The word “sales” often leaves a sour taste in people’s mouths. But sales is different than most people think, as today’s guest explains. Gary Braun, the Co-Founder of Pivotal Advisors, shares why it’s all about asking the right questions. Gary takes us on the journey of how he and his brother launched Pivotal Advisors and the lessons they have learned over the last 10+ years. We debunk negative connotations associated with “sales” and discuss why asking the right questions can build trust and lead to opportunities. Gary shares what it means to shortcut the discovery process, how to have a great pitch when you have little time, the positives of having repetitive systems, and why the fear of change is holding most sales professionals back. Gary also shares insights on creating accountability, the importance of reinforcement, and continual evolution.
Key Points From This Episode:
- The journey that led to Gary and his brother starting Pivotal Advisors.
- Debunking the negative connotations associated with being a person in sales.
- Why solving problems is the core of sales.
- How asking the right questions uncovers opportunities.
- How asking the right questions can help build trust.
- The right way to approach sales, and some wrong ones.
- Earning respect: what it means to shortcut the discovery process.
- How to stick to a quality sales pitch when time is limited.
- Why you shouldn’t chase every sale and how to identify hot leads.
- Narrowing your focus to help you grow.
- How repetitive systems can help you scale.
- Why the fear of changing behavior and mindset is the biggest thing holding sales professionals back.
- How to deal with accountability in sales: positive and constructive reinforcement.
- Why change is necessary for evolution and the importance of developing soft skills.
[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast. Helping middle market professionals connect, grow, and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[00:00:21] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Branch Out podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today, we are joined by Gary Braun, co-founder of Pivotal Advisors, a national sales improvement firm dedicated to helping companies drive sales performance, through implementation and reinforcement of systems, process tools in effective management. Gary shares insights from his 20 plus years of experience, and we discuss why asking questions is one of the best ways to uncover business opportunities. I hope you all enjoy.
[00:00:53] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.
[00:00:53] AD: Gary, welcome to the Branch Out podcast.
[00:01:03] GB: Alex, thank you for having me.
[00:01:04] AD: Actually, before I ask you to introduce yourself, I’m going to actually preface this entire conversation for our listeners, because I think it gives us a good context here. Gary and I were introduced through a mutual connection and had a few conversations. I’ll let Gary share more about what he does in his day job, but I think we have a lot of shared philosophy in terms of how to approach this word called sales that we’ll get into in a little bit here. With all that said, Gary, share a little bit about you and what you do, and then let’s take the conversation from there.
[00:01:33] GB: Sure. We are a sales management consulting company, which is a fancy way of saying, “We help a lot of small, mid-size businesses figure on sales, figure out how can we scale it, how can we grow it, how can we be more consistent, more repeatable, and really drive that top line and bottom line.”
[00:01:51] AD: I want to highlight two words you said there, consistent, and repeatable, which I’m sure we’ll come back to those in a minute here. Before we jump into that, how long have you been doing it? How do you get there? What was your journey to doing what you do today?
[00:02:03] GB: Great question. We started in 2008, which was an awesome time to start any type of business.
[00:02:08] AD: As they say, it sounds great. The economy was roaring, everyone was doing great, right? Employment was high.
[00:02:13] GB: Yeah. Well, it’s an interesting story, actually, because I came up through sales, obviously. I was a salesperson, I was successful, they promoted me into sales management. I thought my job at the time was just to help everybody close their deals, and it turns out, there’s a heck of a lot more to it. You got to hire, you got to train, you got to hold people accountable, you got to forecast, you got to manage up. I wasn’t very good at that. I was really good at helping them close deals, but I actually made my team worse because I was an enabler. They got to the point where they went, “Okay, let’s bring Gary in.” Then their own skills were not very good, so I didn’t do very well. Throughout my career, I got help. I got help on the golf course, believe it or not, because my brother had done the same thing.
He had gone through being a salesperson, a sales leader, a VP. He actually ended up being a GM of a $250 million division of a billion-dollar company. He used to give me advice on how do we coach, how do we make things their idea, how do we have a plan, what metrics are you looking at. He used to do this all the time. Honestly, Alex, I don’t want to listen to him, because you know, it’s my brother and everything, so little resistance there. But I started playing this stuff and it worked. My team got better, and we started scaling, and we did really well. My company went from a million dollars in revenue to $400 million in revenue.
[00:03:31] AD: That’s a lot of growth.
[00:03:32] GB: We did a lot of growth and I learned a lot about how to scale it. At the time, I was doing 200,000 miles a year on planes, and I was burning out. My brother called and said, “Hey, we always wanted to work together. So if we’re ever going to do it, now’s the time.” I left my fast-growing company, and I was VP of sales are heading up a couple of different business divisions there. I took a fly here and we started this thing. Then we said, “What should we do?” We kind of came back to this principle of, you got to do different things as you grow as a company to allow yourself to scale. And you have to do a lot, you have to transition a lot to move from a salesperson to a sales leader, because it’s a way different skill set and everything else. So those are the two things that we decided to focus on.
