A healthy agency, on average, loses about 10-15% of their AGI every year through client attrition. That means that just to stay even, you have to sell. If you want to grow – you have to sell. If you want more money to give raises, bonuses or take a little for yourself – you have to sell.
Unfortunately, 95% of agency owners hate to sell. You hire sales people so you don’t have to do it. Sadly – they rarely pay for themselves. If you have one that does, do what you have to do to keep them! But in most agencies, the best salesperson is the owner. You can have very different conversations with prospects than anyone else in your shop and based on the research we’ve done with CMOs – those are the conversations that move them through your sales funnel.
That’s why this topic is so vital. You can’t get or keep any momentum in your agency if you’re afraid of sales. Which is why I invited Anthony Iannarino onto the show. He’s a highly respected international speaker, bestselling author, entrepreneur, and sales leader. He specializes in complex B2B sales, which is the world that we are all living in. He’s also a founder and managing partner of two closely-held, family-owned businesses in the staffing industry, and he leads both entities in strategic planning while growing sales.
Anthony is best known for his work on The Sales Blog, which has helped him gain recognition as a top thought leader in sales strategy. He’s also designed what he calls the Level 4 Value Creation and Building Consensus methodologies that help sales organizations achieve transformational, breakthrough results.
A well-known author, Anthony recently released “The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the Ten Commitments That Drive Sales,” and man, is that book brilliant. A few years ago he wrote “The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need.” I highly recommend them both.
What you’ll learn about in this episode:
- Why most entrepreneurs go into sales with the wrong mindset that makes selling an unpleasant experience
- Why the sales process isn’t linear and how to shift the conversation with a prospect based on where they are in the process
- The Ten Commitments: the agreements that you need from your prospects along the sale’s path in order for a sale to happen
- How giving a prospect the price too early can blow the sale
- Why it’s so important to slow down and build trust
- Talking to people with genuine interest in them and what they need
- Consistently providing a ton of value to your prospects so that you stay top-of-mind when something changes in their business and they have a need
- Why getting to the point where you get to have a conversation with a prospect is the most difficult part of sales (and how to actually reach that point)
- Why you should never let a prospect sit alone with a proposal and the specific language you should use so that it doesn’t happen
The Golden Nuggets:“If you let a prospect jump straight to pricing before exploring their problem and how you can solve it, you haven’t added any value for them yet. That makes sales really difficult.” - @iannarino Click To Tweet “The ninth commitment a prospect will make to you is the commitment to buy. If you do a really good job with the previous eight commitments, that is the easiest commitment you'll ever ask for.” - @iannarino Click To Tweet “If you're sincerely interested in other people and really try to learn from them, they'll give you the key to understanding what they want and what they need at some deeper level.” - @iannarino Click To Tweet “If you want to be less smarmy, be interested in other people, and don't worry about the outcomes that you want long term. Worry about how you can help them today” - @iannarino Click To Tweet “Sales is simple but it's not easy. The getting in to have a conversation part is the most difficult sale we make. ” - @iannarino Click To Tweet “Selling is helping another person get a result that they can't get without you.” - @iannarino Click To Tweet
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Ways to contact Anthony Iannarino:
- Website: thesalesblog.com
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If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too. Welcome to Agency Management Institute, Build a Better Agency podcast presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees and best of all, more money to the bottom line, bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Hey, everybody Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency, and we are going to talk about selling today. So let me tell you a little bit about our guest and why he is the perfect person to have this conversation with us. Many of you are probably already familiar with him, but let me tell you a little bit about him. So Anthony Iannarino is a highly respected international speaker, bestselling author, entrepreneur and sales leader. And he specializes in complex B2B sales, which is the world that we all live in. He’s also a founder and managing partner of two closely held family owned businesses in the staffing industry, and he leads both entities in strategic planning while growing sales. He’s best known for his work on the sales blog, which has helped him gain recognition as a top thought leader in sales strategy. He’s also designed something called the Level Four Value Creation and Building Consensus methodologies. We’ll probably talk about those.
