The Human Connection
Author, Selling From The Heart
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Larry Levine, author of Selling from the Heart and co-host of a podcast by the same name, has decades of experience and a spectacular track record selling in one of the most competitive markets in the world. He candidly shared with us the highs and lows of his selling career – mistakes he made and how he learned from them.
Technology Buying Experiences With Larry Levine
Here’s the full conversation for you to listen to. But if you’d rather read some of the highlights, keep scrolling down for the transcript.
The Bad Technology Buying Experience
Larry Levine: I went on a journey that lead me to realize that I must connect better with people.
The longer you’ve been in sales, the more likely you are to encounter situations that aren’t pleasant. The key is learning from those situations. I’m going to take you back for my experience, 25 years back. I did my growing in the office technology channel here in the LA marketplace. It was old school – feet to the street, phone to the ear, etc. I rose to be number one in my organization by managing myself better and harder than any manager ever did.
I’ll be totally transparent. I had kind of a cocky attitude that propelled me, but it also bit me in the butt time and time again. So, going back 25 years ago, I had this list of dream accounts. After three years, I finally got to get in front of this big manufacturing company in my marketplace. The day comes. I go in, dressed in my suit, jacket tie – the whole thing. I had my notebook and my list of questions.
Remember, it took me three years to get here. I start engaging the CFO with small talk. Then, it’s time to make my transition into having “that” conversation. I’m about 10 minutes in. Dan, the CFO, basically says, “Timeout. Stop.” I’m thinking, “what the heck is going on?” I had all these things rapidly going through my head. Had I been exposed? What’s the matter? Did I do something wrong? Should I just get out of here? What do I do?
Anyone who’s been in sales has probably experienced this. I was just about to close my book and leave. Then, this little voice in my head said, “Find out what happened.” Why did he say that?
So, I tore off a sheet of paper and inserted Dan’s name. I simply said, “Help me understand why you said what you just said.” He told me I was the third vendor he’d talked to in the last week. So I ask, “Why did you stop me?” Dan basically told me I used the same set of questions he’d heard from every other vendor. He said, “All you did for the first five minutes was share everything about you, your accolades, your company, your service and how great you are.”
Simply put, he was tired of hearing it. “So I just called you out on it,” he said. Many salespeople would just disengage at this point. They’d say, “I appreciate it” and leave. But, I chose to use this as a learning moment. I asked Dan to help me understand what he would have done differently if he were me. For 45 minutes, I didn’t say a word. Instead, I listened and took three pages of notes.
Although I was a seasoned veteran at this point, I failed to realize that in the first five minutes, the moments that mattered most, I was only talking about me and my company. I wasn’t making it about him and his company.
It’s critical to realize that words matter, your message matters. I walked in looking nice with a cocky attitude and braggadocious behavior instead of trying to understand his issues better. What were his challenges? I didn’t show that I cared at all. I only showed that I cared about myself and my company. That was the biggest 45-minute lesson of my life.
That experience helped me become the person I am today. I went on a journey that lead me to realize that I must connect better with people. I must show that I care, and I must have compassion. I took this story to my top five customers, and asked, “does this resonate with you?” They said yes. It was at this time I became committed to never let that scenario happen again. I need to connect better to my potential customers and my current customers.
My journey took me to realizing that I need to care. I needed to have compassion. In sales, we all have those “aha moments.” The longer you’re in sales, the more you’re going to get exposed. You must be willing to eat critique and vulnerability. Open up the jury. Doing this taught me that if we fail to make a great impression in the very beginning, we are already behind the eight ball. If you fail to open up in a humanistic way, you’re done.
One of the first books that was really influential to me was Dale Carnegie’s, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” That book was written in 1937, but it’s still applicable today. We have more technology today, but it’s still about building relationships and changing the way people think. We have to be facilitators and tour guides. We must consume information our buyers are consuming, so we can be knowledgeable about the things they are reading and educating themselves about.
Today, the buyer’s journey has changed and sales people are behind the eight ball because we haven’t leveraged the power of technology and the resources that are out there to engage people in their journey. I started in the pre-internet age. I had to build relationships and change the way people think face-to-face. My customers and I had to do research by physically going to the library.
Today, people are still educating themselves. However, they are getting their information online, at their leisure. Nothing has changed, except the technology. As salespeople, we need to figure out how to engage people early in the research process. You need to become the closer who knows when the ball is on the one- or two-yard line, but also know how to blend medium and long term vision. In other words, engage people when the ball is on the other side of the 50-yard line.
This is the time when buyers are educating themselves. If you want to have an ever-flowing sales funnel, you must have an ever-flowing full relationship funnel. Get involved in building relationships and driving conversation – not sales conversations, but just normal business conversations. Salespeople are always in sales mode, but buyers may not always be in buying mode.
Most likely they are in the “I’ve got a potential issue and I’m just going to see what’s going on out there” mode. As salespeople, we must get involved earlier. Connect. Build relationships. Educate. Engage. Incite people into conversations. Humanize it.
Characteristics of a Better Seller
Larry Levine: As 2020 moves forward, leverage all channels to humanize yourself to the best of your ability to align you and the buyer along their journey. We must get back to humanizing. A lot of us have dehumanized what we do because we’re hiding behind technology. More importantly, we’re hiding behind bad relationships and bad conversations. We’re hiding behind screens and keyboards when we should be bringing back a heartfelt approach to buying and selling. Show how much we care. Connect better with people. Have compassion. Engage them. Have their best interests at heart. Do not be deceptive.
If you lead with your wallet and not with your heart, you’re going to get exposed. There’s a lot of mistrust out there. People are skeptical about everything we say. Break down those barriers and see what happens. It all starts with engaging in a heartfelt manner. How do you do that with all these available channels? Let’s use golf as an example.
There are 14 clubs in a standard golf bag. Golfers must use every single one of those clubs to the best of their ability based on where the ball is on the course. As sales professionals, we have to learn to engage in the most humanistic, heartfelt manner, leveraging all channels, including phone, email, social, face-to-face, texting or whatever. However, when it’s all said and done, the biggest channel that’s available for us right now is the human channel.
We’ve lost the ability to go face-to-face. I recently had a conversation with a buyer on Zoom. Even though there was a screen dividing us, I could still leverage this platform to bring a heartfelt conversational approach back to sales and buying. As 2020 moves forward, leverage all channels to humanize yourself to the best of your ability to align you and the buyer along their journey.