Like I said, we started in 2008 with, I don’t know, half a dozen clients. Here we are, 14 years later and we work with close to 400 different clients across the various different industries and whatnot. It’s been good. All the principles we teach, we actually apply to ourselves.
[00:04:37] AD: As someone who has done my fair share of some training type work, one of the most rewarding elements, and I think what you just said there, is you have to practice what you preach if you really want to be successful, no matter what. It’s always easier on paper. It’s always easier to tell someone to do, but if you really want to be good at it, you have to practice it. I’m excited to hear because it shows – I think success shows what you’re doing must work, right?
Let’s back up though before we dive into some of the detail there in, let’s talk about sales. This word that, and for our listeners that anyone who’s typically in a – whether you’re in an organization that actually sells a product, or you’re a professional that is selling some kind of a service. The word sales sometimes have a negative connotation to it. No one wants to be the sales guy, right? It has a used car sense to it, if you will. All that said, give me your reactions and thoughts around that.
[00:05:37] GB: I hear it all the time. It’s unfortunate that it has that negative connotation, but I remember going into a CPA firm that we were dealing with, and they’re like, “You can’t use that sales word.” It’s like, “What?” They said, “No. You can say business development, but don’t say sales.” I’m looking at all the materials I brought with me, I go, “Okay. Search and replace everything.” But it does have that negative connotation, but when I boiled it down to a few different professional services, people that we worked with, they said, “Are there people out there that can use your help?” “Yes, obviously.” “Do they know how to fix the problem?” “No, they don’t?” “Do you have advice or expertise or tools or whatnot that can help them be better?” “Yes.” “So if you ask them some questions to see if they have those problems, and you gave them suggestions on how they can fix their problems, would that be good?” “Well, yeah, that’s what we do.” I go, “Congratulations, you’re in sales.” I mean, that’s really what it is. You’re a problem solver, you’re a helper, and whatnot. When people get out of that mindset of, I’m not, I’m not just talking at them, I’m not pitching stuff, I’m helping them solve a problem. That’s really what sales is. There are too many bad salespeople out there who are the used car salesman, and that kind of ruins it for the rest of the good salespeople out there.
[00:06:50] AD: Well, as I even just hear you talking that a little bit. I think, from my own experience, and from others that I’ve talked to, or worked with around this, it’s really money oftentimes is where it gets sticky, because you’re trying to get money from someone. It’s some kind of economic return for what you’re doing in the value providing. Arguably, to your point, if I am showing up fixing a problem, driving value, bringing a solution that they didn’t have, and the customer feels good about what we’re doing, or how you’re helping them, or what you’re providing to them. They’re giving you an economic benefit for that, then it really still is a win-win for everyone, right?
[00:07:32] GB: I’m glad you brought that up. It’s one area where a lot of salespeople fall short. They want to talk about their products, they want to talk about their services. Some of them even ask good questions about, “What do you need? What do you want?” I think, okay, salesperson can uncover their needs. I think really good salespeople ask intriguing questions that make them think outside of the things that they already know.
I asked them about things that they haven’t even thought about yet that are just outside the box. Then they’re, “Oh, that’s really good. I haven’t even thought about that.” Now we’re being valuable to them. The money thing is, if I go back to somebody and I say, “Yes, we’re going to charge you – I’ll just make up a number – $25,000, $50,000, whatever over a year. If that makes them hundreds of 1000s of dollars, if it saves them hundreds of 1000s of dollars, if it eliminates a risk in their business, if it gives them a competitive advantage, that’s a bargain, man.
I mean, if you spent $50,000 with me, and it saved you a million dollars over the next year or added a million dollars in top line revenue. You shouldn’t feel guilty about asking for that at all. I mean, in their mind, they’re going, “Holy crap! I can make a lot a lot of money, and I’ll pay this all day long if it’s giving me that kind of ROI.”
[00:08:49] AD: Maybe the used car salesman, sorry for anyone listening if you are you used car salesman. There’s the negative, I guess, stereotype that goes there. But I think when people get that negative slimy feeling is when the dynamics are more such where you’re saying, “Well, this is how much it’s worth, and I need more. Don’t worry about what I’m doing for you. I’m going to talk you into the five reasons why you should give me more money.” I don’t know. If you’re truly showing up driving, and adding value, and that’s really part of the core of what you’re trying to accomplish. I think it removes that entire element of it out of the equation.
