How do you make sales less pushy and more authentic? Penny Zenker has someone who has the answer. She brings over to the show, Nikki Rausch, the CEO of Sales Maven, an organization dedicated to authentic selling. With her unique ability to transform the misunderstood process of selling, Nikki provides us the techniques and strategies to sell without being salesy and, instead, create the right connections with prospects and build relationships. She further shares some pointers on how to do the sales conversation properly to make a bigger impact in the world and help people get what they need, want, and desire. Tune into this episode to learn more about Nikki’s sales process, how she moves people through it, and sell successfully.
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Authentic Selling: Putting Relationships First To Sales With Nikki Rausch
We’ve got another great expert for you. Nikki Rausch is here with us and she is the CEO of Sales Maven, an organization dedicated to authentic selling. She has the unique ability to transform the misunderstood process of selling. She has 25 years of experience selling to such prestigious organizations as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, and NASA. She has shattered sales records in many industries receiving multiple top producer awards along the way. Entrepreneurs and small business owners from a wide range of disciplines hire her to show them how to sell successfully and authentically without being pushy or salesy. Her three popular books are available on Amazon. Her podcast, the Sales Maven, can also be found on your favorite podcast platform. Nikki, welcome.
Thanks for having me.
First, why do you love sales? Obviously, you bleed sales. What’s got your passion up there?
I love people, conversation and relationships. I have found that in sales, when you put the relationship first, when you make rapport the priority, the process gets easier. I have a servant’s heart. I like to help people and to make a difference in people’s lives. I see selling as a way to help people get whatever it is they want, need, desire and do it in a way that feels good to them and is effective. That’s why I love sales.
Sometimes you can tell in somebody’s tone and their demeanor through that servant heart. That’s why you’re successful at what you do. It’s because people want to feel that level of care and attention.
In our society, we are hungry to have connection. We want to give our hard-earned dollars to people who treat us like real people, not like dollar signs, who care about us, and who are invested in our success. I teach people how to be more strategic in the sales conversation so that they can make a bigger impact in the world. I help more people get what they say, need, want, and desire.
There is this stigma for salespeople. We all know that sleazy salesperson and you want to quickly get them to do their pitch and go away. A lot of people that I’ve come across who are in sales don’t like to be called a salesperson because of that. How do you deal with that stigma that’s out there?
Selling is a way to help people get whatever they want, need, or desire, and do it in a way that feels good to them. Click To Tweet It’s funny that you say that because I remember when I was starting my business and I was trying to decide what the name of my company was going to be. I had multiple people say, “You cannot put sales in the name of your business. Nobody will hire you,” because people are like, “Sales, it’s icky and gross.” I was adamant about this fact that I do think that every single entrepreneur needs to embrace this idea that sales is very much a part of the job. It’s like anything. There are lots of things that can be used for good and bad. That’s the yin and yang. Showing up and doing it and selling it in a way that serves the other person, makes it possible for them to make a decision.
I don’t believe in trying to convince people or change somebody’s mind or make somebody feel bad or shame them into buying from you. When somebody has an experience with me in the selling process, I want them to walk away and go, “She’s legit and she cares about me. She was interested in me as a person and wanting to make whatever my problem was go away or help me or assist me in some way.” It becomes even more obvious when somebody is doing it well than when somebody is doing it from this place of trying to manipulate or making it all about them. It shines like a brighter light on. There is a difference between somebody who’s selling with authenticity and somebody who is selling with care versus somebody who’s trying to get one over on you or get that sale made and doesn’t care if you get anything out of it.
What you made me think of there is it’s almost not selling. It’s problem solving. I might be mixing two different things, but that was the first thing. That’s what I took from what you were saying there. If you take on the role of a problem solver, that gives you totally different feelings. It makes you feel good when you solve somebody’s problem and you help them to solve their problem. It’s that idea of the icky salesperson and the opposite. I think there are some good people and they mean well. They get obsessed with the sale versus the problem. What would you say to that? I don’t think they’re bad people. Their focus is just in the wrong place.
I find that a lot of times when somebody shows up and you have this yucky experience with somebody, it’s not because they’re necessarily a bad person. That’s not necessarily the case. Usually, it’s because somebody somewhere said, “This is how you’re supposed to sell.” They’re trying to do it like somebody else told them. That doesn’t work for a lot of people. We can all say we’ve been in good sales situations with somebody who was a little aggressive, but they had a little bit of charm about it. It felt authentic. Even though they might have been a little aggressive, we still enjoyed the banter around it.
