Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

Lee Salz: Legendary Leader Interview

Cliff Jones: Hello everybody, I’m Cliff Jones, co-founder and managing partner at Harvey Mackay Academy, and we are thrilled to have with us today Lee Salz who is leading sales management strategist, CEO of Sales Architects. What we’re going to be talking about today, ladies and gentlemen, his newest book “Sales Differentiation: 19 Powerful Strategies to Win More Deals” at the prices you want. So let me tell you guys a little bit more about Lee Salz, a recognized expert. I said, as I said in sales differentiation, working with senior executives and business owners across all industries, helping sales people win more deals, again at the prices they want. Lee, you are a frequently sought after keynote speaker and a consultant on the same topic. Sales differentiation, Salesforce development, hiring, on-boarding, compensation and other sales performance topics. You’re also a featured columnist in the business journals and a media source on sales and sales management. You also tend to show up on big media, Wall Street Journal, CNN, New York Times, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, and countless other outlets you hail from Minneapolis, which Harvey Mackay refers to. Finally, this time of year as Siberia, so we’re thrilled to have you with us today.

Lee Salz: Welcome. Hello from the frozen Tundra. We’re, I’m not sure it’s above zero degrees right now.

Cliff Jones: Well, that’s okay. We’re both inside and warm. Uh, I, if you don’t know this, ladies and gentlemen, and you’re new to Harvey Mackay Street smarts podcast, or Harvey Mackay Academy. I hail from Sunny Scottsdale, Arizona where Harvey Mackay spends about seven, eight months a year until it gets too hot. And then he, uh, he makes his home base in Minneapolis. So tune in with us now because the next 20, 30 minutes or so we’re going to have a very healthy conversation with Lee. We’re going to talk about sales differentiation and hopefully you will find high takeaway value that you could put to use in your sales world. So Lee, let’s start with the title of your book, Sales Differentiation. Tell everybody what sales differentiation is really all about from your perspective.

Lee Salz: Sure. First of all, thanks for having me on the show. So sales differentiation is a philosophy that I started thinking about when I was a teenager. I like to say I got pregnant with the idea as a teenager. What wasn’t ready until almost my 50th birthday to come out and share it with the world. So many, many years in development and the philosophy is applicable. It doesn’t matter what size company you are, what you’re selling, what industry you’re it works. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. There’s always a price conversation, right? It’s always going to come up and the question becomes, have you demonstrated enough value and differentiated in a way that the price is commensurate with the value. A lot of times it’s not. So the premise of sales differentiation and you shared it in your opening is to help salespeople win more deals at the prices they want and there’s two parts to the strategy as you saw in the book, half of the book is dedicated to sales differentiation around what you sell and the other half is dedicated to how you sell. Sales Differentiation on how you sell.

Cliff Jones: Well, as I’m reading through the book, lean in, in thinking about differentiation, what came to mind is that tends to be a conversation in the marketing silo, so, so how did you decide to bring that into the sales conversation?

Lee Salz: Yeah, and that’s very common when I first talked with executives about sales differentiation they don’t hear that first word, they just hear differentiation and their minds go right towards marketing and they’re not wrong. There is certainly a role for marketing differentiation, but they leave out a critical component which is sales differentiation and there’s a distinction, and I explained this in the book, the difference between marketing differentiation and sales differentiation. Marketing differentiation is one directional communication for the masses. It says, “Hey, look at us. We’re here.” That’s a websites do. That’s what your collateral material does. It paves the way for the salespeople to have healthy dialog with prospects. Sales differentiation, as you might imagine, is different than marketing differentiation. It’s two directional communication with an individual specific buyer. See, everybody buys for different reason. There’s a different drive as to why they’re going to buy. Marketing differentiation lays the groundwork for us and lays out all this potential, all of these capabilities, sales differentiation gives us the tools to personalize the experience. I can give you an example if you’d like

Cliff Jones: Please. Yeah, that’d be helpful.

