Episode 383: Getting beyond the “no” in the sales process with Richard Fenton

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Sales — the dreaded word that most of us cringe when we think about it. It brings up thoughts of manipulation, forced conversations, and fear of rejection. It’s one of those necessary evils that come with being a business owner that’s essential if you want to keep growing.

For many of us, we fear hearing the word “no.” Once it’s out there, we drop the conversation, take the loss, and move on. But if you want to sell effectively AND create a pleasant sales experience for yourself and your prospects, you must rethink your sales strategy.

Today, I’m talking with Richard Fenton, a seasoned expert in all things sales prospecting, selling styles, and getting to the other side of the “no.” It didn’t always come naturally to him, but after a long time in the business, he’s learned that an initial rejection can be a huge win later in the sales process.
Whether you like sales or not, you have to get better at it to keep new clients coming through the door. So join us to learn how you can rethink your sales process and become a better salesperson, even if it doesn’t come naturally.

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.
sales process

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Richard’s “aha” moment that made him rethink sales forever
  • Why “no” isn’t the end of the sales process
  • The four types of salespeople and the one we should all strive to be
  • The intersection of caring about relationships and caring about results
  • Why you need to ask better questions in the sale process
  • Getting a prospect to know, like, and trust you
  • Staying in touch even after an initial rejection
  • The reason sales has gained such a bad reputation
  • How to sell without being manipulative or shark-like

“No is something you pass through on your way to yes. You don't avoid no; you actually seek it. You embrace it.” Richard Fenton Share on X
“Every time we take something personally, we become less effective in the process of serving that customer.” Richard Fenton Share on X
“When average people hear the word no, they think the process is over. When top performers hear the word no, they think things are just getting started.” Richard Fenton Share on X
“The way you get people to know, like, and trust you, is to focus the conversation on them rather than on yourself.” Richard Fenton Share on X
“The more we share, the more they believe in us, the more they know about us, the more sold they are. So, sharing is very important.” Richard Fenton Share on X

Ways to contact Richard:

Resources:



Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want, down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency, coming to you of course from Agency Management Institute. Happy to be back with you today. I have been on the road for the last three weeks teaching workshops down in Orlando, and it’s great to be back home. If you’re watching the video version of this, you’re going to see the dogs passing through probably, but it’s nice to be home and back on track to have some great conversations that will help you and us have a great 2023. And my guest this week is no exception, I think you’re really going to enjoy the conversation.

Before I tell you a little bit about him, as promised, I want to tell you about some of the speakers that are going to be at the Build a Better Agency Summit. So one of the speakers is actually a podcast guest, probably it was three or four years ago he was on the show. His name is Kris Kelso. And Kris wrote a book all about imposter syndrome, and it was brilliant.It talked about why we all suffer from imposter syndrome, how we can move past it, what are some things that trigger it, and really how it gets in our way of being our most successful best self. And the fact that while it is very natural and real for all of us, there are some coping mechanisms and solutions to move that aside when you feel it coming on.

So he’s going to be one of the breakout speakers at the summit this year, and teaching super practical, tangible things that you can do to take hold of that imposter and move them out of your way so you could be super successful in all aspects of your life. I don’t think imposter syndrome just shows up in our work, I think it shows up in all kinds of places, in our parenting and with our spouses and at home, and maybe even with our folks or our extended family, our friends, certainly. So it is a reality in all of our lives, and the more we can tamp it down and control it, the less barriers we have to being the best version of ourselves. So he’s a great guy, super personable, tells great stories, and I think if you join us at the summit, which, of course, is May 16th and 17th in Chicago, you can enjoy his expertise and his advice.

Remember, if you’re an AMI member at any level, so Silver, Gold, Platinum, or in one of the peer groups, you can join us for Family Day on the 15th. And so that’s an extra half a day of content just for our members. So anyway, if you’re interested, head over to the website, grab a ticket. It’s the very first button on the navigation on the top of this site. It says BABA Summit. Grab that, click that and then register. And when you do, don’t forget to grab your hotel room because that room block will sell out. So we got a great rate on rooms and I don’t want you to have to pay a penny more than you need to.