We’ve also been in sales situations with somebody who was aggressive that made us feel bad and it felt gross. I oftentimes find that when the sales conversation feels uncomfortable or wrong, it’s because that person is trying to sell like somebody else told them how to do it and it doesn’t work. This is why I often will tell my clients, “I’m not here to teach you how to sell like me. What I’m here to do is teach you how to be more strategic in your sales conversations, how to recognize certain signals that people give, how to use language effectively.”
Ultimately, it’s about issuing invitations for people to take the next step with you. It’s not about convincing or manipulating or anything like that. It’s laying out an offer and giving people the option to say yes or no, “I’m in,” or “I’m out.” Either way is okay as long as you focus on relationship and rapport, then it doesn’t feel gross or icky. Even when they say no, even when you don’t have the right solution for them, or even if they’re not a client that you want to do business with, you can still leave the person feeling good about their interaction with you.
I like that it’s an invitation. I’m sure that based on your experience, because I’ve had a similar experience where I care about the problem-solving and working with the people. You may not make the sale in the moment, but very often they come back later. Maybe it’s not the right timing, but when you treat people right, they remember. When you make an impression, it comes back. I’m sure that you’ve got some examples of that as well.
I can tell you over and over times where people might have said no to me initially, something has changed, and then I leave the conversation. I leave them hopefully in a better place than I found them and feeling good about the interaction with me. It’s comfortable that it’s okay for them to come back. One of the things that can often happen in a sales conversation is if we’re attached to somebody buying from us and then they say no, and then we show any disappointment or we show any resentment over the fact that they don’t get it, “Why don’t they get it? How dare they turn me down?” You leave that other person feeling uncomfortable. It’s hard oftentimes to be in the position of being the buyer or being the client, and having to say no to somebody can be uncomfortable and awkward.
When somebody feels like they want to tell me no, my job is to make it as easy as possible for them to get to the no, to say it and to leave the relationship intact because things change. What I need today, isn’t what I’m going to need next week. What I’m saying no to today, I might say yes to you next week. You’ve got to leave that door open. It’s okay if the time is not yet. Oftentimes, when somebody tells me no, in my mind I go, “This is not yet.” I haven’t moved through the process properly, maybe I skipped a step, or maybe they’re just not an ideal client yet and that’s okay. Leave the door open because I have tons of examples of people who didn’t hire me years ago and now come back and they’re like, “I am 100% in and I’m ready to go. This is the program I want with you. Let’s go.” I’m happy they came back. I’m like, “Let’s go. I’m ready too.”
Those are the types of relationships that we want to create.
I always think that we should be creating ambassadors out in the marketplace for us, especially as entrepreneurs. Nothing holds more credibility than somebody else saying how awesome and amazing you are to work with, and what an impact you made in their life in some way. The people who are out there saying those things about you, the person who’s hearing it, who admires them or they hold them in high regard, all of a sudden that elevates you versus you going out and telling everybody like, “I’m awesome. I’m going to make an impact in your business.” It doesn’t hold as much weight as somebody else saying it. You should be creating ambassadors constantly out in the marketplace of people going like, “I worked with Nikki and these are the results I got. She’s amazing. You can trust her. I trust her. I recommend her.” When people come and are like, “I want to hire you. Do I want this program or that program?” Those are the best clients to earn.
We’re talking about take back time and how we can work smarter, do you have things that you’d say, “This is my shortcut. This is what I do that makes everything easier?”
I’m going to say there’s a lot. In the selling process, one of the ways that I take back time and that I make the selling process easier is I always schedule my next time to talk to the prospect before I leave the meeting. Oftentimes, we have a good conversation with somebody and they say, “I’m going to think about it,” or “I’ll let you know,” and then we go, “Okay.” We then spend a lot of time and energy going, “Should I call them or should I email them? Is today the right day to do it? Should I wait until tomorrow? Should I give it three more days?” That to me is a time suck and energy suck. If you say in the meeting, “You need some time to think about it. Should we go ahead and schedule a circle back call now on our calendars?”