Then help sales organizations achieve transformational breakthrough results. You probably are familiar with Anthony from his books. His book that just came out pretty recently called The Lost Art of Closing is brilliant, and I also loved. Actually the whole book is called, Lost Art of Closing: Winning the Ten Commitments That Drive Sales, because I want to find out about those commitments. And then the other book that he wrote a few years ago was, The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need. Highly recommend them both. So Anthony, welcome to the podcast.
Thanks for having me.
So I don’t know how many agency owners you know, I suspect quite a few, but they hate sales, hate it. They hire salespeople so they don’t have to do it. They don’t support the salespeople as well as they should. And then they fire them when they don’t make their salary. And I think at the end of the day, it’s scary for them and they’re not sure how to do it and what to do. So given that you specialize in this complex B2B sales, is that a common reaction to sales?
For entrepreneurs, yes. For a lot of entrepreneurial people, they like the outcome that you get when you sell, but they don’t like actually doing the selling. And it’s because they misunderstand what selling is. And you have to have a mindset shift to enjoy sales. And the mindset shift that I would recommend is stop trying to do things to people and start trying to do things for people and with people. And that means you’re going to have a conversation about better future outcomes that are available for them and what kind of decisions they might have to be able to get those future outcomes. And it’s a game. And if it’s a game, then that means we play. And if you play, then you get to have fun. And if you go into something with a mindset that says, “This is drudgery, I’m not good at this. This sucks. I hate it.” Well, that will be your world because of the mindset you go into it with.
But look, I mean, when you get into business, I didn’t say this, Peter Drucker said this. So don’t argue with me. If you want to have an argument, have an argument with Peter Drucker, but you will lose the argument. So a business exists to create a customer. That’s why a business exists. That’s what you’re doing is creating customers, and we call that selling. That’s what we’re doing, we’re actually selling. That’s what the business is.
He also said that business has really two functions, marketing. And by that he meant a segment of selling, even though they would say selling is a segment of marketing and innovation. So coming up with the next way to create value. And that is the whole game. And when you go into it understanding how much fun it is to play the game, the game becomes a lot of fun.
So when you’re coaching, because I know you do some coaching too. When you’re coaching a reluctant entrepreneur around the idea of reframing the way they think about selling, how do you help them shift their thinking?
What you have to start with is, if you decide that the outcome is to get somebody to do something. If that’s what you’re trying to do is to control the outcome, then you’re not really playing the game. So it’s almost like Drew, you and I are going to play a game of football and I have to win, no matter what I have to win. No, I have to play well. The way that you win is by playing well. And you do not win by focusing on the score or the score board or the things that you want as the outcome. You focus on how do I create an outcome for the other person? And the more focused you are on creating that, the better. So I have to help people with a mindset shift of look, what we’re asking people to do is have a conversation to explore what might be possible. That’s it, that’s the only thing we’re asking for. We’re not asking them to buy anything. We’re not asking them to do anything yet, except just explore.
And then we start asking them to make other commitments. If it’s worth looking at deeper, then I’d like to ask you to go another level deeper and let’s explore what’s possible for you and what that vision might look like. And I might define a problem that we’re trying to solve together. So we know like, “Okay, so this is the primary problem we’re trying to solve, and this is how you do this.” And then I might ask them to collaborate with me on, “If we were to come up with the right answer, what does the right answer to look like?” I mean, what should it do for you? How would we go about generating that? And it’s really a series of conversations.
All you’re really trying to do is make sure that you control the process. And the process means I’m going to try to play the game as well as I can. And if I let you skip to tell me your pricing and I don’t do all these things first, then sales is really difficult because you’ve done no value creating. And you have no real consensus on what the problem is or what’s supposed to be happening. So the mindset shift for agency owners, if you’re listening to this is, this is not something you’re trying to do to someone. This is something that you’re doing for someone and with someone and all you’re doing is having a conversation. And if you think, “Well, I need them to buy,” just drop that from your thinking. You’re not there yet.
