Episode 337

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As agency owners, we tend to view sales as a necessary evil. Even when we love what we do, believe in how we do it, and have proof that we do it well, having to put on our “sales hats” can still feel, well, gross. But…maybe we’re going about getting those sales in the wrong way.

Nobody likes sales…except for David Priemer. David loves sales. In fact, he loves sales so much that he opted to leave his non-sales background to deconstruct the traditional sales approach and develop his own methodology based on consumer science, research, and psychology.

David has built a wildly successful career around his methodology: Cerebral Selling. And lucky for us, he uses it to help other business owners revamp and rethink their sales process to make it more efficient, effective, and most importantly, more human. I’m so excited to share our conversation with you so that you can start loving sales too — even if you hate selling.

As the Founder and Chief Sales Scientist of Cerebral Selling, David’s unique science and empathy-based approaches to driving revenue and talent growth have been published in the Harvard Business Review as well as Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Inc. magazines. Often referred to as the “Sales Professor,” David is also the author of the Bestselling book, Sell The Way You Buy, and an Adjunct Lecturer at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University and the London Business School.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Agency Owners

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How to sell your business even if you absolutely hate sales
  • What it means to “sell the way you buy”
  • The biggest mistakes agency owners make when trying to sell their business
  • How giving people the opportunity to say “no” can win you more “yesses”
  • Why your CTAs might be scaring your customers away — and how to fix them
  • The one thing that customers buy 100% of the time (yes, 100%)
  • Why your sales pitches should be focused on problems, not solutions
  • How taking the pressure to sell off of yourself will take the pressure off of your customers too — and why that’s a good thing for both of you
“Even though we love our businesses, sometimes when we try to put on our sales hat, it kind of feels like it doesn’t fit well.” @dpriemer Click To Tweet “A lot of times, we don’t think about the pathways and mechanisms by which we make purchasing decisions.” @dpriemer Click To Tweet “The science underneath it all is really just to be human.” @dpriemer Click To Tweet “No one really cares about your proprietary process. What they care about is the outcome.” @dpriemer Click To Tweet “When you give people the opportunity to say no, it’s more likely that they’re going to say yes.” @dpriemer Click To Tweet

Ways to contact David Priemer:

Resources:

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you made. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. Bringing his 25-plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McClellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome back to another episode of Build a Better Agency. I think you’re going to love this one, some interesting conversations around sales. But before I tell you more about my guest and why I think you’re going to find him so interesting, couple of things, number one, we are at the end of the first quarter. And so I’m wondering, where are you at? Where are you at with your numbers? Where are you at with your goals? Where are you at with your staffing? Have you promised yourself that if certain things didn’t change by the end of March, early April, you were going to make some changes? Are you happy with where you’re at?

This is a great time to take stock and really think about how the first quarter went. And for many of you, the first quarter is soft. So if that was your experience, know that you’re not alone in that. Also, probably a good time to reflect on why it’s soft and if that’s something you can fix for 2023. But give it some thought, where are you at? What changes do you need to make? Do not wait too long into the second quarter to make changes. That might be admin staff, it might be trimming staff, it might be shifting people around, might be firing a horrible client, might be changing your rates, which by the way, has been a hot topic lately amongst the peer groups of how are agencies handling, changing their rates and are agencies doing that?

So this is a great time to be thinking about all of those things. So I just want to put that little bug in your ear. Another thing I want to talk to you about is, as you might imagine, we are coming up on the Build a Better Agency Summit that is May 24th and 25th in Chicago. And I got to tell you, I am so excited about this lineup of speakers. We have amazing keynote speakers, breakout speakers, round table speakers. If there is a topic that you want to cover in terms of being an agency owner, or leader, I promise you, there’s going to be somebody at that conference that’s going to be talking about it that you can engage with, and that’s going to be sales. It’s going to be about building your wealth outside of the agency, it’s going to be about taxes, it’s going to be about how to sell when you can’t get in front of people anymore.

We’re going to talk about how to create thought leadership that really launches your position of authority. We are going to be talking about how to build a community around your agency that helps you sell faster and easier. We’re going to be talking about leadership and what that really looks like in today’s world and how do you show up as a great leader? We got it all covered. We’re going to be talking about succession and getting your agency ready to sell. We’re going to talk about buying agencies, all the things, we have got it covered. And so I am hoping you’ll join us. As you know, we are capped at 300 attendees. We have about 50 tickets left. So I would love it if you were able to join us and take one of those last 50 seats.