A salesperson’s job is to recommend what you know the client needs, not what you think they can afford. Click To Tweet We get it on the calendar. I don’t have to think about it until right before we’re supposed to talk again. You don’t have to think about it as the client. Maybe you won’t think about it at all until right before we get on the call and then you’ll make a decision, “Yes, I’m ready to hire,” or “No, I’m not.” This idea of always scheduling this next step is how you move people through the sales process. You have to have the next step ready for the client. You have to make it super easy for them to take the next step to save yourself time, energy, and everything that goes into your thought process, what you’re going to spend your time on. I know you’re big on time blocking and where do you put those people on your calendar. It makes the process easier.
That’s time blocking. In essence, a piece of it is to make sure that you are putting the most important things in those appointments and moving people through the sales process is the most important thing. I know you have a proven system that tells people step by step how to move them through their sales process. Are you able to share a little bit of that with us?
I have a five-step process for sales. I call it The Selling Staircase and I believe it’s your job to move a client from step to step, to where you get to the place where you exchange dollars for services. The first step is very conversational between you and another person or prospect and that is introduction step. That’s where you’re being introduced to them or they’re being introduced to you for the first time, and/or they’re being introduced to the concept of the type of work that you do. It could be somebody you’ve known for twenty years that you never even thought like, “I should hire Penny to get some help with time blocking or get some help with how to take back time.” Your job in the step one is to make a powerful first impression. Once you do that, it’s easy to move the client to step two in the process, which is creating curiosity. The idea behind creating curiosity is to give enough information for somebody to go like, “Tell me more about that. What could that be? What’s this? What’s that?”
There are ways to create curiosity. I always compare curiosity to the difference between how you call a dog or how you call a cat, which I know sounds a little crazy. A lot of times when we show up in a sales conversation with a prospect or just in a conversation, we show up sometimes with a dog calling energy. We’re super excited to tell people about things. We tend to word vomit over them. Think about when you call the dog. You do this thing where you’re like, “Come here.” It’s this high pitch and fast pace. When we’re excited about our product or our offer, and we’re excited to get somebody in front of us, we sometimes have some dog calling energy. People don’t respond to dog calling energy. They’re more like, “I’m not a dog. Don’t word vomit all over me.”
The flip side in creating curiosity is how do you call a cat. How you call a cat is you do this thing where you’re like, “Here, kitty.” Sometimes the cat will come to that or sometimes they won’t. What they will usually do is at least look to see, “What are you doing? What’s going on here? Maybe I want to ask one question.” The idea is how you create this “Here, kitty” statements. It’s how you answer questions for instance, because how you answer questions opens the door for further conversation. If you’re out somewhere and somebody says, “Penny, what have you been up to lately?” You could say, “Nothing.” That doesn’t create any curiosity. You could tell me everything you’ve been up to from the start of the month until now, that’s word vomiting. You might plant a little seed like, “I have something exciting that was launched on Apple.”
If you said that to me, I’ll be like, “Tell me more about that. What is that?” That creates an opportunity for you to start to talk about your business, about what your new offer is or about whatever is going on for you. That creates curiosity. Once you’ve created curiosity, usually what happens next, if there’s any interest on the part of the person you’re in conversation with is they start to give you buying signals. Buying signals are verbal or nonverbal cues that lead people to want to know more. When somebody gives you a buying signal, the next step in the selling staircase which is step three is the discovery.
The job of the discovery step is to understand, what’s their problem, need, and want. Make sure you’re asking questions that lead people down that path to hiring you. What I will say in the discovery is you want to make sure you’re not asking questions that you don’t need the answers until they hire you. Ask questions that lead down that path. For instance, one question I always ask in my discovery is, “Do you know how to create curiosity when you’re talking about your products or service?” Why I ask that question is because I teach that. That is something people hire me to do and help them.
It creates interest like, “What do you mean?”
Sometimes in curiosity, we’re like, “Why would I need to do that?” It opens the door. Make sure in your discovery process that you are asking the right questions that lead the path to hiring you. This is a way to establish pretty quickly, “Am I in a conversation with an ideal client or not?” If not, bless and release. Wish them well, move on.
I want to stop you for bless and release. I think that’s important. You had said something about helping people getting to know faster if it is a no, because we don’t need to spend more time on someone who’s not the right fit. I want to point that out for people. You said help people to say no if no is the answer and get there faster, and bless and release. I love that because you added whatever value you did. You created a relationship and release it. Let it go sooner than later if it’s not the right thing. I want to highlight that for people because that’s a big emotional challenge. Most of the time, it’s not that they can’t follow the five steps. It’s the emotional challenges that keep us from doing each of those and doing them well.