Lee Salz: Okay, so in the 1990s, the luxury car companies like Lexus and Mercedes had changed their business model from selling cars, so leasing cars. And they discovered with this new business model that they had a problem, which is when you sell a car it’s one transaction. It goes away never to come back. When you lease it, it goes wait two years, three years, four years, whatever the lease period is, and it comes back. And for that financial model to make sense, the dealer has to sell that car at a certain price point to become whole on the entire transaction. And what these car companies discovered is these cars would come back and there was a word to describe them, which is a used car. And Cliff as you know, when you say used car, you get a picture in your head. This is the car you buy for your teenagers. Their first car. It’s a jalopy you know its going to get banged up. It’s fallen apart, but it somewhat functions. That’s the image we have in our head of a used car, but these executive said that’s not what these cars are there. Only a couple of years old. They’re in great shape and they wanted to reach a different buyer because they said that’s not what this is. They said we want to reach people that could afford a new car, maybe not a new lexus or a new Mercedes, but those that had the financial wherewithal to buy a new vehicle, so what they did as you I’m sure know, is they developed this expression called Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle, Cliff, it’s as if we didn’t believe someone else’s blood was in the seat. How to put certified on the front end of that, couldn’t you say pre-owned certified? Pre owned and it worked tremendously well. There’s countless articles and studies you can read about in how the perception changed of those cars. Matter of fact, find any car dealership that doesn’t offer also certified pre owned. It would be a tough challenge, they’re everywhere it works. So the idea of changing from used cars to certified pre owned that certified pre owned expression, that’s marketing differentiation, it created intrigue come to the lot and checked out the potential, the possibilities, but it’s sales differentiation, that individual conversation between salesperson and buyer that led to one car ending up in your driveway today.

Cliff Jones: Well, that’s a great analogy. Differentiating between the marketing element of differentiation in sales. My wife and I, uh, of 33 years, have a 30 year old son who’s a top salesman in the auto industry works for Nissan dealership. So what you’re talking about is near and dear to my heart. I want to deviate a little bit, take, take a little, go a little further into the car experience from a buyer’s perspective. And that is the salespeople most of us meet in the car dealerships have a real challenge in terms of, uh, you know, make enough money to stick around. The dealers have massive turnover. So, so in this particular instance of Chris, our son, he, he’s, he’s a top guy because he practices a way of what I would call selling from the heart, helping people get what they need, but what do you advise people in the car industry, because I’m sure you did a lot of work there. How did the salespeople take what the marketing people did and eliminate the biggest fear aversion we have as consumers when we walk in and that guy sitting on the step wait and to waiting to own us. How does that work in your world?

Lee Salz: Yeah, so there’s some bad advice that’s been given to salespeople for the last several years, not just the car industry. It’s every industry and that is that you now have educated buyers. That’s what they’re being told, that you have to look at buyers in a way and say, hey, they already know our world. Well, there’s a question that I’ve been asking salespeople for countless years. All across the country I’ve gone up to Canada. And the question is this, who knows more about the world of potential solutions in your industry? You or the people you sell to? Cliff, not one salesperson has ever said, oh, the people I sell to know much more than I do about the world of solutions in my industry. It’s never happened once across all different industries that you can name, and I hear it a lot in the retail world, particularly in the car space where these salespeople are being told, hey, you got educated buyers. Well, I think you might have a lot of cases have misinformed buyers. People that think that they know more than the salesperson or as much as the salesperson, but they don’t. So sales differentiation in my mind, it gives us two pads. One is, I believe you’re in sales. You have an obligation to help people make an informed buying decision. However, that also provides to you an opportunity, an opportunity to help shape buyer decision criteria. Another question I asked salespeople all the time, what’s the difference between an organic apple and a regular apple with? Do you know the difference?

Cliff Jones: Uh, one costs a lot more and I feel better when I buy it.