I mean, it it’s like going to a bar and saying, “I’m not leaving here until I have a wife.” Maybe you should say hello to someone first and then coffee’s probably appropriate. And if that goes, well, maybe lunch and maybe a movie. I mean, maybe there’s some steps to a relationship and we don’t think of commercial relationships that way, but commercial relationships develop the same way. I don’t know you. I don’t like you and I don’t trust you and you don’t create any value for me. Okay. Well then how do I do those things?
So I am sure the listener is thinking, “Okay, so how do I do those things?” And as I was listening to you talk, I know one of the things that you talk about is that sales is non-linear, that it’s not a straight line. So how does someone create that and talk a little bit about this idea that it’s a dynamic process and it’s really about this interaction and how do I sustain that over time?
Yeah, it’s a good question. I don’t think that anybody’s really talking about the non-linearity because we still try to perceive it through this idea of a funnel that we have or a pipeline. And we have these stages that we presume the buyer to be in, but it just doesn’t work that way. So the idea that it’s linear means I have a target, I qualify the target. I do some discovery. I develop a solution. I build consensus around the solution. I present, I negotiate, I win or I lose. And that’s the way that we think of it from the sales side. But what if it doesn’t go that way? What if it’s not A, B, C, what if it’s A, B, B, D, C. And that’s the way real human conversations work.
So we’re exploring change and you say, “You know what? I don’t really understand what that would look like or what those outcomes would be. And then I have to show you something. So I want to share with you some ideas so that I can help give you a vision, if you don’t have one, and then I’m going to come back and start exploring again. But I have to serve you wherever you are. So if you say, “I don’t understand conceptually what we’re talking about or how it would work.” Okay. Well, let me show you the mechanics, even though we’re not there yet, and you’re not committing to anything, when I show you the mechanics, I’ll show you how it works and then we’ll go back and talk about what makes sense, if anything.
And I think that when you think about how you make a decision, you might look at something and then do a little bit of research and then look at it again and then have another conversation, and the bigger the deal is, the more you’re going to look at it. So as a consumer, the biggest thing you’re ever going to buy is probably a house, or a business, one of those two things. So if you’re going to buy a house, you’re going to look at the house and you’re going to fall in love with it. And then you’re going to get home and you’re going to start having concerns, “Should probably have somebody inspect that, who knows, they could be bamboozling me on the whole roof thing.” I don’t know. And then you’re going to go like, “You know what? I want to go see that again because I’m not sure about this thing.”
And then I want my wife to see that she’s got to see the house. We’d never do this without her seeing it. I need her, and I probably need the kids to come look at it too, and try to get consensus. So you would naturally go through a lot of the stages that people go through when they buy and you’d have to make some of those commitments. So when you just look and you know what they are, and you’re just paying attention and you start from this place, “How do I help this person with what they need right now?” Okay, good. Then that’s what you do. You try to do that and you try to help them know, this is what generally comes next, what serves you.
So your newest book talks about this idea of Ten commitments. So tell us a little bit about that concept and how agency owners can relate that to their world.
It’s really interesting to me that all the closing books that have ever been written have 110 different closes, the only commitment you ever need is the commitment to buy. And it turns out, in 1988, Neil Rackham wrote SPIN Selling. And he said that every successful salesperson was gaining in advance, something that moved the deal forward without being the final close. And the salespeople that were struggling were getting what he called a continuation. So they were getting a, “Drew, that was a great meeting. Thanks so much. And we’ll talk it over, and at some point we’ll get back to you.” And they left with that. When I read that I was a kid and I just used that in every sales call, after I read the book. It was, I would have my calendar open on a desk with a client. And I would know, I just have to get something on the calendar.
No one ever wrote down what advances look like, No one ever wrote down, what are the commitments that add up to the real commitment to buy and I’ve been practicing it. And so have a lot of other people, to be honest with you, a lot of good salespeople know intuitively, “Oh, I still need to do this.” But because there’s been no guidance on that, I wanted to write them down and I wrote them down a long time ago, but when I pitched the first book, I showed people the second concept for what I knew it was going to be the second book. And it really is just from looking at what salespeople do and understanding, “We’re going to ask for time, we call that prospecting.” We’re going to have a meeting to explore change.