[00:09:30] GB: Yeah. My very first sales boss said – well, you’re making me think back here My very first sales boss ever said, “If you say it, you’re a salesperson. If they say it, it’s true. So how do you ask the good questions to get them to uncover what it’s worth?” I could just say, “Hey, this is going to save you X dollars” or “This is going to make you Y dollars or whatnot.” You’re just a sales guy. But if you ask them, “How much time would this save? What would happen if, ow in our world, what would happen if your close rate went up 5%?” How many deals you’re doing? Will they work? Let’s do the math.
They’re working through and they go, “Wow, if we can improve our close rate by 5%, that’s worth like $500,000 a year.” They came up with that. That was their idea. That wasn’t me. Because if I say it, I’m the sales guy. That was them coming up with that. That’s a key to being a good salesperson is, you’re asking the right questions to lead them to come up with a conclusion. If they come up, and they go, “You know what, that’s really not worth that much.” Cool. Maybe we’re not a fit for you right now, and you walk away You don’t have to continue putting something down their throat. The good salespeople are the ones that can help them realize what the benefit is, not just tell them what the benefit is.
[00:10:43] AD: I want to discuss that. I want to put a pin though in this this concept of walking away from things that aren’t a fit. I think that’s a pivot. It’s probably an entire podcast we’ll do. But let’s come back to that in a moment. This idea of asking questions, and pulling things on it, I’m a believer in – all too often, you see folks that want to go into the pitch meeting, if you will, and make sure that the individual of team they’re pitching knows how qualified and smart they are in what they’re doing.
I’m talking about this in the context of selling a service, not necessarily a product, but I need you to know how qualified I am and how knowledgeable I am on the industry, I believe. I’d love your reaction to this. If you can just ask a handful of questions that makes anyone sit back and say, “Huh. That was a really good question.” I guess I didn’t think of it like that, that the second you get someone to do that, they now think you are the smartest person, or they’ve immediately – you’ve gained all of that credibility, you’ve gained everything. Instead of telling them any of it, instead of having to show all my creds, or tell them all this, all I had to do was ask the question that made them think in a way they hadn’t done before. And you’ve now opened up an entire different level of, I guess, trust and credibility in that sphere of knowledge.
[00:11:58] GB: I 100% agree with that That is selling. That’s not your used car salesman. That is selling. I often tell less experienced sellers; you haven’t earned the right to talk about what you do and how you do and everything else. Unless the customer has identified a problem or something that you can help them with. Otherwise, it’s just noise. I mean, I can sit there and go, “Alex, I’m going to sell you this, this iPhone here” and you’re going, “I don’t need an iPhone.” But if I asked you a bunch of questions and said, “How’s your phone working? Are you able to do this?” How would this help you if you’re able to do this, that, and the other thing?” And you come to the conclusion, “Well, my phone kind of sucks.” Now I’ve earned the right to talk to you about how I can provide you with some. But until then, be quiet. Don’t just blab at them. That’s not good sales. That’s just talking.
[00:12:50] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast.
[00:12:58] AD: I would say in my experience, oftentimes, I would call that maybe an amateur mistake or a someone that’s less experienced, or less confident in the process that they – that may be some of the mentality they show up with. Do you see any certain things, any certain behaviors, or any certain ways of thinking that drive someone to approach sales in that way versus and more of the asking questions trying to drive value approach?
[00:13:24] GB: Yeah. You would be shocked. Like I said, we’ve dealt with close to 400 companies, and it’s all the way from professional services, to manufacturing, to technology, to whatever else. I would say, the bulk of people will ask some surface level questions. Alex, what do you need? What would be ideal for you? Blah, blah, blah. I’m confining my questions now to what you know, and you don’t even know all the possibilities.
So I think most salespeople will ask a few questions and then they go right – here’s the number one mistake I see is, you go, “Well, I kind of need this.” Rather than expanding on that going, “Well, tell me more about that, and how do you need that, and how would that affect the company, and how would that change your life and know what, who else is involved, and asking, and asking, and asking.
The less experienced person goes, “Oh, I know the answer to that one.” And he goes, “I need this.” You go, “Here’s what we can do.” I get into presenting right away and we shortcut the whole discovery process and understanding the client. That, over 400 clients across various different industries. Number one mistake, we asked a couple of questions, and then we just get into the verbal vomit mode of everything that we know about our product or service and we want to tell them everything. No, you got to understand why it’s even important to them.
[00:14:43] AD: You said shortcutting the discovery process. Let’s dig into that a little bit more. Expand on what you what you mean there and how someone can think about not doing that.
[00:14:53] GB: Yeah. I’m going to go back to that phrase I said earlier. You haven’t earned the right to talk about your product or solution until you understand the situation. So if we’ve done a really good job, we understand what’s the current solution, and what do they like or not like about it, where do they want to go with their solution. This is a great opportunity for us to introduce things they haven’t thought about, introduce our differentiation. Not tell them, but introduce. What if you had the ability to do this or how important is that? We’re starting to introduce things to them. Once I understand the impact that we can have, how is this going to affect you? Is it going to make you money, save you money, make you more efficient? How? How much?