Lee Salz: That is the most common answer I asked that of my audiences. Maybe two or three people who have raised their hand that can actually articulate the difference between those two. This is a product we’re buying every single week and we don’t know how to make an informed buying decision. All we know is one apple is significantly more expensive than the other. They certainly don’t know how to buy your solution, so they need our help. Now, if our approach is to come in and lecture them and tell them all the things that they don’t know. You mentioned you have a 30 year old son. Does he like to be lectured?

Cliff Jones: Yeah, he loves being told what to do about as much as you were, I would sure.

Lee Salz: Nor do my kids who are teenagers and they didn’t like it when they were even younger. We all hate it, so we have to ask questions. I refer to these as positioning questions. They’re open ended questions that align with your differentiators and help people think differently about the solutions they have or could have. So when that buyer comes into the showroom, blazing a trail right up to that salesperson thinking they know everything rather than conflict with them, ask them questions to show, hey, you didn’t think about this. Now, I’ll give you an example of that. You mentioned Harvey and I are from the same part of the country here in glorious Minnesota, the frozen Tundra as I said before. Now there’s an interesting aspect to Minnesota that is not true in a lot of other parts of this country and that is just about every county in Minnesota. Every homeowner, every business has the contract for their own trash removal.

Cliff Jones: Have you ever seen that any place else? No, I have never seen that.

Lee Salz: So let me give you a visual. On Wednesday mornings I have a parade of garbage trucks coming down my street representing every color you could imagine, right? Because everybody contracts with whoever they want to contract with at each truck seemingly does the same thing. It pulls up to the home and arm extends out from the truck, grabs the can, lifts it up, dumps the contents into the truck, puts the can back down. The truck drives away, you get an invoice at the end of the month, Well a CEO at one of these companies, reached out to me. He said, Lee, “I believe we’re doing something different that we have meaningful value that our competitors don’t.” And I was intrigued. I mean, I watched this every Wednesday, every one of these guys doing the same thing. Well, he was right. They went through a sales differentiation program with me and we uncovered several differentiators and one in particular was they have this truck called the can be clean truck. Twice a year. This truck follows the garbage truck and cleans your garbage cans. Isn’t that cool?

Cliff Jones: I guess so. Yeah, I guess they get pretty dirty.

Lee Salz: No one else in the state of Minnesota offers that service. So for their residential salespeople, the one selling to homeowners, they’re knocking on doors. You can imagine how interested you’d be in a conversation about your trash goes. All of these companies seem like they’re doing the same thing. The only conversation you’d want to have is, hey, if you can save me a nickel a sweet, I’ll switch to you. So we developed one of these positioning questions is open ended question map back to that differentiator designed to help someone think differently about the solution they have or could have. And the question was this, “when’s the last time you had your garbage cans cleaned?” Because we know they never have unless they did it themselves. We’ve helped someone think differently about something as simple as trash, not because of something we’ve said, but rather a question we’ve asked, why isn’t someone cleaning my trash cans? See what I find so often we talk about the what you sell sales differentiation side is that executive team, sales people, they are so passionate that they have this meaningful differentiation, but they’re completely ineffective in building that passion with someone on the other side of the desk and if you can’t do that, you might as well not have any differentiation because all roads are going to lead back to price.

Cliff Jones: This must be total mayhem in those neighborhoods. I’m glad they don’t do that here, but even even if the trash guy did get me to open the door and did ask me that question, I’m curious, I won’t go further into this, but I’m just wondering, Hey, what I pay a premium because they are charging a premium. No,

Lee Salz: Their pricing is a little bit higher, but we came up with 10 differentiators that were significant and they do not charge our clients for that additional service.

Cliff Jones: Got It. Okay. Now let’s go into the back to the book because you laid out 19 various differentiation concepts and I’d like you to highlight for our listeners and our audience, uh, one in particular that they could start applying today when they leave the Street Smarts podcast.

