, that information you present might be spot on, and that’s what the person needed to hear and they’re ready to sign up. In some cases, it so terribly misses what their real problem is, where they are in the buying cycle or what other elements are impacting their decision that you lose the deal because they realize you don’t have what they need or you don’t understand anything about them or what they need.
So often, people think of a sales situation as “I’m here to sell something to you. I’m the seller; you’re the buyer. We have different interests in mind.” In fact, in some cases, the perception is, “I’m here to trick you into buying something you maybe don’t need.” I think that those stereotypes hurt this idea of education, because the mindset needs to be, “I’m here to help us determine if we can have a mutually beneficial relationship.”
It’s just as important to educate prospects about your processes and how you get results as it is to educate prospects about the product or what it is that you want to sell them.
FELDMAN: In fact, when you deliver the value and the “why,” there is almost no close involved.
JANTSCH: Well, it’s funny you say that, and this makes marketing people really happy and traditional salespeople really nervous. If you do everything that I talk about, both in this book and in this new mindset, it actually takes away the need to sell in the traditional sense, because you essentially are leading people on a journey where they sell themselves on the fact that this is the right decision and that you’re the right person to get them the result that they’re after.
FELDMAN: What is an “expert platform” and why does every salesperson need one?
JANTSCH: I am going to talk about marketers again because salespeople must start thinking more like marketers. Marketers have long realized that prospects tend to be drawn to the people that they see other people talking about when they search for answers.
You must spend some amount of time developing authority and being seen as the expert. Not just in your own words and in your own mind, but as deemed by others. That can be through search engines, clients and professional associations. You must dedicate some time and energy to working some of the tools that will elevate your authority and your expertise.
This is a challenge, because the traditional salespeople think that every minute that they’re not out there knocking on doors is a minute that they’re not going to close deals. That’s a numbers game – we just have to make calls and if we make X calls, we’ll sign Y amount of deals. There’s no question that you have to prioritize your time. But I think that this idea of building a platform, being found online, being seen as the person who is being asked to talk about the industry as a whole has become a really essential element to get you invited to the table.
I keep going back to this idea of a long-term career. If what you’re trying to build is a long-term career, then building your expertise as a recognized expert becomes an asset for you. That asset is something that you can bring to help your existing clientele, but it’s also something that you carry with you wherever you go. So, if you don’t feel like you’re with the right organization today, it’s something that is actually quite portable, in many cases. If you, individually, build your brand for being an expert or you build content that allows people to find you in search engines, it’s something that you can take with you to an organization that appreciates it more.
FELDMAN: You say that people need to write more. We all can write, but how do you become a more productive writer?
JANTSCH: Writing is a component of your business – not just to close a deal or to correspond, but to build awareness, educate, and build trust, and as a way to convert and as a way to generate referrals. Obviously, that’s a much deeper level of writing, or at least a different intention for the writing.
It is one of the greatest challenges. Content is a very broad term that marketers like to use now to describe how many forms of communication – video and audio and images – are all considered content assets today.
But if you’re a salesperson who says, “OK, I need to produce some content now,” you’re going to open up your Word document, stare at this blank screen and think, “OK now, how do I write 700 words?” After about 10 words into it, you’re going to decide, “You know? I think it’s time to go make another sales call.”
FELDMAN: I’ve been there before. So how do you get the momentum to get good writing done?
JANTSCH: Here’s an idea that I often use to advise people who are trying to get started with developing content. I would venture to say that many of your readers get asked some of the same questions over and over and over again, right? Pretty much everybody could list 20 to 25 questions that are asked consistently and that they know that they must be able to address.
What if, every Monday, you sat down and thought up one of those questions and the answer. You emailed that question and answer to a list of people in a very personal way and said, “You know, the other day, I was talking with a client, and they asked me X. I thought that you might be interested in the answer that I gave them.” It might not go to everybody on your list. If somebody is retired, they might get a different one than somebody who has school-aged children, obviously, so you would segment your list.
My guess is that some percentage of the people who receive that will think, “You know, that was interesting,” or “That was insightful,” or “I was just thinking that same thing.” So, you’re not selling. You’re not providing any information, hopefully, that has to go through compliance. But you’re providing value and you’re doing something that people might actually look forward to receiving from you, because it didn’t seem like you were trying to sell them anything. There’s a good chance that some percentage of those people will say, “You know? I should pick up the phone,” or “I should respond back and ask this follow-up question,” or “I wonder if we’re getting the right advice when it comes to this.”
FELDMAN: Most people think of sales as a funnel, but you say it should be an hourglass, which is much bigger than a funnel, isn’t it?
JANTSCH: The sales hourglass came about as an outpouring of something I’ve been using for years that I call the marketing hourglass. Both of these fit together to integrate marketing and sales into the conversation. As you picked up on, most people use the idea of the funnel to throw as many people in the top of that funnel and work on just enough of them to squeeze through that tiny end of the funnel.
That concept has been around forever. What I suggest by the use of the hourglass shape is that only a few people find their way to you, to the end of the funnel, but that’s when the real work starts. That is making sure everything that was promised is delivered, making sure the experience stays high. Unfortunately, for a lot of salespeople, their job is to go out, get the order, get the signed contract and bring it back, and somebody else’s job is to fulfill the promise that was made.
That’s a place where a lot of breakdown can happen. It doesn’t mean that you must work only for organizations where you can make sure you control the entire process. What it does mean is that you need to stay involved and make sure that you are the point of contact for the client, and if they have any issues, you go back and make sure that everything was communicated and delivered in the way that they expected. With an hourglass, you also go back after some period of time and routinely make sure that the clients are still happy, satisfied and getting results.
From a practical standpoint, you will learn if they are happy and if they are being served, of course. But it’s also the absolute best place for you to start getting referrals as well. I often tell people that the best source of lead generation and referral generation is a happy customer. I’ve often said, “A sale is not a sale until the customer receives a result.”
When it comes to marketing, there are seven stages that we want to move people through. They are “know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat and refer.” The marketing team, the sales team and the service team all bear a responsibility in helping people logically move through those stages. What has become increasingly difficult is, back in the marketing funnel days, we would move people through there very linearly. They would see our marketing message or our advertisement. Then they would call the company, which would send out a salesperson who would convince them either to buy or not, and hopefully the salesperson would toss them to the service folks who would turn them into loyal and repeat customers.
Well, we know that people now have more ways to know us, like us and trust us through a myriad of channels and sources. That journey is no longer a straight one, by any means. It is a very jagged and crooked path, sometimes moving forward and backward, where customers get information and how they get information. Who even produces that information? We’re no longer really in control. Now our customers easily can produce content in the form of reviews where they can discuss in social networks about how great we are or, on the flip side, how we don’t keep our promises.
Organizations and salespeople need to be right in the middle of this. They need to be thinking about organizing behavior as much as actually moving people through the funnel. In other words, create processes, content and campaigns so that people can become aware of us. Then they can move to that point where they like us, trust us and maybe even see ways in which they can sample or try our product. Next, having a very intentional process where the buying experience is just as high as the sales experience was. After that, having processes or intentional campaigns or approaches where we make sure that the customers got results and that the customers are so thrilled that they want to refer us.
Those are behaviors in which everybody wants to participate. It’s our responsibility as an organization to blend the marketing, sales and service aspects of our business to make sure that people, wherever they come into the journey, are able to seamlessly and consistently move through those experiences.