Host: Tim Martin
Guest: Anthony Iannarino
Episode 027: Business Acumen
January 3, 2018
Welcome to Success is Voluntary, a podcast devoted to helping you become the salesperson you were always meant to be, where it’s all about helping you learn the techniques and tools that will enable you to win in the increasingly competitive world of voluntary benefits. Welcome your host, a guy who has hired and trained over 2,000 voluntary benefit salespeople in his career, Tim Martin. Success is Voluntary, selling voluntary benefits.
Tim Martin: Yes, my name is Tim Martin, and you are listening to episode number 027 of Success is Voluntary. I am so thrilled the Success is Voluntary podcast is back. As you may have seen on the website, due to threat of termination I have been unable to continue the podcast since 2014. During these four years, I have received over 100 emails and/or phone calls wondering when I might return. I want to thank all of you for your patience and interest in the day this podcast was relaunching. I’m incredibly excited to tell you that that day is today.
I have some very exciting guests coming up this year, including one of my sales training heroes, Anthony Iannarino. Anthony’s podcast titled, In the Arena, was one of my main inspirations for launching Success is Voluntary in the first place. I believe Anthony is one of the smartest sales trainers on the planet, and I am incredibly humbled he would spend a few minutes with us.
I recorded this interview in 2014 just before I was required to stop, so it never aired, but I promise it holds up every bit as good today as it did then. On the website this week, I quoted the first man in space, Alan Shepard. He was sitting on the launch pad for that very first flight, and he was losing patience. There had been multiple delays, and he finally snapped. “Why don’t you fix your little problem and light this candle?” So, faithful Success is Voluntary subscribers, consider the candle lit.
Hey, Anthony! Thanks so much for joining us.
Anthony Iannarino: Hey, Tim! Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Tim: I told people in the open that one of the reasons I started this whole podcast was your podcast In the Arena. What led you to start that, Anthony?
Anthony: Chris Brogan. Almost anything you see me do on social media probably was tested, experimented with, and perfected by Chris Brogan. Chris told me, I guess 18 months ago, that people have all of this time in their cars or when they’re running or when they’re doing something, and it’s time where they’re listening to things outside of terrestrial radio or satellite radio, and they have these devices we all carry with us that now connect to our car stereos, and they want something for that time.
I think the stats he gave me were something like people have 45 minutes a day, and that’s a lot of time. He started a podcast and recommended I do the same, and I took off and followed his advice, as usual.
Tim: Well, that’s a pretty smart guy to follow. He’s a brilliant guy, and I’m looking forward to meeting him someday. I’ve subscribed to many of his programs, and he’s a brilliant guy. I’ll put a link to his stuff in the show notes. I hadn’t planned on doing that. That’s awesome.
Anthony, one of the things I really like about you and the stuff you’re talking about is you really approach it from a business owner’s point of view. When you’re getting in the process of sales and laying it all out, you think of it not just from your side. You think about it from the business owner’s or the prospect’s side a lot. In fact, you talk a lot about moving from sales acumen to business acumen. What do you mean by that?
Anthony: What I mean is you have to think like a business person now. I guess the best way for me to tell you this is to tell you what it’s not. We used to work in sales on sales acumen. Sales acumen is, “Do I know how to close? Do I know how to overcome objections? Do I know how to talk about features and benefits and advantages? Do I know how to present?”
Those are sales acumen. Those are the things salespeople have always needed to know how to do for as long as anybody has been selling anything, but sales has gotten more complex because the buyer’s needs and the business outcomes people need have gotten more complex, so to deal with real business needs you need to understand business.
If what we did was sold something and then dropped it off for our client, wished them luck, and sent them on their way, it would be one thing, but it’s not that day anymore. That day has passed. Now, we show up, and we’re a business advisor. We’re a trusted advisor. We’re consultative. We’re what I would call a Level 4 Value Creator. We’re somebody who comes in and actually helps people move their business forward, and they think of us as part of their team, so you need to know general business principles.
You need to know how business works. You need to know how people get things done, what their business model is, what their strategy is, how they are competing, and what the right next move is for them to make. All of these things mean you have to understand your business, because you have to understand how you go into the world and create value for these businesses, but you also need to understand generally how their business works, and sometimes even more specifically how their business works.