Lee Salz: Okay, fair enough. Um, let’s see, what would be a really good one? Well, one is, let’s talk about personal value differentiation. Whether you’ve been in sales a week or 25 years, you as an individual have value and I find the new salesperson and the veteran doesn’t spend enough time thinking about the value that they personally bring to bear. And if you think about the transaction stage, when I pick your company for this transaction, you’re part of the deal, I can’t get you elsewhere. The question we need to ask ourselves is, what do I bring to the table? Why does it matter that I’m part of the package and we don’t think about that enough? So I’d encourage our viewers to take a step back and think about the value that they personally bring to the relationship and make that part of the conversation. Make sure people know that, hey, you get me as part of the deal and here’s why this should matter to you.

Cliff Jones: Okay? So let’s take that a little further because I love the open ended question. My particular philosophy in sales having been through professional selling skills, one, two, three and infinite other programs since the eighties, a is more of a consulting approach, a discovery and in the theory I have is assembling is simple. If you really care about helping people get what they want, which touches on your point. And I see a lot of freelancers in my past digital marketing agency, business life who would approach me and I’d say, well, Hey, you know, what are you going to charge for that particular service? And they’d say $25, $30 an hour and right away I know they would price themselves about half of the going rate for anybody I’ve ever hired who’s any good. So that that that leads into your point of knowing the value you bring, which has to do with really solving the problems and understanding the problem, solving the problems and knowing what the cost of those problems is. Because if I asked you or let’s put it this way, if I help you identify a million dollar problem and then I frame my solution against that, my question might be, well, would you be willing to invest somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000, $30,000 a year to make a million dollar problem go away? And then in that context, they understand the value I bring without me having to say, Hey, I’m really good at what I do. Because you talk about that in your book. You’re on stage and say, Hey, I’m the best sales guy in the world or whatever, and then everybody wants to throw the rotten tomatoes at you. Right? Isn’t that what you’re talking about? You’re talking about open ended questions, discovery and in discovering value. Then helping the prospect understand that value.

Lee Salz: Yeah, so let’s talk a little bit more about discovery. There’s a flaw that I find in most discovery processes that salespeople ask questions solely around what a buyer perceives could be better or different, but if you agree with me that we know more about the world of potential solutions in our industry than the people we sell to, we can’t just rely on their perception. So coming back to that example, you opened the door, talk about your trash solution. I say, what are three things you’d like to have that you don’t have today? No one would say, boy, I’d love it if someone cleaned my garbage cans because you don’t know what exists. So we need to develop questions designed to help people think differently about the solution they have, excuse me, have or could have. And again, they aligned with our differentiators, so rather than us getting on stage and lecturing them on all the things they should be doing differently, we asked them questions and lead them down a path. You know, if you imagine a courtroom setting, if you’ve ever been to court or you’re like court TV, you know, attorneys can’t testify, right? The sole tool they have in their bag is asking questions of a witness in such a way to paint the picture for the decision making group, the jury, so they see exactly what that attorney wants them to see. That’s what’s missing in most discovery processes is that we’re not asking questions to paint that picture because all we get is a part of it. What they perceive could be better or different. And when you talk about takeaway business where you’re saying they should be buying from us instead of my competitor, as opposed to creating demand, if we only rely on the perception side, the only thing you can do is yeah, they’re fine. I’m happy with my current supplier and the door never opens any further.

Cliff Jones: So you’re really talking about a training, coaching, mentoring salespeople in a way that they learned to ask intelligent questions that help a prospect understand the value they have that the prospect may have had no context for in the beginning. Correct. Okay. Now I want to shift gears into prospecting because you know as well as I do that call reluctance prospecting, cold calling is dead. Inbound marketing’s going to save everybody, which it’s not, just drives me nuts and we know, we know that the 800 pound gorilla that’s out there hammering the world saying, Hey, inbound marketing and content that’s going to solve all your sales pipeline problems, but it doesn’t. So take us through elements of prospecting that you talk about, um, as it relates to helping sales professionals be more effective.

Lee Salz: Sure. So part of putting together a strategy for prospecting is understanding who your competitors are. And I’ve never found a salesperson who knows who their true competitor is. So I’ll ask salespeople who is your biggest competitor? And they’ll rattle off three quick ones that are from within their industry. They’ll say, you know, I’m sure those are pretty good competitors, but there’s one even bigger and someone will say, “Oh, you mean that old sales training when the status quo, the choice to do nothing,” and that’s also a formidable competitor, but Cliff does one even bigger. You want to venture a guess who that is. It’s not in the book.