I understand all the decision makers, and it’s funny, because a lot of people will go, “Well, I’m the decision maker, and, you know, they’re not where you go, I’m so glad that I’m working with the right person. Typically, we also involve this person, that person, the other one. If we don’t, sometimes that’ll shortcut it. What do you think about bringing those people in? So we get all the decision makers in there, and we understand their timing, and we understand their budget. Now, I’ve earned the right to talk about what we do. But if I don’t understand that, and I don’t know, the decision makers, and I don’t know their timing, and I don’t know their budget, you’re wasting your time. Because if any of those things come up, and we have the wrong decision maker, and they don’t have timing in their budget, they’re just kicking tires, you’re wasting your time, because it’s not a good time to go into presentation.
[00:16:19] AD: That all makes sense. I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a moment to you.
[00:16:23] GB: Sure.
[00:16:23] AD: But Gary, I don’t have time for all. I mean, I have one meeting and I have 45 minutes with him. It took me three months to get this meeting on the calendar to begin with, I need them to know what I do before I leave, so they know how I can help them.
[00:16:37] GB: Sure. You can give them a blanket overview of what you do. I like to start the meetings with, “Hey! I don’t even know if we’re a fit for you or not. Today is really about understanding what you got going on today and determining whether we are a fit and whether we should go to a next conversation or not. If it’s not, cool, nice to meet you. But if we are, here’s our typical next steps as we would do this, and this, and this.” You have dictated the process to them. Most of the time, I’d say 90% of the time, they’re like, “Well, that makes sense.’
Their guard comes down because they’re not being sold to, we’re just determining if we’re fit, and we’re going to ask them a bunch of questions. And they’re going to be a lot more open to stuff. I can still wrap it up and say, “Well, based on what I’ve learned, here’s a couple of different things that could possibly help you, or solving problems or whatever it happens to be. So our next meeting, we’re going to talk about how we can do that.”
I can still give them an overview, I’m not in sell mode that we should get out of our head cell mode for that first meeting. Now, depending on how transactional they are, because some people have a really short sales cycle. You can go right from discovery into that presentation mode on the same meeting, on the same call. If you’re selling something really easy, something small, something inexpensive, and whatnot, you can do that all in the same call. But don’t go into that mode until we fully understand what are – we’ve done our proper discovery.
[00:17:59] AD: I really like the earning the respect. I think that’s a good framework to think about that. Because what I hear you saying is what you’re really trying to accomplish is get in there, build the relationship, understand the dynamics, earn their respect by hearing, and listening, and understanding what the challenges are, what they’re currently doing, who’s involved in the decision-making process and where they’re hoping to go with it. By you spending that time, investing that time to build the relationship, you will. But understand all of those dynamics under there.
Now, when you get to that point, and you fully worked through discovering in many elements of that, you are now in a position that it is okay and acceptable for you to share what you’ve done. Again, you’ve earned that ability to do that from them.
[00:18:44] GB: Yeah, absolutely. Like you said earlier, you paired it back to me, and asking those intriguing questions and make them go, “Huh. That’s a really good question. I haven’t thought about that.” You are establishing so much respect, and authority, and expertise, and whatnot at that point. That is selling by the way, but you’re doing it through questions. You’re not doing it just by telling them things.
[00:19:07] AD: I couldn’t agree more. Let’s go back to the topic earlier around the, don’t chase every sale. Not everyone’s worth it. How to spend our time in the right places? What are some of your general thoughts around that?
[00:19:19] GB: It kind of depends on where you’re at as an organization, because I remember 2008 when we started this thing, if they had a pulse, they’re a prospect.
[00:19:29] AD: Put the mirror in front of them, if you see them, you grab them.
[00:19:32] GB: And you grab anything and everything when you’re new because cash is king and you’re trying to get whatever you’re doing. At some point, that doesn’t work. It’s just not repeatable.
I think about one of our clients that we had, it was funny. They’re a manufacturing company and they sold a flooring product that went around wet surfaces. The more wet it got, the better your grip got, and it was soft and cushy. So if you fell on it, you didn’t get hurt. They said, “That’s awesome. Who do you sell to?” They said, “Well, national water parks, local water park, city and municipalities, swim schools, senior living, cruise ships, some residential, some apartment” and it was like 12 different things. I’m like, “Okay. How many salespeople do you have?” “Three.” I’m like, “Okay. Does a cruise ship buy the same way that a city and municipality does?” “No, they’re completely different, different process, different decision makers.” I go, “And you’re expecting your three salespeople to understand 12 different ecosystems and how they buy. Even if you wanted to go to shows or conferences, they don’t go to the same shows. You’re all over and you’re five miles wide and three inches deep.” They’re like, “Oh, okay. So what do we do?”
