If you’ve qualified a prospect as someone that has a problem you can solve, you’ve shown them what their world will look like with your product (Value), and they have budget, the natural conclusion should be an agreement to move forward.
As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Kurkjian (Kerchen).
David Kurkjian is the founder of MasterMessaging, a sales consultancy that helps sales professionals elevate the value of their products in their selling conversations. David is also the author of the book, 6X Convert More Prospects to Customers. David lives in Atlanta with his wife, adult children and grandkids.
Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?
After spending 30-plus years in sales and sales leadership I started to see a pattern in my career. In the early 2000’s I worked for a number of tech startups as one of the early sales reps. In this role I had to figure out how to position and talk about the product in a way that connected the value to the prospect. Once I was successful in generating sales and had a blueprint on communicating the value, I’d start hiring additional team members and train them on the sales conversation.
Having done this several times through 2011 it became apparent that my value in the sales profession was twofold: coaching and teaching sales reps, and helping them elevate and position the value in early stage selling conversations. Not only was I good at it, but it’s also where I found my greatest joy. That’s why in 2012 I made the decision to start MasterMessaging. It put me in a position where I could help more sales professionals.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?
Early in my sales career when I was working for BellSouth, I was struggling with a question: “If I spent my life in a sales career selling hundreds of millions of dollars for tech companies, was that the legacy I wanted to leave behind?” I was considering going to work for a nonprofit where it would the difference I could make in the world would be obvious.
At the time I was a national account executive assigned to GE Capital. In one of my appointments with a GE executive, early in the conversation I realized the person I was meeting with was not doing well. I took a risk and asked if everything was ok. His response surprised me.
He shared that he was a Vietnam vet and that he had been exposed to agent orange. The doctors were having a hard time getting his meds right, his wife was divorcing him, and his kids didn’t want anything to do with him. As he got to the end of sharing that, he broke down and started to cry. My only response was to empathize with him and encourage him the best I could. We hugged and he apologized for having to reschedule the meeting.
I had an epiphany walking down the halls of GE Capital soon after that meeting. I had been able to help another person by offing an empathetic ear and encouraging words. That encounter helped me understand that selling isn’t so much about the transaction of money in exchange for a product. It’s about serving another human being by making their life better as a result of using the product I represent.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One of the challenges for a boutique sales consultancy is your reach. I get contacted by individual sales professionals that want help with their career. In these conversations it becomes clear that the consulting rate we charge businesses doesn’t translate to an individual. That’s why we developed an online course last year.
An individual can get most of the same benefit we provide to sales teams at a price point that makes sense to them. The initial course covers how to elevate the value of their product in early stage selling conversations. We’ll be rolling out additional courses that cover other skills, like effective whiteboarding and negotiations.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
That’s an easy one: it’s a gentleman by the name of Jansen Chazanof. Jansen was the facilitator or lead for the Vistage group I belonged to for the first five years of MasterMessaging. He had an uncanny ability to ask the questions that lead to insights in how to improve as a business owner. He was also one of my biggest fans. He believed so deeply in the work that I do. This was evidenced in the number of executives he introduced me to that he felt would benefit from my work.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
Repetition. The principle of mastering something by doing it over ten thousand times. Having spent over 35 years conducting sales conversations every day, you gain insights into what makes a sales conversation great. You also learn how to adapt your conversations to all different types of people and roles. It’s why my wife marveled at my ability to relate to our kids when they were teenagers. The ability to conduct a conversation from another person’s point of view.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versatile topics, is totally ignored?
It’s not that easy to teach. It’s a combination of art and science: the science or process part of selling is easy to understand and apply, but when you get into establishing trust, credibility, building rapport, these are more difficult to understand and execute. Especially if you’re talking about 18–22 year olds. They’re still trying to figure out who they are in the world, much less how to sell something to another adult.
This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy,” is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?
Yes: I agree, mostly, especially when looking at the word pushy. There’s a principle in physics: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When you are “pushed” as a human being, the reaction is to push back or get defensive. Once another human being gets defensive, there is not a lot you can do to get them to open up and consider new ways of doing things.