Cliff Jones: Go for it. I won’t even guess.

Lee Salz: It’s every salesperson calling the same person you are trying to get a meeting. See we’re egocentric. We only think about our world, but if you think about the people we’re calling on, you’re calling on executives that had this broad purview of responsibility. They’re getting calls from salespeople representing everything within that purview and beyond calls, emails, and it’s so easy to hit that delete button so you’re not competing against these three or four companies. You’re competing against hundreds if not thousands of salespeople trying to get one thing which is face-time, and I don’t mean the apple technology. I mean the ability to have a meeting. I’ll give you a little insight, Cliff, on my background. I was a history major in college. I went to Binghamton University in upstate New York. I’m a glutton for punishment. I say I don’t like cold weather, but I keep living in cold weather climates. Now, as a history major, I had the opportunity to learn a very interesting fact. In the history of business, there has never been an executive whose sole responsibility was meet with salespeople every hour on the hour. It’s never happened. So we have to create intrigue. We have to be different. Right in that first interaction, this standout from these hundreds, if not thousands of salespeople trying to get that meeting. And in the book I share a strategy and if you’d like, I can share some of that with your audience today.

Cliff Jones: Take it away. Dive in a little deeper there.

Lee Salz: Okay, so imagine it’s two in the morning and there’s a pounding on your front door. It’s the police. They want to have a conversation with you about a crime that’s recently been committed. Cliff, what did you do? Well, they don’t randomly pick your home and you for a conversation. What they do is they follow a trail of evidence. They put together a crime theory that’s led them you for a conversation right now. So you can see where we’re going. Sales crime theory, a sales crime theory, which is based on the answer to this question, why should they want to have a conversation with you right now, not the other way around, not being us centric and saying why should we talk with them? Why should they want to have a conversation with us right now? So to put that strategy into practice, we need to identify the evidence types that would lead us to believe they should want to have a conversation with us right now. So let’s say for example, you sell technology solutions for conference rooms. What might be examples of evidence? Well, a company relocating or expanding or a renovation and acquisition. All of those would be examples of the types of evidence you would see that would tell you that perhaps the Chief Technology Officer who might be responsible for that would want to have a conversation with you right now because in those four examples, the technology and conference rooms is probably a conversation. So, that tells us, we look for those acquisition opportunities. For example, we hear about an acquisition, we figure out who would be responsible like a Chief Technology Officer and we reach out to them knowing that they should want to have a conversation with us right now as opposed to the blind cold call.

Cliff Jones: That is a very helpful insight and you know, in line with that, I want to, I want to talk about the difference between a salesperson who might sell to a consumer versus people who represent Mackay Mitchell Envelope Company. They’re calling on purchasing managers and agents and a lot of cases, multimillion dollar corporations. Those people get hit on infinitely left and right. And when, when it comes to a request for proposals and long sales cycles and enterprise sales, are there some differentiating, a tactics or suggestions that you would have for our listeners?