Sometimes in discovery or if we were talking to somebody and we’re like, “They’re not the right person for us.” I’m going to try to be this enormous resource and word vomit every other resource they could go, and then it puts you at this weird place. Now, you’re in this place where you gave all this free advice and, does that help somebody? Are they going to use it? There are all these things that happen. Also, speaking to what you are teaching about productivity. It’s my belief that a well-done discovery can be done in 30 minutes or less. If you’re taking 45 minutes to an hour to do a discovery, you’re not asking the right questions, you’re not controlling the conversation in a way that makes it easy for the client and easy for you to assess, “Is this somebody I want to spend more time with or not?”
It shouldn’t take that long. Once I’ve done a great discovery and I have an idea that this is somebody that I might be able to help in some way, how I move to step four is by issuing that invitation. I do it in the form of asking permission. I might say to them, “Based on what you’ve shared with me so far, I do have a way that I think we could work together that’s going to solve this problem for you. Are you interested to hear more about that?” I’m going to ask that permission so that when they say yes, now I do have full permission to go into full-on selling mode. I’m going to lay out the proposal. I’m going to talk about price points, talk about the next step, all of that.
Get their permission and once you’re in the proposal, your job is to recommend what you know the client needs. It’s not what you think they can afford. That’s one of the important caveats there. Recommend what they need, not what you think they can afford. Sometimes those are not the same thing. Recommend with integrity, don’t recommend something that’s crazy expensive just because they don’t know what the prices are or because they say, “I’ll spend anything to get this problem solved.” Recommend what it is that they need. Stand in your place of credibility and yet, don’t be afraid to recommend something that’s a little more expensive than even maybe what they have told you is in their budget. If that’s going to solve their problem, they may very well want to do that with you.
How you move people through the sales process is having the next step ready for the client. Click To Tweet I’m sure that you give some examples. I know that that’s been the case for me too. In the sense of people have a problem and when you’re offering and you know that they only have a budget of so much, but if this is what you’re offering is, don’t be afraid to offer it even if you think they can’t afford it. I’ve had people who came back and I said, “I know this is outside your budget. This is what it is.” They’ve come back and said, “We thought about it, and based on what we’re looking for and whatnot, we pulled the budget from somewhere else so that we could make this happen.” It comes down to priorities and we’re talking about take back time. On one side or the other, the client and the decision making is being made based on what their priorities are. If this problem is a big enough priority, then they may be able to find funding somewhere else.
You make it easy for them to say, yes and/or. With the proposal, step five and step four go close in that. You lay out the proposal and then you issue the close language, and close is step five. An example of close language would be, “Based on what we’ve talked about, my recommendation would be for you guys to bring me in to do this six-week approach to productivity and how to improve this for your employees,” whatever your offer is. You then say, “Is that something you’d like to move forward?” You have to get close language out of your mouth because unless you get close language out of your mouth, they may never make the decision yes or no, or share what their objection is or share whatever that question is that you need to answer in order to earn their business. You lay out the proposal, then you move to step five, you issue the close language. You then zip it and wait until the client responds before you say anything else.
That’s the hardest part, zipping it. If we went through at each stage, I would imagine that there’s a common mistake that people make. At this stage, it’s got to be that they don’t ask for it and they don’t zip it.
Often, we do it because we get nervous. We want the business. We know we can help this person and we’re super excited about working with them. We do what’s called selling past the close and we keep talking. When you keep talking, you never give them the opportunity to make a decision. You confuse them or you overwhelm them with too much information and then they go into this like, “I can’t decide.” It’s decision fatigue or overwhelm.
It even gets annoying. I’ve been on the other side of that and somebody kept selling and I was like, “Forget it.” You’re closing too hard and you already had me. The energy felt weird. You don’t want to talk yourself out of the close.
You never want to sell past the close. It doesn’t serve you. It doesn’t serve the client.
A seasoned salesperson might be saying, “I already asked and zip it.” What at the closing stage do you find is a tip for the seasoned salesperson who says, “I already do that, I already know that?”