So let me tell you a little bit about our guest. So Richard Fenton wrote a book in 2010 called Go For No! with a co-author. And actually, his co-author was on the podcast many years ago talking about that book. It actually hit Amazon’s best seller list in 2010 and remained in the top 50 of sales books for about the last 13 years. It’s really good. It really takes the idea of how we sell and how we react to a prospect’s responses and turns it on its head. So they’ve got a new book coming out in February called When They Say No. What do we do when we get a no?

So I wanted to make sure that I had Richard or his co-author back to join us again and to talk about that new book and some of the things that they have learned in studying this and how no often isn’t a no, and what we do to get past the no and come back to a future conversation. Interesting, Richard, not only does he write business books, but he also has an 11 book paranormal thriller series that he writes under a pen name. So clearly a prolific author and a pretty smart guy, and I’m excited for you guys to meet him. So let’s get to it. Richard, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Richard Fenton:

Hey, Drew, great to be here.

Drew McLellan:

So sales, for most of my audience, this is not their favorite thing. So when they get a no, they are not excited. So tell me how you and your co-author decided to tackle this topic first in 2010 with your first book When They Say No, and then now again with your brand-new book that’s just coming out. What was it, What No Means, right?

Richard Fenton:

It was Go For No! was the first book.

Drew McLellan:

Go For No! Right. And then When They Say No is the new one.

Richard Fenton:

When They Say No is the new one that’s coming out. Well, first off, I share something probably very much in common with most of the people in your audience, and that is that I hate to sell. And most people who think that the person who’s written the book Go For No! And has done sales training for over 700 different companies over the last 20 years would just have to be somebody who’s conquered sales and has no fear of failure or rejection and just loves to get on the phone. And none of that, none of that is true. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is I came from a background where my father was the quintessential sales natural. He was a legend in the automotive fleet industry, number one seller of General Motors product in their history.

Drew McLellan:

Wow.

Richard Fenton:

And I worked for him for a couple of years, and one day he calls me into the office and says, “Hey, it’s time to join the big boys.” And I said, “Well, what does that mean?” He goes, “You’re going in sales. I got the office set up for you downstairs. Your phone is hooked up, your business cards are printed.” He goes, “And I left a phone book on the middle of the desk for you to make cold calls. Look for prospects and make calls.” Well, Drew, I had no sales experience whatsoever. I went down to this new office in my new role and sat there for 30 days and didn’t dial the phone once because I could tell just by looking at the names printed in the phone book that it was the wrong psychological moment to interrupt these people. I had a fear of failure, for rejection.

Drew McLellan:

Waiting the perfect moment, right.

Richard Fenton:

Yeah, exactly. And I just didn’t think my message, “Hey, my name is Richard Fenton. I wanted to sell you some cars.” Was as important as whatever else it was that those people were doing at that time. So I had to go back to my dad, tell him that I couldn’t sell, and he took it surprisingly well. He said, “Come on in here, let’s make some calls.” Well, I’m dating myself a little bit here. Let’s make some calls, was he was making calls, I was sitting on the other side of the desk listening to half the conversation on a speakerphone.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right. Right.

Richard Fenton:

And he dials, he finds a prospect, ABC Rent a Car, dials their number, gets the purchasing agent on the phone, and he says, “Hey, hand me that yellow legal pad.” And I slide it across the desk. He starts writing and he says, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Takes about six weeks, right? We invoice you? Yes, looking forward to doing business with you too.” He hangs up the phone, he holds up the yellow legal pad, and he goes, “Here, ABC wants to buy 20 cars, 10 Malibus, 10 Impalas. Just mix up the colors and the interiors.” And he hands me the pad and he goes, “That’s selling.”

Drew McLellan:

Oh dear.

Richard Fenton:

I know. So I took the yellow legal pad, I stood up, walked across the room, shut the door behind me, and that was the moment I decided to quit the car business. Because I knew I couldn’t do what I had just watched my father do. At least I didn’t think I could. And I don’t say I quit the car business as a laugh line. I quit the car business. I didn’t know how I was going to survive in my father’s sales legend shadow. So I moved out to Los Angeles. Interestingly, I took a job in sales, but this time it was a job in retail sales. I took a job selling suits for a living. And I figured in retail, it’s got to be easier, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, they walk in the door.