Lee Salz: No. An RFP gives, you know, opportunity for sales differentiation. Oh, I’m just kidding. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us because your competitors, when they hear there’s an RFP, they fold up their tent and they go home. They just say, okay, when the RFP comes out, we’re going to fill it out. Well, coming back to the premise, we know more about the world of potential solutions in our industry than the people we sell to, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an RFP come out where procurements put it together and I read it and I go, oh, they have complete understanding for the solution they need. It never happens. That gives us an opportunity to be helpful. What if when you found out that it’s going to go out to RFP, you said, have you already written the RFP for this? And they say, no, we haven’t. Have you ever written an RFP for this? You know, this is really our first time in in writing it. Well, we have a tool that we’ve developed that our clients. Really appreciate where we’ve written an RFP for you. We’ve written the template and it helps you identify all the key information so that you make an informed buying decision. Would you like me to email that to you? Of course everyone’s going to say yes. Here’s the kicker. You will have some that will take that at face value and put it out on the street. You will have some that pull questions from your document and some that don’t use it at all. In all three of those scenarios you’ve won. You differentiated yourself. You’ve shown a respect and understanding for the process. You’ve provided expert insight which they greatly appreciate and you get that benefit whether they use it or not. You’re showing that you’re going to be helpful. Help them with this process so that they can make an informed buying decision. So what I would encourage you to do if you don’t already have this, is create an RFP for what you sell and make it gorgeous. So that also would have to do is put their name on it to put it on the street. I’ve had some clients take the document and in the footer it says, insert your company name here. They haven’t even done that. They just took the document and put it out on the street. Like I said, the goal is to be different. You can differentiate yourself both in what you sell and how you sell. And this is just one of the examples that I teach in the book to stand out in how you sell.

Cliff Jones: It strikes me in that example that when a prospect adopts a proposal, document, a template from the salesperson, that salesperson is quite intuitively become a partner, but that prospect even to the extent that that prospect is going to take the same document and shop it. Right. So, so that leads me to the next point because I recall as a, as a younger salesman paying for the Sandler Sales Institute, it’s Sandler now, Sandler Training or whatever. And their whole philosophy on proposals is we don’t do proposals now that seem kind of harsh because in learning to use that methodology, not only did I enjoy the heck out of all of my prospects, but, but I had to figure out a way to get around that because it was my worst nightmare to prepare a proposal, send it over. And then, uh, they, I know they’d shop it. Oh, let me think it over. And then suddenly talks about common stalls. Put us at objections, so let me just test drive this with you. You could shredded me to pieces if, if I deserve it, but my, my spin on that, uh, over the years as an owner or a business and, and, and, and everybody in our organization having that sales mindset, we’re going to help people figure out how to, how to do this together. I’d say, look, what if someone asks me a proposal and I’d say, well, what if you help me understand a couple of the things that you’d definitely like to see in that, and then I send it over to you in the form of an agreement and if everything looks okay to you, we could sign off on it or you could at least tell me what’s going to happen next. So that I would end up with a clear future. Is that something that you would advocate to salespeople and if so, how do you actually teach salespeople to use that without ticking off their prospects?

Lee Salz: Yeah, I don’t advocate that approach. Um, you know, my style and it’s not that one’s right or wrong, is to lead someone down a path so that they see that my solution is the right solution for them without having to do the manipulation of saying, well, what if I do this? And you could just sign off on it. I lead them down a path. So for example, let’s say an RFP could be in play. In that template. You make sure that you have questions that map back to your differentiators that no one could answer as well as you can. Let’s go another scenario. Your RFPs already crafted. It’s going out on the street last night. Check. There is no law that requires you to respond to every RFP that comes across your desk. It’s never happened. So what you want to do is pick up the phone and go back to the procurement agent. Thank them for including you in the process. Find out if you don’t know how you are included in that RFP process and ask them a series of questions around the frame if we’re not sure if it makes sense for us to respond or not to this, but we have a series of questions after reviewing your RFP that would help us to understand what you’re trying to accomplish. Those are questions that you write that procurement can’t answer, designed to pull from behind the curtains, those people that they’re supporting and bring them into the conversation. Questions that they go, Oh, you know what? We haven’t thought of that. We hadn’t considered that. I’ll give you one. The City of Denver just got sued. I don’t know if you heard about this. They made the decision to change their traffic lights from the incandescent bulbs to led bulbs. Right. You know, it’s all about reducing costs, saving energy and what have you. So they made that change and it got him sued. You know why? Well, in the city of Denver, they get a lot of this white stuff called snow. I have plenty of my own issue. Need some down in where you are and the light serves a dual purpose to communicate a message to a driver, red, yellow, or green. Also to melt the snow so you see a problem. Led bulbs don’t generate enough heat, so accidents have occurred because the driver couldn’t see the light and these drivers are now suing the city of Denver.