I worked with salespeople who have been in sales for six months all the way up to 30 years. The tip that I often say that most of them miss is that they lay out the proposal, they wait, and then the person says, “I’m going to think about it,” or “I’ll let you know next week,” and they say, “Okay.” That’s not the response. If the client says, “I’ll let you know next week,” you say, “Let’s go ahead and schedule something on our calendars now. That way I can answer any questions that you have, and we’ll talk about the best next steps for working together.”
It goes back to your shortcut that you said, which is in every stage of the process, make sure that you’re booking that next communication.
I cannot tell you how many people who consider themselves seasoned sales representatives, and then they miss the step. They go like, “They said they’d call me.” You have to at least offer to do this circle back call. If you don’t at least offer it, you’re never going to get the yes. They might not call you next week because you’re now something on their to-do list. You’re not on their calendar. I feel like we might be in sync with this. I live and breathe my calendar. It doesn’t even exist in the world. If it’s not on the calendar, they may never think about it. They may never come up with a decision and they never get back to you. It’s not because they don’t need you, not because they don’t want you. You keep getting pushed down on their to-do list. I heard this years ago that people die with their to-do list undone. I don’t want to be on somebody’s to-do list and have them kick the bucket and be like, “I was going to hire her next week,” because I didn’t do my due diligence. I didn’t make it easy for them to get what they said they wanted.
What it sounds like to me is it makes the decision more important to them because it’s on the calendar and it comes back to that point, “I’m speeding people to a decision.”
Either way is okay. If the answer is no, I want to get that as quick as possible so I’m not spending a bunch of time and energy on somebody who’s not ready for me, doesn’t see the value in what I do or whatever it is. Bless and release those people. Move on, focus on the people who do want what it is that you offer right now and are ready to pay for it.
I know you have a free gift. I want to give you a chance to offer that to people. Is there anything else that you think is important that you didn’t get to cover?
One thing I will say is that most people don’t do enough invitations. They don’t do enough asking. If there’s somebody out there that you would love to earn their business or you know that you’ve got something that would help them, do not be afraid to reach out and say, “Is there ever a chance that I could earn your business? What would that look like for you?” Do not be afraid to ask because it might not have crossed their mind yet. By you posing the question, it gives their brain an opportunity to go like, “I would hire you if you were able to come in and do this training for my team.” That might be the exact training that you want to do. Never be afraid to reach out to people that you would like to earn their business and let them know.
I always say keep an active list of those people. I used to work with Chet Holmes who called it The Dream 100. We’d have that dream list. I call it the big dogs because you keep feeding the dogs, making those invitations and building a relationship and you never know.
I teach a process I call my Strive Five. Who are those five people right now that you want to connect with and potentially earn their business? I have different Strive Five lists for different types of people. I always find if somebody goes on my Strive Five list, all of a sudden I start putting myself in their world in some way. I start connecting with them in a new way. Pretty soon I’m able to have that conversation. Sometimes it’s a no, but oftentimes it’s a yes.
My mom always taught me, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Tell us, what’s the free gift that you have for everybody and where can people reach you?
The free gift will also get you to where you can reach me too. This is my eBook called Closing the Sale. It talks through a little bit more around the discovery, the proposal, the close and how to build that confidence for yourself in that process. You can get that by going to YourSalesMaven.com/tbt.
Thank you so much, Nikki.
These are important discussions. Nikki said it clearly, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been in sales, this is your first position, you’re getting started, you’re there for 3 or 6 months, or you’ve been in sales for 30 years. When we talk about development, I liken it to karate because there are multiple belts in karate. Even when you get to the black belt, there are multiple levels of black belt. Remember that there’s always a nuance, whether it’s languaging, the way that you question, getting that appointment. Whatever it is, there’s something in here for you to challenge your sales process in what you’re doing and to learn from the expertise and experience for others. Nikki’s brought a lot of great value. Check out her free gift and thank you for being here.
About Nikki Rausch
CEO of Sales Maven, an organization dedicated to authentic selling, Nikki Rausch has the unique ability to transform the misunderstood process of “selling”.
With 25+ years of experience selling to such prestigious organizations as The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, and NASA, Nikki shattered sales records in many industries, receiving multiple “top producer” awards along the way.
Today, entrepreneurs and small business owners from a wide range of disciplines hire Nikki to show them how to sell successfully and authentically, without being pushy or salesy.
Nikki’s three popular books are available at Amazon. And her podcast, Sales Maven, can be found on your favorite podcast platform.
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