Richard Fenton:

Yeah, just walk in the door. You say, “Hi, how can I help you?” They tell you what you want. You get it. You sell it to them. And imagine my surprise for two months into this new job I’m failing again. And I’ve been warned. They say, “Hey, if you don’t get your sales up, we’re going to have to let you go.” I didn’t want to go back to Chicago. That was for sure. So I was praying for a miracle, and the miracle happened in the form of a guy named Harold, who was the district manager for that company. He came into the store, we had donuts and coffee. Store opened up, I walked up to the first customer, said, “Hi, how can I help you?” And he proceeds to tell me he wants to buy an entire wardrobe of clothing. And I thought, “This is it. This is my magical moment. I’m going to show them what a great salesperson I can be.” For the next half hour, I took care of this man. He bought a suit, sport coat, slacks, shirts, tie shoes, socks, belt, underwear, collar pin, pocket squares, I mean, it was the entire wardrobe of clothing.

Came to $1,100, which doesn’t sound like much in today’s money, but we’re going back a ways. And rang him up, sent him on his way. And I came back in and waited for Harold to tell me what a fantastic salesperson I was. And he didn’t say anything. So I kind of worked my way towards him until we were standing side by side at the cash register. And finally he threw me a bone. He said, “That was a nice sale kid.” And I said, ‘”Yeah, man, did you see that? $1,100. That was a good one.” He said, “Yeah.” Then there was this moment of silence, and then he proceeded to ask me the question that would change the course of my life. He said, “Out of curiosity though, Richard, can you tell me what did that customer say no to?” And it kind of set me back on my heels. It made me a little angry, actually. I’ve just had this great sale, and this guy’s asking me this very strange question, “What do you mean what did he say no to?” I said, “Did you not see?”

Drew McLellan:

Right. He bought it all.

Richard Fenton:

He bought it all, suit, sport coat, slacks. And he goes, “Whoa, time out. I’m not asking you what he said yes to.” He goes, “That’s already been decided. It’s right there on the sales check. Because what I’m asking you is, what did he say no to?” And when I stopped being defensive and I reviewed the sale in my mind from beginning to end, I realized that that customer hadn’t said no to anything. Every single thing I laid in front of that guy, he said yes to. I said, “Harold, he said yes to everything.” And then Harold asked me the other great question. He said, “Well, how did you know he was done?” And I’ll tell you how I knew he was done. I was a young guy, mid-twenties, I wasn’t making a lot of money. The idea of going into a men’s wear store, I had never spent $1,000 on clothing on myself in a men’s wear store in my life. So the idea that someone would come in and spend $2,000 or $5,000 or $10,000 was so far outside of my consciousness that I hadn’t even considered it.

Then he said, finally, thank God, he said, “I watched you sell, and you’re not half bad. But your fear of the word no is going to kill you.” And then he said, “But you know what? I think if you can just get over that.” He said, “I think you’re going to be one of the great ones.” And I went home that night and I thought, “Is it possible that I screwed up the entire concept of what I thought my job was? I thought my job was to talk with people and do everything I could within my power to get them to say yes to me? Is it possible that this guy is right, that maybe it’s my job to get people to say no to me more often and let the yeses happen freely and easily and stress free, and with the right customer at the right time, with the right product, without trying to force something or pressure people or manipulate? Is it possible to just get people to say no more? And then is that possible?”

So I went in the next day with the express intent to fail my way to success. That’s what I decided to do, and it worked. All I can say is that the model I had been working with in my head, that yeses on one side and nos on the other. And I thought my job was to get to yes and avoid no. And what Harold got me to see was that actually I’m over here, no is in the middle, yes, is on the far side. And no is something you pass through on your way to yes. You don’t avoid no, you actually seek no. You embrace it. You realize that every time you hear the word no, that you’re not going in the wrong direction, that you’re actually making progress. That story and experience was so profound to me that I carried it in every job I ever had. I carried it through sales and sales management, and as a training director for Hart Schaffner Marx clothing, and later on for LensCrafters. And everywhere I went, and no matter who I worked with, it had an impact and it made their sales better and their life easier. So that’s really the genesis of all of this. Andrea and I met, my co-author and wife, which is another story which I’ll get to later-

Drew McLellan:

Another sales job, right?