And then we’re going to have to ask them to take a deeper dive into looking if it makes sense for their company. That’s a second meeting. Then we’re going to ask them if they really want to change before we go through the rest of this process, there has to be some commitment to say, “This makes sense for me to do something.” And then we’re going to look at collaborating because the more that they own the solution and the more they’re involved in it, the easier it is for them to say, “Yes.” We’re going to probably build consensus with other people who care about what we’re doing. We’re going to talk about money. And for some people listening to this, you probably want to move that conversation forward because if they don’t have any money, you can have a lot of nice conversations and nobody can do anything.
And then we’re going to ask them to review the answer to say, “Is this right? Can you say yes to this? Do we need to make changes?” And then we’re going to ask them to resolve their concerns. If you get those first eight commitments right, if you get that conversation and it could be shorter or longer. If it’s a long sales cycle, high risks, high strategic value, hey dollars, then it’s going to be a number of conversations. If it’s a smaller deal that might happen over two conversations, you might get through all that or three conversations.
The ninth commitment is the commitment to buy. And here’s the thing, if you do a really good job with all these other commitments, that is the easiest commitment you’ll ever ask for. And if you decide to skip these conversations that you have to have before that, and you try to go straight to the end, that’s going to be the most difficult commitment you ever ask for.
Yes. Because you’re not there yet. And that is the thing. So you have to serve people to make sure that they’re in the same place. What happens Drew, is that when we get in front of them, we become disconnected. And then we’re down here. We’re like, We know what the right answer is. I could sell this to you, Drew and you’re going to get the result today.” And they’re like, “I don’t know about that.” Okay. I got to come back down and pick you up and bring you up with me. And if they get too far ahead of us, they’re like, “Just tell me what the price is.” No, no, no, no, no. I got to come get you and bring you back down and let’s have the conversations we need to have so that we can get there together.
So a lot of agents owners, as you might imagine, you’re exactly right. They want to cut to the chase. How much money do you have? What’s your marketing budget? What are you already spending? The consequence of that is it becomes transactional. And it becomes about price rather than value.
So how does someone discipline themselves to slow down and make it about value as a… because whether you’re a new business salesperson inside the agency or, for a lot of our listeners, the agency owner is the primary salesperson. There’s a pressure to close and there’s a pressure to land the deal because agencies are always about, you eat what you kill and you have to keep going out to make sure the family stays fed. So how do you learn the discipline of slowing down and what are the signs that somebody is ready to move to the next commitment?
You check it, you just ask. You just say, “Drew, it sounds like what we’ve been talking about is of interest to you. I’d like to ask you for another time on your calendar, where I can share with you some things that we see that might work, and I’d love to get your feedback on what you think you might need to be able to make some of these ideas work. And I’d like to hear some of your ideas. What do you look like next Wednesday at 4:30?” I mean, you’re going to check and say, “Does this make sense for us to continue to do this?”
And then this is where we get all messed up because of they’re like, “You know what, I heard some of the ideas you were talking about, I’d like to see those. And I’d like to know what it costs. Can you go ahead and send me some pricing on what your programs look like?” And we’re like, “Yeah, we’re really dopey. We’ll just go ahead and send that over.” And think it’s not going to be about price now because we let go of the process. We see to control the process to somebody who really doesn’t understand what they should be doing to get the result.
There’s another thing that we do because we’re in a hurry. It’s not just about value. It’s not just about trying to build value. It’s more than that. You’re trying to create a preference to work with you and your agency. And I’m going to say this again because I don’t think people get this and I’m going to be more emphatic about saying it over and over again. You’re trying to make them want to buy from you and no one else. So when you don’t spend time with people and when you transact with them, you’re undoing the part where they go, “You know what? Drew spent a lot of time here. He really knows us.” That’s called intimacy and of the three drivers of trust, if you look at Charles Green’s work The Trusted Advisor with David Maister and you look at Trust-Based Selling and the Trust-Based Selling fieldbook. All awesome, awesome work. Trust is reliability, credibility times intimacy, divided by how self-oriented and smarmy you are.
Yeah. The smarmy factor.
