Ben Zoldan in Stories | April 5, 2016 | No Comments

Sales Through the Looking Glass

What would it be like to really look in the mirror?

I got the perspective of a person we’re all trying to sell to. I had a conversation with the CIO/CTO of Legalzoom. His name is Tracy. I wanted to hear what someone like him thought of the sales profession. He takes my call, but it was only out of courtesy to a colleague. We get on the phone, and within the first minute, he launches in with, “You need to know something about me, Ben.”

“What’s that?”
“I just took down my Facebook and LinkedIn profiles.”

And I thought that was a weird way to start the conversation.
But then with zero uncertainty, he follows with, ” Its because I hate salespeople.

And he begins to rip into the entire business of selling; how disingenuous we are, an overall lack of empathy. He says, “Its all about you guys, hitting your quotas, its not about the customers, salespeople are in it for their own gain. And as I was listening to him, I was trying to stay with him, but it was hard to. I started to feel defensive. He even used the word, “inhumane” to describe how it all feels to him. He added, “Its getting worse, not better.” And I could feel him getting angry towards me even. I wasn’t trying to “sell” him anything though; at least I didn’t think I was. But then I wondered that the only person worse than a salesperson is the person who “trains” them – me. I was guilty. So, I wanted to fight back. But he saved me from that, because what he ended with was like the mother of all Aha moments. He ends with, “You all come in with all your solutions, looking for problems.”

And in that instant, I got it; I got where he was coming from. He nailed our industry’s entire model, with that one quick anecdote.

And as I heard that, all my defenses went down and the only thing I was able to return was an agreement.

“I think you’re right, Tracy. That’s exactly how I was trained – to look for problems.”

So I asked if I could share with him how I was trained (and re-trained, and re-trained through the years, with several variations of the same theme).

We’re supposed to open up a meeting with an agenda; ask if that sounds reasonable, then ask permission to ask a series of questions; oh by the way, questions that have been described in a playbook for us. And the intent of those questions were solely to solicit the pains we’ve been prompted to identify; we then have a set of solutions to each of the potential set of pains, and if we get there, we then gather the impact of those pains, and put it into a spreadsheet to show a projected ROI. If we get there with you, we then ask for others in the organization that have “power”. After that, we try to document the so-called, buying processes and document that into a project plan together, as if we’re partners…

I’m going on and on, and with such irony, I’m feeling proud I could present the entire process to him. And I end with, “Tracy, that is how I was trained, in order to “sell” to someone like you.

And as I gave him the full tutorial on the enterprise sales model, a wild, unexpected shift happened. He started to use the word “they” instead of “you”. In the beginning of the call, he kept saying, “All you guys do is…” But afterwards, I remember him saying, “They have you…” He said, “They teaching you to misbehave.” And I could tell that his feeling towards me shifting. I didn’t ask him this, but I knew 100% that his initial disdain for salespeople, and by extension, me for that matter, shifted to feeling sorry for us. There was no doubt that he had empathy towards us, towards me, towards the entire culture of selling. I could feel him, saying to himself, “Aw, that sucks.” It was no longer our fault as salespeople.

This was a very eye opening experience for me. And I’ve thought about that conversation with Tracy a lot since then. It was as if his shift embodied the idea that good people in bad systems, can do bad things. That his perception towards people shifted to an indictment on a system; a culture of scripts, playbooks, decks, tactics, memorized pitches, questions, and its breeding a lifeless, soulless culture of robotic, mechanical behaviors.

For me, acknowledging this is a tough pill to swallow; I spent the better part of my career in that problem-solver, process-driven, know-it-all solutions, mode. Can you imagine using these tactics on the people we love the most in our lives? Its not hard for me to do. For me, I had a tough time turning these behaviors on and off. Taking “Problem-solver” mode home with me; interrogating my kids with a ton of questions to find out about their days, only to get one word answers, no different than bad sales calls. Or worse, always having the so-called solution for my wife when she has a tough day.
But there is a different way. A shift towards openness, collaboration and sharing – a focus on sincere connection. But that would require us – salespeople – to open ourselves up, and detach from the process, from the scripted answers, and share our authentic experiences; who we are, who our companies really are, including all the not so fluffed up content, and actually be willing to listen to someone else’ authentic experiences, including maybe we we don’t “want to hear.”

A good friend of mine, Jesse, reinforced this for me. He’s as good as a salesperson gets, by every measurement. People – his customers, his colleagues, all love him. It’s just very easy to buy what he’s selling. He puts people at ease, and seems to have that knack. People will move mountains for Jesse. I know because I have talked with his customers. He has an extraordinary impact on people. But maybe it wasn’t always that easy for him. Jesse has a Masters in Social Work. Last year, he and I just shared a ride from downtown Chicago to O’Hare, and in that 30-minute ride, I absolutely needed to hear what made him tick. He shared with me his life story; traumas and struggles that led to what he thought would be a career as a Social Worker. It was driven by a deep, sincere desire to help people. But after getting his Masters degree, he decides to apply his experiences to Sales, but selling something that had purpose. And when he begins
to talk about his first experience in Sales, he starts to laugh. He’s cracking up when he describes his first interview, needing to explain himself in that interview when asked, “Masters in Social work… so why Sales?”

But to him, the answer was self-evident; how Sales should be no different than Social work.

Social work is about meeting people where they are, connecting with them. Getting people to share their experiences, and helping them open up new doors in life.

And when I ask him what he thought about all his sales training, his response reinforced Tracy’s message, “We don’t take the ‘diagnose the problem and prescribe the solution’ approach. We can’t. In Social work, it’s about connecting with the client, providing a safe place where they can share their experience and accompanying them through that experience towards a new narrative.

Jesse is the one of the most transparent, open-minded, resilient, passionate, caring, vulnerable, strong people that I’ve ever worked with. He so authentically shares and he listens. The problem is that these are not steps in a process – maybe, though, these things are everything.

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