Cliff Jones: Beautiful. We call that the law of unintended consequences. Intention. they have a bunch of money led and now we’re getting sued and it costs us buckets of money to defend and settle these lawsuits. That’s a great example.

Lee Salz: So if someone would have asked them the question around this strategy, “So what’s your plan to remove the snow from your traffic lights? Because when you make this change, these bulbs are not going to generate enough heat to do it.” It would have stopped them dead in their traditional boy. We hadn’t thought about that. You stand out as having experts. You should show that you care and you have a leg up on your competition.

Cliff Jones: So my natural curiosity then takes me back, well will, would be average salesperson certainly didn’t happen in this case. These are in theory, fairly sophisticated sales professionals are teams that sell to governments. They didn’t have the awareness to ask that question. So do you find that the average salesperson on the planet earth has the ability to generate unique questions that help customers pick them over the competition?

Lee Salz: I think if they thought about it, they certainly could. In the book, I lay out a five step process to create these types of questions, but there’s also a fear aspect to it where, hey, if I’m going to get a I don’t know, I don’t know what the price tag was going to get a $25,000,000 deal for led bulbs, they’re going to say, whoa, I don’t want to have that conversation because I’ll lose my deal. Well now that they’re getting sued for a heck of a lot more than that price tag, you will never do another transaction with the city of Denver is my guests because you lead them astray.

Cliff Jones: Interesting. Good point. Okay. I want to shift gears a little bit to the realm of references and I want to share a quick story. Somebody approaches me on facebook where I’m pretty active recently says, “Hey, I want to know all about you. What are you up to?” Right. They didn’t take the time to click around or search for anything. They’re putting the burden on me to explain what the heck I do and they’re approaching me. So we get into this dance and we ended up scheduling a meeting and then he sends me an email before the meeting. He says, “Hey, can I have some references now?” I’ve never had a prospect asked me as the owner of a company for references, so my ego flared. I’m like, this guy’s annoying. He doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing, but in the context when a salesperson is asked for references, what do you normally teach and coach and how do you address that in your book?

Lee Salz: There’s a chapter in the book all about using sales differentiation and how you sell with that request for references. It’s the most misunderstood phase of the entire buying decision making process. What a salesperson hears is most often with a request for references, if they were getting the deal, it’s a done deal. I see it as a task. I have to get them references and Cliff, how many? They always asked for

Cliff Jones: Three, two or three reference. Yeah.

Lee Salz: Three references. I don’t know why it’s three, but they always asked for three and so I told my manager, “Hey, we’re getting the deal.” I just got to get them three references and it’s done. I update the crm market is a when, uh, who am I kidding? Salespeople don’t update the CRM, but in my mind, I believe it’s a done deal, a rubber stamp. All I have to do is complete the task and get the. I get a deal. Let’s cross the other side. Why do buyers request references? Well, it’s to validate what a salesperson has told them because the decision carries with it risk. If I make the decision to change, suppliers are outsourced for the first time for a company and that decision goes wrong, they’re going to come looking for who made that decision in my career could be in jeopardy. So I’ve got to be really careful, I’ve got to be sure before I make this decision that this is right for me. So one side of the equation, we’re doing a happy dance saying, “Hey, I’m getting the deal,” and the other side is saying, hey, I can’t be wrong here. I got a validated with the salesperson who’s been telling me and make sure this is the right decision to make. So if we take that premise and say alright, we need to stop thinking of this as a, as the wind and not see it as a task, but rather as the last opportunity, we have to be different. So first of all, just because they asked you for references doesn’t mean they didn’t ask two other finalists for references as well. So let’s put that aside. If the other two salespeople see as the task, but you see it as a strategic opportunity to be different, to provide value to this buyer that these other folks are not, this could be the way for you to stand out and here’s how you do it. First of all, when someone asks you for references, rather than saying, no problem, we’ll get those to you by end of day. Ask them two questions back. What is it you’re hoping to learn from these conversations and who’s going to make the call? We asked those questions so we can select the right references, but we have a flaw there which is we’re always ask for three references and Cliff, how many references do you think salespeople always have enough? Back pocket, three, right? Well, we need to build a portfolio of references in our company. People that can speak to every aspect that someone might want to validate, so maybe it’s a geographic consideration. Maybe it’s switching from a supplier, maybe it’s outsourcing from the first time, maybe it’s a particular challenge type. Build that portfolio, and usually you need anywhere from 25 to 35 names in that database and select the right ones based on what it is they’re trying to learn. Think about the conversations you’ve had, what were the concerns that they had and use that also as a consideration in selecting the right references from that database. That portfolio. If you will,