Yeah. The more it’s about you, the less it’s about me and that doesn’t work. But Charlie will tell you, the most important of those three factors is not credibility and it’s not reliability. It’s intimacy. Do you know me? Do you understand me? Do you care about helping me? They’re trying to make that determination. So the faster you go, what’s happening is you’re eliminating trust because you’re saying, “Look, I don’t need to know you. I don’t need to know any more about your agency. I know what the right answer is. I do what I do. I can fix this for you right now.” And they’re like, “I’m not there yet.” So we’re disconnected again. And what you have to understand about complex dynamic human interactions and relationships is that fast is slow and slow is fast. So if you want to go fast, what you do is go slow so that the other person stays connected to you. And when you’re going fast and you disconnect because the speed differential, the other person is disconnected from you and you are transactional.
You’re trying to create value for the other person throughout this process. At the same time, you’re trying to create a preference to buy from you. And I have this little conversation going on, on LinkedIn this week where a guy challenged the post I wrote called, be smart and be likable. And he said, in my opinion, too many people try to be likable and they don’t worry enough about creating real value for clients. And I think it’s just the opposite. I think they forget, “I have to create a preference to buy from me. So how am I going to behave?” I just can’t be smart. I need to be smart and I need to be somebody that you look at and go, “This is the person I want on my team. That’s a decision they’re making when they hire an agency, “Do I want you on my team?” And if you lose deals, you have to look very seriously at yourself. You have to be introspective and honest with yourself and say, “Why do they not want me on their team?”
Yeah. What is it they don’t trust or like about me?
Yeah. And that’s a tough question to ask.
But it’s the keys to the castle, right?
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think about agencies and one of the things that I talk to both agency owners and their account folks about is understand that if someone’s hiring you, you’re the agency that’s either going to get them promoted or fired. They’re either going to look like they’re a rock star inside their organization or with your help, they’re going to make some bad decisions and CMOs, you and I know a lot of CMOs, that’s a revolving door. So you think about the trust and the intimacy that is required for that. “If we don’t do well together, I’m going to fire your agency. But if we don’t do well together, I’m going to lose my job.” So the stakes are pretty high for that buyer.
It’s true in all sales situations. I mean, you’re a reflection of this person’s decision-making. And you’re now part of the team. And I do think that we underestimate the part where people are actually adding us to their team. We’re part of their company. What you bill your client, could be more than employees… I’m telling you. It’s more than some employees that work inside that organization. So you think you’re not part of the team when you have a line on their profit and loss statement that says marketing consulting $246,000. Then somebody is going to say, “That’s a lot of money to spend. We better be getting some result for that.” And that’s the decision. That’s the decision that they’re making.
I think you have to be really smart. And probably if you’re listening to a podcast like this, you are, but you also have to be really likable. And that means you have to control this process and do it in service of the other person. How do I help them really think this through? And while I’m doing that, how do I make sure that I’m positioning myself as the right partner?
So we’ve been referencing smarmy a little bit. So this sounds like a simple question, but how does someone present themselves as likable without coming off as smarmy or… and the simple answer is be sincere and be authentic. How do I do that in a sales setting where I am trying to get you to do something. What you said is the way we think about it, I know we’re supposed to help them. So talk to us about the different-
You made me think about the people who should not be authentic because they are smarmy.
They are smarmy. Right, right.
I will tell you the best thing that I know about getting other people to make the commitments that you need them to make, you always have to do a couple of things. You have to be sincerely interested in other people. And I think if you’re sincerely interested in other people and you’re really trying to learn from them, then they’re going to give you the key to understanding what they want and what they need at some deeper level. And you have to pay very close attention. And when I ask people to tell me about other human beings, that they have them buying situations, they can’t tell me much about the person. And I’ll give you an example. One group told me, “We don’t know anything about this guy.” And I said, “Okay, I know you don’t know anything about this guy, but if you did know something, what would you know?” Which is my favorite way to ask that question.