So all you have to do is go to agencymanagementinstitute.com and right in the upper left corner in the navigation is it says BABA Summit, Build a Better Agency Summit, click on that. You can find the registration link. Really, really want you to join us. The attendees that were there last year raved about it, they’re coming back. And what they loved about it, not only was the content, but the community and the connection and the communication. Everybody felt like they got to know some other agency owners and they had some really great candid conversations that were helpful to them. They took back a lot from the speakers, for sure, but they also took back a lot from the other participants. And I would love that for you too.

And I want to meet you if we haven’t met in-person, that would be great for you to join us. So head over to the website, grab your ticket before the prices go up, because you know how that is, the closer you’ll get the conference, the more expensive it gets. So don’t waste any time, just grab your seat or grab a few seats and I will see you in Chicago. All right, let me tell you a little bit about our guests. So David Priemer, he’s a fascinating guy. He’s a sales consultant and a sales coach. He comes out of the sales arena, but his background was not sales, it was research and engineering. And so early in his career, he applied a very different methodology and a very different philosophy to sales, which he has now turned into a very successful career.

He did well when he was working for other people, and for the last four or five years, he’s been out on his own, helping other people who are like us, who don’t really want to sell, nor we have to, weren’t trained to sell, don’t want to feel sleazy about selling, but still have to get it done. And so he wrote a great book called Sell the Way You Buy. And his whole selling methodology is built on research and science and psychology. So I can’t wait to get it into this with him on your behalf and on my behalf, frankly, because I’m really looking forward to the conversation. So let’s get to it and welcome him to the show.

David, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

David Priemer:

My pleasure Drew, great to be with you here.

Drew McLellan:

So you like sales, which nobody likes sales. So tell people a little bit about you and why you have this alter-friction.

David Priemer:

Well, it’s true. People don’t like talking to sales people, sales is not everyone’s most fun thing to do, but for me, I started my career as a research scientist over 20 years ago. And it’s funny with sales, no one gets into sales on purpose, everyone gets into it by accident, so everyone has their own story. And so I got into sales by accident at the turn of the dot-com boom, joined the startup, and my background was in science and engineering. So I just fell in love with sales, because it was all these complex variables and outcomes and it was like an engineering problem almost that you needed to solve. So even though I didn’t like talking to salespeople, I was really enamored by this profession.

And of course, it’s not one of these things that they tell you in school that you can do when you grow up. So that’s where it all started, and me just picking apart the world of sales almost like a bit of an engineering problem.

Drew McLellan:

Which led to several other jobs and leadership roles and sales, which led to you then stepping out on your own, correct?

David Priemer:

That’s right. Yeah, yeah. I was a B2B technology startup guy, I was part of four high growth tech companies. Three of them ended up being acquired, one which was acquired by Salesforce in 2012, landed me there for five years where I used to run at the end small business sales for the Eastern US. So I got to seek how the sales machines were built operationally and culturally at scale, lots of young, enthusiastic sellers, again, who liked the idea being in sales, but sometimes felt a little, if I can call it emotionally conflicted about being in sales.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think a lot of people, you and I were talking before we hit the record button, I think a lot of agency owners shy away from sales because they don’t really know how to do it without feeling yucky. I think that’s a technical sales term, yucky?

David Priemer:

It is, absolutely. Well, I coined a term for this, and I call it my book, I call it experience asymmetry. And so it’s this idea that when you have, let’s say, a younger, newer, less experienced or I say less experienced, like you could be an agency owner and you love what you do, but you’re not experienced in sales. And sometimes you’re calling on a senior level, more experienced buyer, maybe whose job you’ve never done, and it creates this imbalance. And I actually, the way I describe it i, with my kids, I have three kids, two are teenage, one’s nine. When they come to me and they’re about to hit me up for something that they think I’m going to say no to…

My daughter, the other week, she’s like, ‘Dad, can you take me into my volleyball practice at 6:30 in the morning?” imagine how that sounds. It’s like, “Dad… ” I can tell immediately. Just by the way they approached me before they ask the question. And so I talk about that because in our business, even though we love our business, whenever we try to put on our sales hat and it feels like it doesn’t fit quite well, we go out to our customers and we say things that they can tell we are emotionally conflicted about, it’s hard for us to disguise it. So that’s what I refer to it as experience asymmetry.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And so all of that led to your book, Sell the Way You Buy, which again, you deconstruct, I love that you apply science and research to sales, but you deconstruct the sales process and how we actually like to buy, to think about how we should sell, right?