Cliff Jones: That is a phenomenal suggestion.

Lee Salz: Thank you. Now we’ll get to put this in motion. Two sides of the equation. You’ve got a reference on one side, a prospect on the other, so you pick a reference from your portfolio and I’m sure many of our viewers have carte blanche with some clients. Use me anytime you want. Don’t do it. It’s a trap. They’re not being malicious. There’s no malice here, but what if they’re busy and a project and can’t even respond to an email or a call right now, or they’re out of the office or what have you. Had a bad day with them and you know, maybe it’s not the right moment to ask them for a reference. So the first thing we want to do is let them know that we would like to use them as a reference to serve as a reference for us. But let’s keep in mind this is a critical sales function. They don’t know how to play this role. It’s completely undefined. So we need to share with them what role we’d like them to play. So John Jones from the ABC Company would like to speak with you regarding the solution that we developed for you, as you may recall, you were having challenges with A, B and C and we developed a solution with some technology and some services that help to address those three issues. Well, he’s having similar challenges and the solution we propose to him is very similar to what we’ve suggested for you. And then we’ve implemented. So now we’ve prepped this person about what conversations to have. The other part of it is we talked about personal value, differentiation. You want to coach this person to talk about you like you. I would be his account manager and as you know, I keep you informed, the various happenings in the industry. We get together quarterly, etc. Etc. ThE things that you’re doing when you speak with him, please also talk with him about the role that I play for your account because again, I’d be providing that to him as well. Now let’s come to the other side, the prospect who’s going to be making these calls. Hey, I’ve teed up Lee Salz To speak with you about, uh, the solution we implemented for him. He was having challenges with a, b, and c just like you, and we put together a solution that’s a blend between technology and services. He can speak to the implementation process with that, how the transition worked and the results he’s received. From that, you could also share with you what it’s like to have me as an account manager. Now we’ve prepared both sides in the spirit of helping this prospect validate what’s been shared.

Cliff Jones: I likely take people through that on both sides of it. And ladies and gentlemen, we’re coming to the near the end of our time today with Lee Salz, author of the book “Sales Differentiation.” Lee, I think you’ve done a phenomenal job with this book and I want you to help everybody who’s listening to the Street Smarts podcast, how they can learn more about you and get in touch with you.

Lee Salz: Well, thank you. First of all, the book is available in your favorite brick and mortar shop. It’s also available online. Amazon, whatever your favorite website is to buy books regardless of where you buy the book, go to salesdifferentiation.com and click on the little bonus flag and fill out the little form and you’ll get my sales differentiation minute video series. Now those videos are normally only available to my workshop clients, but I’m making those available to book purchases as well to help you implement what you’ve read. You can also on salesdifferentiation.com reach out to me if you want to talk about various programs. I’m also on Linkedin. You can look me up as Lee Salz.

Cliff Jones: Wonderful. We’d love to have you back because sales leadership is a massive theme for Harvey Mackay Academy and ladies and gentlemen, if you’re new to Harvey Mackay’s Street Smarts podcast, we would really appreciate you going into iTunes and given us a little iTunes review and a five star rating because that enables us to bring amazing thought leaders, people who make a difference like lead to you on a more than weekly basis. Lee, thanks very much again for being with us today.

Lee Salz: Thank you. I had a blast.

About the Author Harvey Mackay, Founder & CEO

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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