And then they knew all kinds of things. They said he’s 52 years old. He owns a giant ranch outside of Minneapolis, where he has about a 100 horses. He’s going to get an MBA in philanthropy at night. And I said, “Okay. So he’s got a significance issue.” He’s got a problem with important because he’s getting an MBA at 52, when he’s rich enough to have a 100 horses on a ranch. And he’s getting a degree in philanthropy, which does not require a degree at all, but he needs the certification for some reason. All you really need to be a philanthropist is a checkbook and a bank account where the checks will clear and you’re a philanthropist. That’s a pretty easy gig to get into.
And so I started explaining what I could tell about a person from very few facts, and knowing a few things, but they don’t look at the human being to say, “Who is this person, and what do they need from me?” And if you do that, it’s better. So if you’re interested in other people, if you pay attention, if you ask questions because you really want to know the answers, instead of going through a script. These are the questions that we ask when we sit down with a client, look at that.
The second thing that I would tell you is you have to trade value in every interaction, in every interaction you have to say, “I’m going to give this person more value than I take from them in time,” or, “I’m going to give them more value than I take from them in money,” whatever the case is, so that when they look at you, they go, “Every time Drew sits down with me, I learned something new. He’s always interested in what we’re doing. He’s definitely picking up who we are and what we’re doing.” I get really, really high marks when I speak to organizations. And when I do any work with them, for one particular reason, I’m very, very fast at picking that up intentionally and if I work closely with a group for any period of time, eventually they say, “How long have you worked here?” And I don’t work there, but I get the language and I get what the concepts are fast, because I don’t want to feel like an outsider, and I don’t want them to look and say, “This is an outsider.”
If you’re joining the team, it’s a tribe, right?
And there’s membership in the tribe. And how do you get membership? You start to understand the rules of the tribe and where things sit inside that particular tribe. That’s what you’re trying to uncover. So if you want to be less smarmy, be interested in other people and don’t worry about the outcomes that you want long-term, worry about the short term outcomes. How do I serve this person in this interaction and create enough value that I can explain to them the value I’ll trade for them on the next meeting.
So when I say, “Drew, I’d like to get together and collaborate with you on what some solutions might look like. And at the end of that, you’re going to have a better idea of some things that you could consider. You’ll have a better idea of what some of these things might cost. And you’ll have a better idea of some of the trade-offs that we might make together.” So no matter what, at the end of that meeting, you may not be prepared to make any decision, but you’re going to have a lot of things that we can talk through and consider, “Does that work for you?” I’m going to ask, I’m going to tell you, “This is what you’re getting out of this collaboration.” So you’re hearing, I’m going to know more. I’m going to understand what the trade-offs are, and I’ll probably have some idea of an investment. Okay. That sounds like an interesting meeting to have.
Right. So I know that you had talked about that the funnel itself, the linear nature of the funnel. One of the things that I talk about when we talk about agency sales is that, however you draw the funnel, it’s not just one way. People don’t just drop down in the funnel. They swim back up and they swim around in a circle and they might stay in the same spot for 10 years. Somebody said to me, the other day, they said, “What’s the average sales cycle for an agency?” And I said, “Well, a day or a decade, somewhere in there.” And for some agencies that really… somebody is not in a position to buy or they’re in the middle of a long contract. So how do you recommend if somebody knows their sales cycle is a couple of years long, at least, how do you recommend that they stay top of mind and continue to provide value for that prospect? So I’m going to stop you there for a second because I know everyone wants the answer. So let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back and Anthony will ask that question.
If you’ve been listening to the podcast for awhile, odds are, you’ve heard me mention the AMI peer networks or the agency owner network. And what that is really is, is it’s a Vistage group or an EO group, only everybody around the table owns an agency in a non-competitive market. So as a membership model, they come together twice a year for two days in the spring and two days in the fall. And they work together to share best practices. They show each other their full financials. So there’s a lot of accountability. We bring speakers in and we spend a lot of time problem solving around the issues that agency owners are facing. If you’d like to learn more about it, go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/network. Okay, let’s get back to the show.
All right. We are back with Anthony Iannarino and we are talking about sales. And so before the break I had said to him, sale cycle for agency is super long, a day to a decade. How do we stay top of mind? How do we continue to add value? How do we continue to help for as long as it takes for that prospect to be ready to buy? So I’m now just going to shut up and learn.