To shortcut the story a little bit. We narrowed it down to chasing three markets, and they all got specialized, and they knew the heck out of those markets. They knew for the cruise ship industry, how do people typically fund slip and falls, and how much does an ACL replacement cost, and how do they pay for it, and who cares about it and about and everything else.
Within a year, they doubled their revenue. They just became experts in those industries. And they go, “Okay, we got this down, let’s keep those guys chasing. We’ll add another guy now to chase city and municipalities. Then we got to add another guy, but they became experts. They went to the right shows, they dropped into the right ecosystems, and they didn’t try to service everybody and everything. They got good at saying, “Not sure we’re the best fit for you right now.” And they could walk away because they knew where their bread and butter was.
[00:21:33] AD: I think a really important lesson I heard from you out of that is, if you want to be able to get someone to sit back in their chair and say, “Huh, that was a really good question.” If you want to get to that point, and really be able to be an expert, if you will, within the market you sell to, that you are servicing into. You have to have a focus. You can’t be all things to everyone, or you’ll never have that ability to dig in, and focus, and learn enough of the nuance, and enough of the pain points, and the challenges, and the other potential solutions, alternatives to your offering. If you don’t have that capacity to understand that, you’ll never be able to actually get to that point where you are the knowledgeable expert there. But you also pointed out, you don’t have to stop with just one, you have to narrow. Get good at one, make sure you have a grip on it, and then find a different way to go after a different one in the future.
But it’s understanding that you – I bring that up because I think all too often, the reaction I hear to thinking around this, “Focus, and be narrow, know what you want to do” is scarcity. Well, if I say no to these other things, I’m going to miss that money. I need the air, that opportunity, that revenue. What I need to do is focus on everything so that I can get whatever comes my way. That’s not sustainable. We know that’s not sustainable. But recognizing too, that when you do take a step back, narrow your focus, and get good at a couple, one, two, three areas and work your way up, you can continue to expand if it makes sense. If you can actually service it and do well. But that narrow focus oftentimes gives you more of an advantage, and ability to oftentimes grow faster, especially over a medium term than it does in if you have a broad focus, shoot at everything that comes type approach.
[00:23:31] GB: Yeah. I get the question a lot from salespeople going, “Well, does that mean if something comes in from the outside that isn’t in my focus area that I should say no?” My answer is, not necessarily. I want your proactive efforts to be focused in a few areas where you’re really good. If it comes in and it meets your criteria, sure work it. You don’t have to say no to that. But your proactive efforts – imagine if you went into, I don’t pick your industry and you went in there and say, “You know, we’ve worked with 12 other companies in your industry. Here’s some common problems that they see.” What’s the client thinking? “Oh, wow. They know that, they understand me, they understand how we work.” You’re establishing your credibility and whatnot. It just gives you such a big leg up. Yes, you might be bypassing, anybody could use my product. Watch your close rate go up. You have to work far fewer deals to get the same amount of revenue because you’re getting really good and your close rates higher.
[00:24:26] ANNOUNCER: This this Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle-market professionals.
[00:24:34] AD: You’ve said this is about a lot of times outbound proactive type efforts. If something comes in, if something trickles in or ends up on your desk, that is a fit, that still don’t do all the work just to do the work. Make sure the work fits, it fits the criteria of what you’re looking for. But in the outbound effort, the proactive effort, that’s the part that, for, I think many of us, myself certainly. That’s always the hardest part, because that’s your own time, your own capacity, that’s your big Is limitation. I think that even more so points to why it’s hyper critical to find that niche, to find that clarity and focus on where you’re going for your efforts. Because if not, all you’re doing is wasting your own effort, your own energy, your own time, which is arguably your most limited resource in what you ultimately accomplish.
[00:25:22] GB: I agree with that completely. If you get really good, and you know where do your prospects, your ideal clients, where do they hang out? Is it at shows? Is it at conferences? Are they part of networking groups or whatnot? Then you drop yourself into that ecosystem, you can do wonderful things. We sell to a lot of small midsized businesses. There are companies like Vistage, and CEO Roundtable and everything that are national organizations. If I drop myself into the middle of a Vistage thing, where that’s all my prospects, boy, that gives me a leg up. If I worked with three of them, and they’re like, “Oh, you worked with those three,” and now, I can just keep blossoming within there. That’s a great growth strategy, but it starts with having the focus on, “Where do my people hang out? Who is my ideal client? Where do they hang out?”