David Priemer:

That’s exactly it. Yeah. Because a lot of times we don’t think about the pathways and mechanisms by which we make purchasing decisions. And even if you’re you’re an individual out there, well, individuals, think about something that you spend money on that another person would look at and say, “Well, that’s ridiculous. I don’t understand why they got to go for this round of golf or they got to go on this vacation or this close,” or whatever it is, we all have things that we buy in pathways that influence how we make purchasing decisions. And yet, when we get into our business, we think very linearly and like, “Oh, I got to force this on them or use this tactic.”

And that’s not how we buy. So if you want to be successful in the modern world of selling, you need to understand how people make these purchasing decisions.

Drew McLellan:

Let’s start with the science behind how people buy, talk us through the facts of that. Because again, I think we think of this as, “I have to make an emotional connection and they have to like me and I have to spin sell or this way of selling.” There’s all these sales techniques. So what’s the science underneath it all?

David Priemer:

Well, the science underneath it all is really just to be human, it’s not about your methodology or your 10-step question and answer process of how you’re going to get to A, B and C, it’s just to be human, because at the end of the day, that’s what people are going to detect. But imagine there’s something that you really love in your personal life, maybe it’s like a vacation spot you went to, or a tool, or a prized article, something you have and a friend of yours said, “, “Hey, so Drew, tell me about this thing. Is it good?” And you’re like, “Oh my gosh, David, you have no idea. This thing will change your life.”

You manifest this very authentic human conviction. And at the end of the day, the number one thing that humans buy, first and foremost, 100% of the time is feelings. You talked about the emotional connection, we buy feelings 100% of the time. And yet, we get into sales and we start talking about business case, return on investment, all these kinds of things, which are not bad, but it’s funny, do you ever put business cases together for your clients, Drew? Or is this something people talk-

Drew McLellan:

No, but I see the case studies, they put together all the time.

David Priemer:

Yeah. They’re like, “Oh, if you invest this money with us in our agency, then we will either make more money for you or will save you money, whatever it is, in return.” But the funny thing about a business case, going back to this question about feelings is that it doesn’t really matter what you say. The only thing that matters is that your customer believes that what you told them is going to happen. They have to believe it’s going to happen, they have to believe not only in the nuts and bolts of what you’re are going to deliver, but you and your agency have the organizational capability to deliver that. And the last time I checked, I believe it was the subjective feeling and not an objective statistic. So really aligning with those emotional pathways is critical.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and it’s interesting because in advertising 101 that we all went through in college before we got into the business, before we owned our agency, we would learn that all decision making and all buying is emotionally based, and then people use the facts that we feed them to justify that emotional decision. But somehow we forget it when we’re the one doing the sales.

David Priemer:

Absolutely. We’re subject to all these cognitive biases. And to be all like, this needs to be subconscious to us, otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to function as human beings. We all operate on this impulsive, emotional scale. And yet again, when we’re thinking about selling, we somehow get into this different mode. So emotional selling, human selling, that’s where it’s at.

Drew McLellan:

Why do you think we as agency owners immediately forget that and go to the ROI and the value, and it’s not that you shouldn’t make the business case because even the emotional buyer’s going to have to justify their purchase to someone. And so part of those facts I think are pertinent, but why do you think we naturally go that way when we know better?

David Priemer:

It’s because it’s what’s close to us, it’s what we do. It’s like, “Oh David, what do you do?” “Well, I train sales people.” And you help agency owners. And as an agency, we help people unleash their creativity or whatever it is, we fall in love with what it, as we do, and yet, our customers don’t walk around saying, “Oh, what I’m really looking for is someone to do this or do this.” They’re not looking for tactical needs, they have problems. They walk around every day thinking about their problems, and to the extent that you are, if I can call it a pitch, your pitch, your narrative, is focused on their problems and not your solutions, you’ll be in a much better position.

And again, oftentimes because there’s so many agencies out there, there’s so many, never going out there, we think, “Okay, well, how are we going to differentiate ourselves?” And we’re like, “Well, we have this special sauce and we do it for this and it’s made with organic flour,” whatever it is.

Drew McLellan:

Everyone by the way in the agency world has a proprietary process.

David Priemer:

It’s true. And no one really cares about your proprietary process, they care about the outcome. What is the certainty that you are delivering? What are the feelings that they’re buying when they buy you? If for example, I’m sure there’s a whole spectrum of agencies, some charge more, some charge less, some take a quick time, some take a long time, some do everything in-hous, some people outsource, whatever it is. And those properties give you a construct, there’s a certain competitive advantage that comes from these properties. And at the end of the day, when you’re trying to position the value of what you do, you need to basically focus all those properties on what the customer cares about.