The more deeply you have the ability to be a good general manager and think like a good general manager and think like a chief operating officer or somebody who is responsible for executing, the easier it is for you to win. You said that I tend to look at things through both lenses. As a business owner, I always look at things that way, but if you want to make selling easy, make it easy to buy. If you talk their language and if you can align with their strategic outcomes, you make it easy for buyers to say, “Yes.” That’s why I’m so much on business acumen.
Tim: Wow! That’s great. In fact, one of the things I teach new sales reps is that you can get really scattered and go after all sorts of different industries, but if you can get into a vein and you stay there you start to learn about that industry. You learn what their concerns are, what their fears are, and what the challenges they’re facing right now are, and I think that’s kind of what you’re recommending. It’s hard to know about everybody’s business, especially for a new salesperson, but if they can get into a vein and really learn that niche, eventually they could broaden out of that.
Anthony: I think so. Niches are great because they allow you to get some depth of experience. That’s the second part of business acumen I almost always talk about. Situational knowledge. Have you seen this before? Have you felt it before? Have you helped somebody through this challenge before?
If you’ve helped a lot of people, you’ve been in lots of situations, and once you start to see situations you start to see patterns. You don’t get those experiences until you go out into the world and start doing that work, so business acumen, for the first part, is, “Do you understand what’s going on?” and then situational knowledge is, “Do you have experience?”
If you pick a vertical or if you pick one segment of the market to really focus on you can get deep. Then, it’s easy to branch out from there. What’s interesting about that is if you go into one niche and you understand how to create value there, a lot of times you can exploit what you’re doing in one industry to another industry that’s not doing that same thing. That allows you to help your customer leapfrog with new ideas you apply from one industry to the next.
Tim: I like that. In fact, I’ve heard you speak about that as well. You said something, though, that I want to back up to. I know what you meant by it, but I’m not sure my listeners do. You talked about Level 4 Value Creation. What do you mean by that?
Anthony: There are now four levels of value that a salesperson or a sales organization can create. It’s one of the frameworks I teach and speak about a lot. Level 1 means you sell a good product, but the problem with selling a good product now is that everybody sells a good product. You’ve got a great product, and they have a great product.
I’m eagerly anticipating 12:01 tonight so I can order the new Apple iPhone, but Samsung makes a great phone, too. They both make great phones, and you sort of end up with parody no matter what you sell because there are so many competitors. So many people can do good work that just having a great product by itself isn’t enough.
Level 2 jumps you up to great experience, which might be great service or great support. I think Starbucks is a pretty good experience. It’s extremely consistent. They try very hard to be personal and very hard to connect with you and try to make it that experience, but there are a lot of people who can make a good cup of coffee and still give you great experience.
Here, in Columbus, Ohio, where I am, we have a coffee bean roaster called Stauf’s not too far from one of my offices, and Stauf’s makes terrific coffee. In fact, I like it better than I like Starbucks coffee, and they have a great experience, too. It’s kind of a funky, eclectic place. Experience is good for Disney and some other people who really get it right, but for B2B sales people in sales organizations it’s just not enough, so we jump up to Level 3.
That is, “Can you get me a business result? Can you get me an ROI, a tangible, measurable result we can prove we’re getting a return on our investment?” We’ve been competing in that arena as B2B sales organizations for a long time. A lot of people know how to do that, and a lot of buyers will look for ROI and want you to validate what you’re selling.
That’s a great level to play at. Everybody has a spreadsheet, so that now has become essentially commoditized, so we’re now at the area where, if you’re going to play, you’re going to play Level 4, and I call Level 4 Relationships of Value. It’s still about relationships, but it’s not about going to lunch or going to a ballgame together or something like that. It’s about the relationship I have on two different areas.
One would be the relationship level which means, “Do I create enough value? Do I have your trust? Do I care enough that you recognize you should trust me to be your consultative salesperson and trusted advisor? Am I proactive on bringing you the next idea before you even know you need it? Am I accountable for producing those results?” That’s really the relationship part of the model that makes you Level 4.
The second part is economic, and that means it is insight driven, which means, “I know more about your business and what you should do next than you do because you’re in the weeds working and I’m out in the world figuring out how to help people.” It’s future oriented, which means, “I’m going to build a platform that lets you grow.”
Finally, it’s strategic. It’s about your strategic outcome. It’s not about solving the existing problem you have now; it’s about solving the existing problem you have and helping put you in a better competitive space. I call all of that Level 4 Value Creation. It’s an aspirational model. It’s a hard level to get to, but a lot of people, when I say this, know immediately, “I’ve got some Level 4 clients, and I have some clients that I’m only a Level 2 with,” but it helps them figure out what they have to do to move up a level.