[00:26:09] AD: Again, going back to you can’t do that without having a focus and knowing what you want to do. Now, I want to tie this in to something you said in the beginning, but you also set it in context of this. It’s this idea of scalability, repeatability in something that you can systematize in what you’re doing. Talk me through why that’s important from a sales perspective.
[00:26:29] GB: Well, if you think about – if I go into any sales organization, I’m going to genericized a little bit, but there’s usually one or two really good salespeople who figured it out and they’re doing a great job, and then the rest of the team kind of, yeah, they’re flailing a little bit. What if you had everybody on the sales team asking all the best questions, chasing all the right prospects, following all the best practices, doing all the same thing, and everybody was doing it in a similar manner? Yes, you can apply your own style because, Alex, you’re going to be a little bit different than me. But I want to follow the same general steps. I don’t want to move from step to step until I’ve completed that, back to the don’t shortcut discovery and whatnot. If you can get everybody doing the same thing, research will show you get like 17% to 19% jump in sales.
Now, just look at – if you take an underperformer sale, and then you have them asking all the right questions that your top performers do, you have them positioning the product the same way, you have them differentiating, they’re obviously going to get better. So why don’t we document that, train to it, reinforce it over and over and make sure that everybody’s doing all the things that we know lead to sales. I can tell you when my last company went from a million to 400 million, that was probably one of the biggest things. We had everybody chasing the right clients, doing it the same way, asking the right questions, positioning in the same way. When we had everybody following all the best practices, that’s when we got that consistent growth.
[00:27:55] AD: So I’m going to go off, I’m going to give a little bit of an analogy to this that I think can tie this in and make it useful for anyone listening. It’s a little bit of high piece in my own head. This idea of systems, in any kind of system, and really, I like the way you describe it. If you get everybody doing the best things, that’s where you’re going to get the greatest outcome.
But just think about in life in general, there’s a group of you that are all trying to get fit together, and no one has any clue about fitness, nutrition, or anything. One day, you realize, “Well, when I eat the cake, it didn’t get me where I wanted to go.” But then you realized, “On the other day when I went to the gym, that seems to like – that guy is going to the gym every day, that seems to really be working there. I should try that too.” I try that and, “Oh, that worked for me too. We should write that down and tell all of us in our group that that’s what we have to do, because that’s going to help us get where we’re trying to go faster, because we know it’s working here. We know it’s working, because we documented it. we tracked it, we reflected on it, we made a system behind it to be clear of what’s working.” We’re really clear about what our objective was.
Again, it seems so – it’s silly when you use cake in the gym, because everyone – it’s intuitive. But if you really think about it in that context, that’s what you’re describing. That’s to a tee what you’re describing, right?
[00:29:17] GB: It’s actually a great analogy, Alex. But I’m going to expand on that a little bit because, just because you wrote it down, and you trained everybody, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to do it religiously, and it doesn’t mean that they even know how. Yes, conceptually, I understand it academically. I know what I’m supposed to do. Then I get in front of a customer and I go, “Blah blah blah” and it doesn’t work. So documenting it, writing it down, training to it is a lot of work, by the way, but that’s just the first piece of the puzzle. Then, when you go on a call, the sales leader goes with, and then we sit there and we go, “Okay. Alex, how did that go? Did we follow our process?” We actually create checklists for people to go, “Okay. Did we set the agenda? Did we get the right decision makers in the room? Who did most of the talking? Oh, you did? Hmm. Okay, that was something we said we didn’t want to do. Okay? Did we uncover two or three things? Did we differentiate?” I’m reinforcing it. If they’re not doing it, well, then we talk about it and say, “Okay. What did you struggle with? Why didn’t you do that?”
That is how we get adoption on the process and that’s the hard part. I mean, writing it down, it’s a lot of work, but that’s the easy part. Getting everybody to actually follow it, it’s harder. But when they do it, oh my gosh, that’s where I get my joy. When you see people starting to execute that, and they start selling more, and their close rates are up, and their sales cycle shrink and whatnot, that’s the cool part, but it’s a lot of work.
[00:30:46] AD: What gets in the way, what makes it hard in your experience?
[00:30:49] GB: You’re changing adult human behavior. People don’t like to do that. I’ve never done that before, and why should I do that. You almost have to sell them on the idea of doing something different because they’re not getting the results that they want to. But changing adult behavior – your example of the cake and the gym. If you just wrote down, go to the gym, and stop eating cake.
[00:31:10] AD: Sounds terrible.
[00:31:12] GB: They know that. But if you checked with them every week, and you follow them to the gym, and you made sure they’re actually doing that, now, we’re going to get results. It’s a great analogy.
[00:31:20] AD: That’s accountability, and I’m a big believer in accountability. The value of accountability, personal accountability, and accountability for those around me. But accountability is terrible. It’s so like – I don’t like it. There are so many times I don’t want. Well, I don’t want you following me and making sure I’m in the gym. I’m an adult. How do you deal with that in an organization?
