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Join us as we discuss some of the excellent themes in Jim’s book, Selling with a Servant Heart. Ten Lessons on the Path to Joy and Increased Income.
One of my mentors introduced me to the concept of “Servant Leadership” decades ago and I had to hear about how it relates to selling. You don’t want to miss this one!
Servant heart sellers get to the point of trust very quickly– they come in armed with great questions— they do their homework and they approach people with humility. They have an attitude of service and curiosity. They practice acute listening and know how to tell people what they really need to hear… they know how to never be a commodity….this and so much more.
Listen in now, read below, or watch the video!
Matt: All right. Well, welcome everyone to another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. I am your host, Matt Heinz. Thank you very much for joining us.
Jim: Oh my gosh. Thank you, Matt. I’m so privileged to be here.
Matt: So this topic, as we mentioned, as we were talking about before, very important to me, one of my early mentors, I recognized him as a servant leader before he told me there was a book about that. And he followed somewhat of a methodology and to this day, he’s still someone I look up to, that I think really lives that. I think whether you’re running a company or whether you’re just an individual contributor, there’s an opportunity to be the servant leader. And if you take that servant leadership opportunity and you apply that to selling, that’s something I definitely want to talk about and make sure other people hear about as well. So tell us a little bit of your story and background and how you came to really focus on this.
Jim: 30 years ago, I started a company that went from broke all the time to broke only some of the time to we had a wonderful run and we do sales training and revenue development for TV stations around the country. I think this year that company will serve about 82 television stations and 82 different markets around the country and a big on-demand platform. We had a wonderful run. I hired a CEO about a year and a half ago, and she decided, brilliantly, that I had control issues and that I needed to move aside. And one day in some quiet time (I try to get quiet every morning), I got the idea for the title of this book. I wrote it down and the title of the book’s called Selling With a Servant Heart.
And a couple of days later, like you do Matt, I’ve got some trusted friends. And I reached out to a couple of those friends and said, “what do you think about this?” And I got the reaction that was your reaction when you introduced me and “just, wow, that’s pretty cool”. My experience was in media–30 years of training advertising salespeople, and I wanted to write a book that was broader than that. And so I went out and interviewed 35 of some of the most incredible salespeople that I’ve ever met in my life in a of different businesses. Everything from people who sell RVs, one guy sells more RVs personally than I think 90% of the RV dealerships do. It’s an amazing story. To financial advisors, to people in consumer goods, to people selling insurance, all kinds of different products.
And what I was trying to figure out was what do they do differently? It’s really interesting. I didn’t really know much about Robert Greenleaf’s work. He wrote the Servant Leadership book. And I went to one or two workshops where it was talked about, and like you, it was aspirational to me. I had certainly had some experience with leaders who were that way, but I became more familiar with the book as I interviewed some of these sellers and just really said, “what do they do?” And it’s exactly what Greenleaf describes, which is in fact, the first chapter of the 10 lessons I distilled from these interviews is, I work for them. And in servant leadership, a servant leader believes that the people in our company, that I work for the people in our company. It flips the top-down command and control paradigm. And in many ways that’s what servant sellers do. They have an extraordinary commitment not just to customers– because I think that can become cliche-ish– but to outcome.
They’re obsessed by, “can I get the right outcome for the customer?
Matt: Doing that well isn’t always saying. It’s not following the customer’s lead. It’s understanding and sometimes asking questions and reframing problems. And it sounds very challenger-esque if you’re familiar with the Challenger Customer.
Jim: Big fan of that book. In fact, one of the 10 lessons that I wrote was the customers not always right.
That doesn’t mean that I’m disrespectful in any way, but I have a responsibility if I have a servant heart. So if I’m committed to that customer, I have a responsibility to lovingly and gently share with them when I think what they’re doing may not make the most amount of sense and be the best investment of their money.
Matt: So let’s dig in. Because we’re consultants, right? So we’re working with clients and it’s, we are the product. And especially with people that are earlier in their career, it can be daunting to say, “I think we should do this differently”. So I’m curious, obviously if you build a reputation of trust and credibility and empathy and respect, you have an environment to be able to respectfully say, “I think there’s a different way of doing that”. But how does someone who hasn’t done it, who might be scared to think about having to disagree with a client, how do you go about doing that?
Jim: Well, first of all, I think one of the mistakes I see a lot of sellers make is they base things too much just on their opinion and their gut instincts rather than really on a deep understanding of the business issues that that customer is facing. So I’m sure that, Matt like us, we teach and have taught forever the power of really in depth diagnosis. Servant heart sellers take that to another level. You know I’m sure another speaker colleague of mine, Rory Vaden, who’s built a very successful business. And Rory talked about, interestingly by the way, Rory and a number of the other people I interviewed said that this was not their default. Being a servant heart seller was not their natural way to be.