Tim: That’s interesting, because you’re right. As I’m thinking through those four levels, I do have clients in all four of those levels. Well, I hope I don’t have any in Level 1 anymore, but probably, if I’d be really honest with myself, I probably do. There are probably some of my clients that bought just because they liked the product, and beyond that, we have not gone further. Anthony, you’ve been selling a while, and I’ve been selling a while. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the sales industry and the sales profession over the last several years?
Anthony: There are a lot of answers to this, and most of it focuses on things. For people when they answer this question, they talk a lot about buyers have more power now. They say things like, “The Internet has changed everything,” but I think there have been a lot of major changes. It has been a big shift. The Internet is one of them, for sure. It’s the big shifts that have really changed things.
First, you have to look at commoditization. Commoditization for all of us means there are a lot of people in the market. It’s really crowded. It’s very difficult to differentiate, and that’s driven by a few things. It’s driven by globalization. We’re now competing with people all around the world. There are way more people entering every market every year, and that makes it tougher.
What the Internet has really done is disintermediated markets. If you’re Borders, Amazon.com eats your lunch, and that’s the end. Barnes and Noble is under a great deal of pressure. What people don’t know about Amazon is they’re entering the wholesale business right now, and they think they can send you plumbing supplies and roofing supplies and everything else you might want just as easy as they can send you a book.
They think they can deliver your groceries, so they’re trying to out-Walmart Walmart in some ways, but this disintermediation is a huge force. That’s part of what the Internet has enabled. Do buyers have more power? I don’t know. I’m skeptical. I hear a lot of things that say the buyer is 67 percent or 77 percent.
Tim: I heard they’re 176 percent down the road by the time they call you or you enter the equation.
Anthony: Exactly! When I talk to them, they’re not spending their time researching. They’re working in their business trying to get results, and maybe they do a little bit of work on the Web, but they really don’t spend a lot of time getting deep about what they need. The reason I think they’re really further along in their process is they’re re-buying something they bought before, so now they have some experience around it.
That makes them a smarter buyer, but the fact that there are more entrants and more people coming in and competing is definitely a challenge. It’s harder to differentiate. It’s a crowded market. It’s harder to get their attention. The fact that there are so many of us doing good work makes it harder for people to make a decision.
I think those big trends have changed. The biggest one is all of these forces that are working on business making it tougher for them to produce results. They’re being asked to do more with fewer resources, so they really need somebody with business acumen and somebody who can really help them drive results in their business. This is where we started the conversation. Sales acumen is not going to be enough. You are going to need a lot of business acumen if you really want to help your clients.
Tim: I love that. Well, you kind of teed me up for this next question because I think I know where you’re going to go with it now, but let’s drive that point home all the way. You’ve talked a lot about the buyers right now suffering because of the economy and everything, suffering from what I think you call post-recession traumatic stress syndrome. I love that.
I play in the employee benefits world, and in the employee benefits world we’re suffering from post-Obamacare stress syndrome. That’s not a political viewpoint at all. I’m just saying, because of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) many of the business owners and decision makers over the last few years have been really frozen by indecision. They’re waiting for the federal government to land on a plan and then hit some implementation deadlines.
In fact, I heard a guy the other day say, “It would be nice if they hit one implementation deadline in a row.” Instead of allowing this uncertainty to derail us as salespeople, give us a couple of tips. How do you think we can leverage that uncertainty and maybe even fear that the business owner, the small business owner, or the HR director might be feeling?
Anthony: To move anyone past a fear you have to show them how they’re going to survive that fear and how it’s probably more dangerous to stay put and do nothing. In your space right now people may be racked with indecision and fear, but if they don’t have the right offering and the right employee value proposition, they risk not getting the talent they need, so you can’t sit on the fence and do nothing. You’re still going to have to deal with what you provide your employees if you want to capture that talent and go out into the world and compete.
Here’s the thing. I don’t want to get all political here either. The Affordable Care Act has been unbelievably bad in the implementation and execution. It has been terrible for business owners because there has not been any real firm guidance on what to do and what the next step is going to look like.
But here’s the good news. Even though we’re further down the road, nobody still knows what’s going to happen. It’s going to be executed and it’s going to change again next year. If I were in your shoes, I would want to tell people, “We might as well figure out what we can do now, knowing in six months we’re going to adjust again, and here’s our plan to help you as this thing changes.”