[00:31:41] GB: Good. Another great question. Accountability like sales, you mentioned earlier, has a negative connotation. Accountability is not the whack them over the head with a stick and say, “You didn’t do it.” That’s not accountability. If we went on a sales call together, Alex, and I said, “You know what? You did a great job and setting the agenda. You had the right people in the room. Boy, when you ask that one question about whatever, what kind of results did you get?” “Oh, yeah. I uncovered this and that.” “I know. That was beautiful, Alex. You did a great job.” And then we got actions on the next step. “What was the next step again? “Oh, yeah. I’m following on with them next week. We’re going to put it together.” “Beautiful, you did that. Great. All right. Alex, that was an awesome call.” Is that accountability? Absolutely, and it’s done in a positive way.
Say you screwed something up. “You did awesome, awesome, awesome. What about this?” He goes, “Oh, gosh. I completely forgot to do that.” “Yeah, I noticed. What happened there?” “I don’t know. I just lost track of it. I should ask that.” “Okay. What do we got to do to make sure that we get that covered now?” “Well, I’m going to go back and do that.” “I think that’s a great plan. Go.” All right. Now, we’ve agreed upon that. Is that accountability? Absolutely. 100%. Is that whacking you over the head? No. It’s how it’s presented. We’re big on positive reinforcement. Catch them doing the right thing and reinforce the heck out of it, and then pick and choose the areas where you need to make some corrections.
[00:33:02] AD: I’m going to use another analogy. I’ve recently adopted a puppy a few months back, and we’re in the process of teaching our puppy what he is allowed to do and not allowed to do. We have to hold him accountable. Doesn’t always like what we’re doing, doesn’t always agree with it based on what I can tell. But you have to hold others to what you say you want to accomplish.
A huge personal lesson that I have learned in raising a dog, and I think you can apply it to as many places in life, but if you sweep something under the rug, and oh, just ignore – his playful, biting behavior, he’s just a cute puppy. That’s really cute. Until all of a sudden, one day, it’s not cute anymore. Until all of a sudden, it’s become a bigger issue, right. That’s where all of a sudden, the accountability comes to a little more of a stick at times, because you’ve got to really rein back in things, I have a feeling that that plays out very similarly in some of your own experience. Where if we just are addressing it, we create it, we follow it, and we hold the accountable process all the way through, and we make a consistent pattern out of it. It’s usually small, tiny things that are being tweaked up, that are much easier to have a friendly, healthy, positive approach to rather than the things that you sweep under the rug for too long, and all of a sudden, it’s a massive dirt pile you have to unpack there.
[00:34:24] GB: I couldn’t have said it better myself. I use the puppy example all the time. It’s, what do you do when you want the puppy to go pee outside? You take it outside, brings the puppy, you go boy, and give a treat and everything else. Puppy goes, “Well, that was pretty cool.” Imagine if you brought the puppy outside, and then it peed, and you brought it back in and you didn’t do anything else. The puppy is like, “Why did he do that? Well, it was kind of cold out there. Next time we’re going to go in here.” You have to reinforce it and we’re no different. So we got to keep doing that reinforcement over, and over. I liked what you said, you can’t let it build up, you got to address things right away, both positive and constructive.
Here’s the thing we learned. We worked with a company for about a year and a half, and they were a bunch of behavioral scientists. They say, your feedback, your reinforcement, depending on which study you reach, it either before four-one or five to one, positive to construct. For every time I’m giving you constructive, I should have given you four or five positive things that you did, catching you doing the right thing. If you walk around – I’ll challenge anybody listening. If you walk around, and you’re talking to your employees, and you’re talking to your team, measure it. Was that positive or was that constructive?
Because most people are probably the exact inverse of that. We tell them everything they’re doing wrong, and then every once awhile, we give them really generic, nonspecific things like, “Alex, you did a good job.” You’re like, “I did a good job. Now, what?” But we got to get specific and reinforced. That’s how we really – again, back to your initial question. We’re changing adult behavior. We’re trying to drive great things and it’s hard.
[00:36:03] AD: It’s really hard it. When you say that, one of the things that jumps into my mind about the positive reinforcement. I think any of us can think to a time in our professional lives, where when someone said, “Hey, really good job” or “Awesome work here.” “What about this, but really nice job on this. Maybe we can work on improving this a little bit here, or in that tone, versus “Hey, what did you do? This is wrong.” The difference of how we feel and what we all need to remember and probably do an entire podcast on this. But we all need to remember that our internal dialogue has a lot to do with our external dialogue. Oftentimes, internally, we’re beating ourselves up, that four to one ratio is probably totally inverse for most people internally, right? We’re all our own worst critic.