And I find that a lot. I think probably, for me, it was not at first my natural way to be. I loved every seminar I ever went on closing. I know 17 ways to close the sale. But I think to go back to your question, I think that servant heart sellers practice what Rory Vaden calls acute listening. Which is listening so intently, not listening just to ask the next question, but listening to hear the answer. Friend of mine, this is a great insight, produced a 60 minutes like show and he said, when they were interviewing bad guys or people they were interviewing for an interview, they got the most compelling sound after the answer was given. Instead of rushing right in to ask the next question, shut up. Nature abhors a vacuum. They’ll keep talking and they’ll sometimes give you the most interesting stuff. Once I really have a clear understanding of the business issues, when I express disagreement with the customer, it’s not my opinion. I guess it is at some level, but it’s always, “you said this was the issue and here’s what I think might be a better way to solve that”. And I think we can’t just say “no”, we have to say “no and here’s what might be the better alternative”.
Matt: Well, I heard a couple things you said there. One was just knowing enough about the business and their issues to be able to ground it in that, which I think is really important. I think also coming and doing something that is evidence based versus just your opinion. And you could argue, and that way you’re not arguing about your opinion. You could debate whether the evidence is valid or important. And I think that approach for someone who may be early in a relationship with someone or doesn’t have a long standing set of trust and credibility with someone, you still come across as immediately [inaudible 00:09:12], it sounds like you’ve done your homework. It sounds like you’ve thought about this versus just spouting off.
Jim: You just said something really important. In fact, as you said it I thought, I don’t think you have to be working with a client for a year or two to develop trust.
I think that servant heart sellers get to trust pretty quickly. Because even before they go in to do their diagnosis, they’re coming in armed with questions that are really significant business questions. It’s no longer, how long have you had your company and all the other stuff. I mean, frankly years ago, I trained people to ask all those questions.
You better know that today before you walk in and you better know a lot more than the that. And so it is doing your homework. I think if you do your homework and if you come in with humility, one of the things I wrote in this book is that it really struck me as I interviewed these people that humility is a sales word. And that humility means what? That I don’t have the answers. That I don’t think I know everything. And that I go in with an attitude of service and curiosity. And that, I think, allows me to get to a point of trust way faster than about 90% of the sellers do.
Matt: Selling With a Servant Heart, comes out December 7th is available and you can pre-order it now on Amazon. I highly recommend this book. I think if you’re an individual contributor, if you’re an individual seller, you’re going to benefit from this… also leaders of a company, but also someone who’s working with leaders of teams. We work with a lot of chief marketing officers, chief revenue officers. How do you go about taking the idea of being a servant seller and creating servant selling culture? What are some elements to make that happen?
Jim: Such a great question. And I actually wrote the 10 lessons and then realized that I needed to write material for managers after I wrote the 10 lessons for exactly that reason.
One of my favorite lines ever, Neil Dempster, colleague of mine in the National Speaker Association says “when a ship misses the harbor, it’s seldom the harbor’s fault”. So you know, you’re never going to pick up the paper and say plane crash in Tampa, passenger error. So the role of leadership in establishing a culture, and I think I there’s so much that we could talk about with that alone, do a whole another show about that, but I would say two things.
One is people don’t do what you expect they’re going to do. They watch you. One of my earliest bosses said, “Jim, if you want people to come in at 8:30, you need to be here at 8:15. You can’t come walking in at 8:45.” If I want to create a culture of servant selling, then I have to personally be a servant seller and evolve to that. And not always make that instantly. The other thing that I learned from the interviews in this book is that the leaders of servant heart sellers have to understand that these people will sometimes forget who they work for. They’re so committed to customers that they’ll sometimes fight with you. And if you totally reject what they believe is the right thing for the customer, they’ll find another place to work. But you also sometimes have to remind them that, hey, you’ve got two bosses here, the customer is your boss and we sign your paychecks. And so can we make this work in a way that’s right for both of us?
Matt: Yeah. I love it. And I think it’s so important. It’s such an important approach that so many people can take. Earlier today we were doing a webinar with a company, we were talking about just something as tactical as following up with leads from an event. And a lot of times you do the event, you invest all this time in the event, you want to go right for the kill and you want to say, “what kind of pipeline came out of this, right?” And so, I know a lot of companies struggle with how to sell with a servant mentality or how to build value and be a credible sort of ambassador for the customer and how that sometimes conflicts with the idea that I still have to make my number. I need to try to hit my number. I need to try to get some deals across the line. How do you help people put those two ideas together and see that they can, in fact, be symbiotic. You can hit your number and still be a servant seller.