Because there has been no government program that has ever been rolled out and executed as it was written. Not at least anything of this scope, and maybe nothing ever. I’m not sure there has ever been any government program that was rolled out and executed the way it was written or intended, but in this case that will certainly be true.
It’s cumbersome, it’s complicated, but the bigger risk for businesses, and if I’m the salesperson this is what I want to explain, is not doing anything. You still have to take care of your people. You still have to make decisions. You still are going to need to change, and I promise you in January 2015 when it rolls out you’re going to be making more changes, and the law is going to be changed every year from now until deep, deep into the future.
Tim: Well, that’s where you can use that business acumen you were talking about. You can say to your prospect, “Mister Business Owner, you don’t have time to study this. You don’t have time to be kept up on this. That’s my job. What we put into place today may not look the same as it does in February of 2015 or February of 2018. It doesn’t matter, but I’m here to help you. I’ll keep up on it. I’ll see around the corner for you as best I can. Nobody knows for sure, but I spend a lot of time following that. That’s why you need me.”
Anthony: That’s right. I mean, ultimately every buyer goes through stages. They begin by being dissatisfied. Then, they begin to look and figure out what their needs really are. Then, they evaluate their choices. Then, ultimately they deal with risk and fear. That’s the end for everybody.
“Before I pull the trigger, I have to be sure,” and you can never be sure now. There is too much change going on, but what you can do is say, “Here’s what we can tell you we can do. Here’s how we will deal with this fear when it comes up. When your fear is realized and something changes, here’s the plan.”
I wrote a post some time ago about the 13 ways you can help them deal with that fear. Maybe you have to let them talk to somebody else. Maybe you have to give them references. Maybe you have to show them an implementation plan. Maybe you have to tell them how they can change when something changes on the other end.
But ultimately, as a salesperson, it’s your job to help that buyer deal with that risk and deal with that fear. What I see a lot of salespeople do is hope the fear goes away on its own and hope the buyer comes to the right decision, but they don’t, and if you leave them alone to try to resolve that fear by themselves, they come to the decision it’s better to do nothing and not make the decision.
“The status quo is safer, because at least it’s the Devil I know.” Your buyers always trust their problem more than they trust uncertainty, so the problem is certain. “I know how this one goes, but I don’t know how uncertainty goes. It could be worse than this, and I’m maybe not prepared for it.”
Tim: Wow! I completely get that, and unfortunately, they don’t realize not making a decision is making a decision, and it’s probably the wrong one. A good friend of mine, Joe Buzzello, says it this way, and this is just a good tip for decision-making period, not necessarily from sales but for us as we are trying to make a decision. “You never have all of the information, obviously, so you can never make the right decision. It’s impossible to make the right decision. What you do is make the decision. Then, you work like crazy to make sure it was the right decision.”
Anthony: That’s right. That’s exactly right.
Tim: Status quo isn’t the right decision. Period. We know that’s the wrong decision. There are wrong decisions. We know that. Anthony, you’ve consulted. You’ve worked with all sorts of numerous organizations. You’ve built your own sales team and been very successful doing it. For goodness’ sakes, you own a blog called thesalesblog.com. It might have something to do with the fact that you are there in Columbus, Ohio. Everybody has to have that one friend who is the Ohio State apologist. Is that you? Are you an Ohio State apologist?
Anthony: I’m a fan, but I’m not baptized. I didn’t go to college there, so I don’t have the same allegiance. It’s not as deep in my blood, I would say.
Tim: I think everybody has that one friend who is the raging Ohio State fan. I appreciate the program, but it cracks me up. At any rate, you’re obviously a great expert in sales. You’ve studied it. You’ve spent the time. As Gladwell would say, “You’ve put in your 10,000 hours plus,” so as you’re working with a new sales organization or consulting with an organization on sales, what are some of the common big mistakes you have to correct when you first start consulting with these companies?
Anthony: The biggest and almost universal is one of two things. The sales organization doesn’t have a process or they don’t use the process. It’s one of those two things. If you have a process and you don’t use it, it’s exactly the same as not having a process, so they’re both essentially the same issue.
If you don’t know what your best practices are, if you don’t know the very best activities for you to take, the commitments you need, the customer verifiable outcomes that target and qualify in discovery, in consensus, and solution design and presentation and acquisition and close… If you can’t tell me what you need to accomplish at every sales interaction then you’re not following that process. That’s the first mistake, because we’re not even talking the same way. We don’t have the same language. We don’t have the same understanding.