There is an exception — and it starts with understanding the salesperson’s intent. Most people associate pushiness with an aggressive salesperson who is pushy for selfish reasons. They just want the sale. But if a salesperson is pushy because they know it’s in the best interest of the prospect, that’s different. They have the right intent or motive. If a doctor pushes a patient to change their lifestyle of get a procedure because they know will make the patient better, that would be an example of when it is ok to be pushy.
The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce,” to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?
I’d say Presentation, but I would change the word to Conversation. Keep in mind the foundation for a great conversation will also include Preparation and Approach.
The secret sauce comes from understanding how a human being perceives value. Value is king in a sales conversation. If you communicate high value, you get the price point you want. High value also leads to a greater sense of urgency to want the product sooner. Yet in 11 years of working with over two hundred companies, not one sales professional has been able to tell me how value is perceived.
According to Daniel Kahneman, a world-renowned behavioral psychologist, value is perceived in a contrasting world view. Literally, this is what your world looks like without my product, contrasted with this is what your world could look like with my product. It’s in the side-by-side contrast between these two worlds that contrast is understood.
Quick example: For the last three years I’ve participated in a fund-raising bike ride for children with autism called bike to the beach. It starts fifty miles inland in the middle of Delaware and ends in Foley Beach. Last year the start of the ride was on a rural section of road that had recently been stripped of its topcoat to be repaved. As you can imagine, our experience on street bikes was terrible. But after five miles we hit the newly paved section of road. At that point every one of the riders exclaimed that it was the smoothest road they had ever ridden on. They wouldn’t have even commented if we had started the race on the smooth road.
When sales professionals understand this dynamic, they can follow a simple roadmap found in my book for building high value sales conversations.
Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously, every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Offer value before you ask for something. Currently this isn’t happening very much in a social platform like LinkedIn. You get a connection request and more times than not when you accept the very next message is a request for an appointment or meeting.
You have to establish yourself as someone that can bring value into another person’s life. To do this, share an insightful article, blog post or your own insight that will benefit the person. When you’ve done this a couple of times then you can ask them for a meeting. In the request for a meeting, you also have an opportunity to focus on value. Consider the difference in these two requests.
When can we meet to discuss our latest SaaS offering and how it’s revolutionizing the world?
When can we meet to discuss how you can spend more time on the things you enjoy in your job by using our latest SaaS offering?
The second request focuses on the value to the prospect, not the product you represent.
In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?
Identify them as early as possible in your relationship with a prospect. An easy way to do this is at the end of a discovery call ask a simple question: “We’ve covered a good bit of ground in our conversation. I’m curious, what do you think?” This gives the prospect a number of different directions they can go because it’s a great open-ended question.
They may ask clarifying questions, give positive feedback and if they have an objection, they’ll throw that in as well.
The other thing you can do is be prepared for the most common objections. Don’t try to handle them in the moment without some preparation.
‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.
I’m going to push back on this question. I don’t think closing is so complicated that it needs five things. If you’ve qualified a prospect as someone that has a problem you can solve, you’ve shown them what their world will look like with your product (Value), and they have budget, the natural conclusion should be an agreement to move forward.
There’s a great question you can ask a prospect that will give you a roadmap to closing the sale: “Where do we go from here?”
This gives the prospect the opportunity to share with you the steps they’ll have to walk through to close the sale. They may respond with, “I’ll need to take this to legal or get purchasing involved.” However they answer you, follow up with, then what? By the time you through these series of questions, the prospect will have identified the steps necessary to close the sale.
Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?
If you use the approach outlined above, you shouldn’t have to chase prospects. They will have agreed to a process that should lead to a yes or a no. However, for those that unexpectantly go quiet you can try this email subject line: “Did I lose you?” If they don’t reply, guess what the answer is?
As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?
Avoid email: it’s too easy to get lost. The best would be a phone call or text to their mobile. If you’re at the end of the sales process, you should have their mobile number.
Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That idea is at the heart of what we teach sales professionals. Be “other” focused. Try and see the world from the “other” person’s point of view. As you understand it, speak to that “other” point of view in your conversations. When you do this, the person you’re building a relationship with will know you’re in it for them, not just to make a sale. Maybe, as a result, the sales profession will be viewed more favorably.
How can our readers follow you online?
Reach me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-kurkjian-1891901/
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!
David Kurkjian of MasterMessaging On How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.