If you’re walking around beating yourself up all the time, your natural unthoughtful comments to others will likely be beating them up as well. Again, it’s a little off topic. But I think there’s even a case or an argument for if you really want to be better at it, helping others grow, and helping others stay accountable, and achieve what they’re trying to achieve.
It has a lot to do with your own internal, doing that for yourself, talking to yourself that way so that it comes out outwardly more often. And being thoughtful, and intentional, and knowing that the positive element of how you describe something, it’s always easier to encourage someone than it is to push them along. I’ve never seen a situation where – and especially in an employer- employee relationship, where outside of the cash compensation that transfers every couple of weeks, there’s not a lot of like true guards or true things that you can leverage over each other, right?
[00:37:42] GB: Yeah. That’s a big chunk of what we do. Because think about the super successful salesperson who one day they said, “You are now sales manager because you’ve been so successful,” and now they have to work with people, and they have to reinforce the right things, they have to make corrections. They have to have difficult conversations. Nobody’s taught them how to do that. So yes, we work with getting ideal clients, and sales process, and metrics, and all the rest. A big chunk of what we do is teaching that person how to be a leader, executing some of the things that we just got done talking about.
[00:38:14] AD: This will be a great place to wrap this conversation up. I’m going to go back to, you mentioned this in the very front of the conversation. That maybe the easy way to say, what got you here won’t get you there. You have to evolve and change. What I think you’re describing and pointing to, and everyone listening should recognize is that, if you were doing one role, and then over time you grow in your role and take on a new role, you will very likely need some level of training and development to be successful in that role. Because it’s different, and that’s good, that’s a natural element of it. You wouldn’t want your allergist all of a sudden being promoted to a cardiologist without a little bit of additional training put in there. As with everyone, that’s why it’s needed. If you’re running an organization, be thoughtful and cognizant of that. If you’re the individual that is going through that, ask your organization to support that. If not, go seek it yourself if you want to be successful in that role.
[00:39:10] GB: Beautifully said. One thing that amazes me is if you go into finance, and you said, “We’re going to get you some continuing education on what’s going on” and they’re like, “Absolutely.” If you go into computer programming or MIT, we said we’re going to get you additional stuff. They’re like, “Yeah, bring it on. I want to learn more.” You could go to every department and they’re all going to go, “Yeah. Yeah.” Something weird about sales man, you go to sales, you go to the sales leader, and we go, “We’re going to help you” and they go, “I’m pretty good. My team probably needs help, but I’m pretty good.” Those sales leaders don’t progress nearly as fast. As you said, it’s a different skill set. It’s a different role. You got to have your mind open to say, “Is there a better way to do one-on-one? Is there a better way to manage up, manage my boss? Is there a better way to coach? If you’ve never been trained on it or even if you have been trained on it, you’ll you can get better at it. But for some reason, sales leaders just think that they’ve arrived, I’m good.
[00:40:11] AD: As someone – both of us have built businesses around soft skill development if you like. I think it’s the best way to – it’s a largely intangible skill, but as myself individually, I can look back in my previous life where I was FINRA registered and a FINRA broker dealer for anyone listening that understands that. There was a lot of continuing that occurred. I’m a CPE, ongoing audit, and ethics and all the requirements there. Those are technical elements that are required to keep going. No one ever believes that all of a sudden, you’re good, and you need no more continuing. It’s this constant evolution of learning in the technical skill set area. But as soon as it comes to the soft skills, it becomes a much different perspective. I understand, it’s hard to measure, it’s hard to see immediate results, it’s very hard to define what you’re actually trying to accomplish. But I will say, my own personal experience, my experience of those I’ve worked with, and I’m sure your experience behind this. Those organizations that make a continuous effort to invest in developing those skills are the ones that get the farthest and ultimately achieved the most growth over the long run.
[00:41:18] GB: Again, we’re in total alignment on that. I could completely agree.
[00:41:22] AD: I love it, Gary. This has been a great conversation. We clearly see very, very similarly on all this. I appreciate you coming on here. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. For our listeners, how can they get in touch with you?
[00:41:32] GB: Pivotaladvisors.com. That is the easiest way. We’re on YouTube, so if you want to hear some videos on anything sales related, sales management related, conversations, process, metrics, any of that, go to YouTube and look for Pivotal Advisors. Those are great spots. I will never name my company pivotal advisors again, because people mess up pivotal or advisors or both. So it’s P-I-V-O-T-A-L and then advisors with an O-R-S on the end. But those are the best spots to go and get some great resources out there too, some things you can download if you want to get some freebies out there.
[00:42:07] AD: Awesome. We’ll make sure that the links are in the show notes below. So listeners, make sure to reach out to Gary. Gary, again, appreciate you coming on here and sharing your thoughts with us today.
[00:42:15] GB: Yeah. I enjoyed the conversation.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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