So the customer is in a pinch where we focus on doing high-quality work and a third of the time is everyone else, or we take our time, but we work on those projects that absolutely need to succeed. Each of those things is different ends of the spectrum, but it’s still an emotional sell. So trying to figure out how you position on that spectrum, it’s critical if you want to connect with your clients.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I know you talk about describing what you do with emotional clarity. So is that what you’re talking about?

David Priemer:

Yeah. Again, people don’t really care about the nuts and bolts about what you actually do, they care about the problems you solve. I’ll give you a simple example. The simplest messaging tactic that I teach my clients when they say… If someone say, “Drew, your agency, what do you do?” What do you say? We get asked, “What do you do all the time? What do you say? So my advice is, do something very simple. People love this idea of anchoring their emotional state on enemies. We all have enemies in our business, like, “Oh, we’re trying to do this.” Or, “This is too expensive, this is whatever.” So what you would do is you would describe what it is that you do using the words, love and hate in a sentence. And basically what you’re doing is you’re focusing on your customer’s enemies.

So for example, for you might say, “David, cerebral selling, what do you do?” And I’d say, “Well, look, I work with sales people and agencies who realize that people love to buy things, but they hate talking to sales people.” Now, in that little statement, I didn’t really describe the nuts and bolts of what I do, but I did throw out this emotional hook to say, “Okay, if you believe what I believe, people love to buy things, they hate talking to sales people, you’re going to lean in and say, ‘Tell me more.’” That’s one way of anchoring people emotionally.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, and I love the idea, so often in a sales pitch or whatever, we try and pack about five pounds worth of information in a one pound bag. And so I talk a lot about, if you’re in a roomful prospects and you could only say one sentence to them, that would get them to lean in and say, “Tell me more,” what’s that sentence. And you just gave us a great example where someone’s like, “Okay, that’s interesting. I think I agree with it, but I need to know more.” Right?

David Priemer:

Yeah. Look, people in the creative field, the purpose of a headline is just to get you to read the first sentence of the article, and then the first sentence is to get you to read the second sentence. So a lot of times, especially when you cold call, when you’re cold calling a customer, they feel the need, you answer the phone, it’s the telemarketer. He’s like, “Hello, David’s speaking.” And they unleash the one-minute pitch because they don’t want you to get a word in edgewise, they need to convey the sum total of what it is they do. That’s not what you need to do, it’s a hook to get them to lean and say, “Tell me more.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And I would assume that your premises, if they don’t lean in and say, “Tell me more,” they were never going to buy from you anyway.

David Priemer:

Oh, absolutely. Well, in fact, that’s the beauty of what I refer to these polarizing messages, because if your enemy is my enemy, you’re leaning in. If it’s not, you’re like, “You know what, I’m not interested.” And I say, because I’ll tell you, when I train professional sales people, we talk about their metrics and their sales funnel. I have data that proves that salespeople spend way too long with customers that will never end up buying anything in the end. So on a scale of one to 10, if let’s say they need to be an eight before they buy your thing, if they come into your sales funnel or sales processes as a six, that’s okay, I’ll sell you up a couple points. But if you’re like a two, if you don’t believe in what I’m doing, that’s a lot of work. I don’t want to do that. I’ll sell you up to a five and you still won’t buy anything.

Drew McLellan:

Well, it’s a lot of work for very little odd, it’s not just going to play well for you most of the time.

David Priemer:

Yeah. Well, and think about the scope of what you just said, play well for us, what we’re going to have is we’re going to have a difficult customer, an unhappy customer.

Drew McLellan:

Even if they buy, it’s not going to play out well, right?

David Priemer:

Well, I ask this to companies all the time, I’m like, “What would happen if you sold your product or service to anyone who was willing to give you money for it?” Because there’s a lot of those, especially it’s funny, I was in a conversation the other day with an organization that has a money-back guarantee. And there was this debate about should we offer a money-back guarantee because then we’re going to get a lot of riffraft that are coming in and sampling the goods. But they actually find that with people who take them up on the guarantee and renege and move out of the product or service, it’s actually good because those are the people that you didn’t want in the first place. But the polarizing messages definitely help polarize and keep the good customers and bad customers out.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and as I’m listening to you, I’m also thinking that one of the reasons why people don’t like to sell is because they hear no so often, but if they started with the polarizing message, they’d never hear no, the person would just go, “Oh, that’s really interesting. I’m going to go get another drink now.” So you’re not even in the sales process yet, your natural success rate would be higher, and at least the conversations, even if they don’t buy would be closer to a success, which would make you more confident and more comfortable and actually be more willing to get out there and have those conversations.

David Priemer:

What’s interesting, it’s along the lines of what you just said, sometimes I’ll speak to reps and they’ll say, “Hey David, I’m doing all