Jim: Not only that, if you looked at the people I interviewed for this book, they blow away their numbers. The first word in the title is selling. I mean, I love selling. This is a book about selling, but it’s about selling with a different approach. So I think the thing as a leader is, as I led sales organizations, I used to believe that budget had to be a standard because we live in the real world. You know, we have companies, we have financial expectations. But if budget is your only standard, here’s what you end up with. I’m in a conversation with a group of sales managers, we’re talking about team members and one of them is pushing back, “I don’t think he’s that great.”
And somebody else is saying, “But he is, he is, he is Tom.” “Well,” Tom said, “why do you say that?” “Well, he’s making budget.” And my friend Tom said, one of my favorite lines. He said, “Budget, hell,” he said, “If they were bad last year, and they’re 10% over bad this year, we call them good.” Well, so budget, can’t be your only standard by which you judge. I’ll share one quick story. Justin Gurney, I met him through a referral and interviewed him for this book. This guy had what would be a dream job for me, he worked for the NBA. He oversaw ticket sales on all their teams. His job was to bring best practices to all of the NBA, National Basketball Association, teams. So you probably Matt have gotten the calls that I’ve gotten from major league teams trying to sell you tickets or suites or right?
And he said, 90% of the sales effort is dialing for dollars. To your point about how do I follow up on a pipeline of leads? And if you’ve opened an email from us, we’re going to call you probably quicker. He said, but in every one of the NBA teams, there was an outlier. The outlier did it differently. The outlier spent time with the customer. How would you use this suite? What kinds of entertaining would you do? Where do you think you could have the best benefit? He said two things he learned. Guess who the most successful sellers were in almost every one of those teams?
It was the outlier. Why? They had found the need, they built the relationship, they built the trust. And he went on, when I interviewed him, he was doing, running suite sales for the New Jersey Devils. You talk about a tough job, the pandemic– you’re not playing hockey, your team shut down. A lot of teams laid off their sales staff. The Devils kept theirs and they continued to write business with a building that wasn’t open and a team that wasn’t playing, because of that kind of relationship. I was always the go-out-and-make-a-hundred-calls-guy. And I think today I’d rather have you make 10 great calls.
Matt: Yeah. Well, and I think when you can invest in that, in building that trust and credibility, when people see the authenticity that comes across in this type of an approach, and it also can I think become an incredible competitive differentiator, right? I mean, someone else can have 12 more features or whatever they have, but if they believe that you have their best interest at mind, talk about that as a short and long term competitive advantage for companies and sellers.
Jim: You know, I’m sure that you in your consulting work deal with this issue all the time, which is the increasing commoditization of all products and services. And the last lesson that I came out of this book with is, I refuse to be a commodity. Dave Wall is the guy I mentioned who’s the RV salesperson. He sells these million dollar, $2 million coaches. The guy is incredible. He’s got a 60% repeat business and 30% referral. When your churn is virtually nonexistent, that sets a base that it causes you to have a lot of good years in a row. He is so incredibly focused on serving the customer and his coaches are typically $500,000 more than his closest competitor. So when he talks about it, it’s not just customer service, he knows his product cold. He knows how to explain the differences between the coaches. And he knows, he spends more time in the beginning trying to find out from his customer, how are you going to use this coach? Where do you plan to do it? Will you be on the road a lot, or will it be parked for long periods of time? And in the course of doing that, I had a client of mine, this was a tough client, my client of our consulting business. He was the guy referred me to Dave. And I was like, man, if he’s impressed by Dave, he’s got to be good, because I don’t think he was ever impressed by me (no, he was). But he just, he went on and on and on about this guy. And that’s how you stop being a commodity.
Matt: That’s amazing. This has been awesome. Thank you so much for your time. If anyone wants to learn more about Jim, go to www.servantsellingbook.com. You can preorder a copy of the book there, it’s available on Amazon of course as well. There’s an excerpt available for free. You can also, you can check out Jim’s blog and sign up for his newsletter. Lots of great tips on an ongoing basis. Check it out. Jim, thanks again so much for doing this with us.
Jim: Oh, thank you, Matt. This was so much fun.
Matt: Awesome. Well, thanks everyone for watching and listening, appreciate your time. We’ll be back next week, every week, 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern, on Thursdays.