Richard Fenton:

Yeah, a big sales job. Let’s just say that. So it changed both of our lives because we’ve embraced this very simple concept that you have to go for no. You don’t avoid it. You go for it. And the more nos you hear, the more likely you are to make more sales.

Drew McLellan:

And by accepting the fact that no is part of the sales process, that’s the thing everybody’s afraid of, is getting the no. And to your point, they think of it as the end as opposed to just it’s somewhere in the middle of the process and sooner or later you move past it. But when you remove that fear, that defines failure. And really, it’s just actually all it means is you’re one step closer. So you’re actually succeeding by getting the know. It does allow people who are not natural salespeople, who don’t love it, who are really doing it because it’s a necessary part of their job, it allows them to recognize that it’s not a failure. And they are succeeding by continuing the conversation to and through the no.

Richard Fenton:

Absolutely. And not to take it personally, not to assume that you’ve done something wrong or that you’re a bad person or you’re a bad salesperson because the person is saying no to you. It’s not a personal rejection. So many people take it personally. And we like to laugh, we like to say Baskin Robbins, 31 flavors, could you imagine a customer walks in is and says, “I’d like a scoop of vanilla.” And the pecan caramel fudge goes, “Oh, they rejected me.” Well, no, because the next customer’s going to want the pecan caramel fudge. It has nothing to do with the flavors. It has to do with customer preference. It has to do with timing. It has to do with whether the product’s too big, too small, too yellow, too blue, too expensive, too cheap, just timing, period. Too early, too late. All of these things play factors, and none of them have anything to do with you.

Drew McLellan:

Or are in our control for the most part.

Richard Fenton:

Absolutely. So every time we take something personally, we become less effective in the process of serving that customer.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah. So talk a little bit about the premise of the new book. So when we get a no, what happens next? Or what does it mean, or how should we interpret it?

Richard Fenton:

Well, first off, a question that people have to ask is when they get a no, is it really a no? A lot of times people will say, “I sent an email to the person, and they didn’t respond. They said no to me.” They didn’t say no to you. You don’t even know if they read the email. You don’t even know if they saw the email. Maybe their assistant looked at it and hit delete. You have no idea whether that is a no or not. So we tend to have this assumption that we make all the time that people are saying no to us. I think most people react to it when they hear the word no, they think it’s the end of the process.

Drew McLellan:

Right. The door has closed, right?

Richard Fenton:

Yeah, exactly. And Andrea and I shot a movie about 10 years ago called the Go For No! movie. We traveled around the country, interviewed 53 top performers, big name people, a lot of people making $1 million a year or more. And we pulled into Santa Barbara, one of our last stops, and we were unloading all the camera equipment. And the valet says, “What are you doing?” And we explained that we were shooting this movie. He said, “Oh my God, that sounds amazing.” He goes, “Can you sum up what you learned in a sentence or two?” Now, we had just done 53 hours of video with amazing content, and now this guy says, “Can you sum it up in a sentence or two?” And I was just ready to say, “You can’t…” And it hit me like a lightning bolt. And I realized I could sum it up. I said, “When average people hear the word no, they think the process is over. When top performers hear the word no, they think things are just getting started.” That is, at its essence, the big change in mindset.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I love that. I love that. So I think the other part, not getting a response is one way we interpret a no and perhaps isn’t one. I think another one is when you’ve been having conversations with folks and all of a sudden they stop returning phone calls or emails or texts or whatever, so they’re ghosting you, and you assume that that’s the end of it, right?

Richard Fenton:

Yeah. And would say that that is more likely to be a no than it would be to never get into a conversation with the person at all. But then again, making the assumption that just because you’re not getting a return… I’ll give an example. A few years back, we were approaching Discovery Channel stores, and I had sent a package to the vice president, a guy named Frank, and didn’t hear anything. And then I sent another package, didn’t hear anything. I left him voicemails, didn’t hear anything. Finally, I sent a letter, he writes back and says, “Hey, I’d like to talk.” Then I can’t get him on the phone. And this goes on, this contact goes on, now, are you ready? 17 times for almost three years, we’re back and forth and back and forth, every quarter. And I just said, “Hey, this no, might mean no. And it might mean never. But until the man says, ‘No, I’m not going to hire you. We don’t want you to come here and speak. We don’t need your product or service at our company.’ I’m just going to keep contacting h