I hear people say things like, “I have my own style.” Well, you can have your own style. If you want to wear a red tie, I’ll wear a yellow tie. You’ll be gregarious and outgoing and I’ll be cerebral. That’s fine, but you still have to know when that customer sits down across from you, “How am I supposed to create value for them? Where are they in their buying cycle? What do they expect me to be able to do to help them figure out why they’re dissatisfied and how they can close the gap?”
Literally, every salesperson in the organization should be playing… It’s very much like a football team. You should have a playbook and a process. It should be documented and everybody should know how to run a play. Does it mean the play always works? No. Absolutely not. Just like in football. Actually, my favorite American philosopher Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
That’s how it works in the sales world. We go out and make a call and we expect a certain outcome, but the customer gets to decide, and they can throw us for a loop, and we have to regroup and think on our feet and still try to find a way to get those outcomes. That’s the biggest challenge and the first challenge, because once you have the process you can find all of the other skill gaps and all of the other belief gaps and all of the other gaps where the tools don’t exist, and you can work around it.
Tim: That’s great. You said they can throw us for a loop, but if you don’t have a sales process you don’t know what to go back to. You just are stuck out there in thin air and have no idea where to return.
Anthony: That’s right. It’s a map, and it’s probably even more like a GPS. A GPS will be very good at getting you from point A to point B, except for in those areas where it says, “Turn-by-turn directions are unavailable.” We get that. That’s what happens when we sell. Then, you have to think on your feet and figure it out and say, “Which road looks like it’s going to lead me the direction I’m trying to go?”
Tim: The other thing I love about the GPS is when you screw up it recalculates. I like that analogy that your sales system is like a GPS more than even a map, because when you do take a detour by accident or the customer leads you on a detour, if you know the system you can recalculate and get back on track.
Tim: Well, Anthony, just one last question. I ask everybody this question. Because I don’t know you very well, again, I’m just so appreciative of you coming on and spending a few minutes with my listeners here and my little tribe, but how do you want to be remembered when this is all said and done? You only get one chance. I don’t know if you realize that or not, but you only get one chance on this earth. How do you want to be remembered when it’s all said and done?
Anthony: I thought you were just talking about this podcast, but you’re going all existential here. I spend a lot of time thinking about that, and here is what I know. I think you’re going to be remembered at the end of this thing by the people you touched and the people who touched you, and the real measurement isn’t going to be your wealth, and it isn’t going to be what you did at work. It’s going to be how you touched those people individually. Whose hand did you hold while they were in the hospital bed? Who was there when you were?
I think deeply about my job. My role is to help people produce better results in their life than they would without me, and I think I have the ability to share things that can make people better in some areas, and that’s what I try to do. For me, the legacy I hope is that I helped people realize their own mission and execute it better than they would have without me.
Tim: That’s great. Anthony, I appreciate you coming on. Where can people connect with you? I know you’re on Twitter. You’re on LinkedIn. Where is the best place for them to find you?
Anthony: The best place is to go to thesalesblog.com. Across the top there is every kind of social media link. Wherever you want to connect with me… LinkedIn. Subscribe to the YouTube channel. Subscribe to the newsletter. All of those choices are right there for you on the front page of the blog.
Tim: You bet! I love your YouTube channel, by the way. That’s a lot of fun. I was playing around on that a couple of weeks ago. I can’t wait for more and more content to get up there. You are awesome to put that up there for everybody. I appreciate it. Well, thanks so much for coming on, Anthony. We’ll look forward to talking to you soon, I hope.
Anthony: Thanks, Tim!
Remember, everything is voluntary, including success. Take it in your hands now. Head over to www.successisvoluntary.com, and stay up to date with all the latest tips, news, and techniques in the world of selling voluntary benefits.
Tim: Wow! How awesome was that? I hope you learned as much as I did. Man! It is so good to be back. Getting the chance to interview people like Anthony makes me smarter. I hope he helped you as well. Hey! If you enjoyed today’s episode, could you do me a huge favor? Would you please go to the show notes at www.successisvoluntary.com/027, as in episode 27?
Once you are there, please share this episode on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or whatever social media platform you are part of. You’ll help others discover the podcast and might even change their life. That’s it for today. I’ll see you right here next week with returning guest Joe Buzzello. Remember this week to volunteer for success.