John Reid is the author of Moving From Models to Mindsets and the founder and president of JMReid group, whose clients have included Ernest and Young, Pro Am Pack, Local Healthcare Change, Ryerson and Mitsubishi UFJ financial group.
In 2015, JMReid groups work was featured in Training’s Top 10 Hall of Fame Outstanding Training initiatives. John was previously named a rising star in the Chemical Industry by Chemical Week, and he earned Forum’s 1999 Rookie of the Year and 2000 Sales person of the Year titles.
John believes that focusing on changing the sales person’s mindset is the key to successful selling. I’ve got to say, after talking with him, I agree. I’ve heard so many cookie cutter methods of selling and I’ve gone through training programs, and John dismisses all of those. His approach is centered around context and mindset and listening and curiosity, and these mindsets that John talks about really work. It’s not so much tactics, it’s simply being a person with another person and having a conversation.
All the pressure that you might feel as a sales person to pick the best model goes away.
If you’re a sales manager or a sales person and you need to perform at the peak of your abilities. John wants you to know that a one size fits all approach doesn’t work. There is a better way. That’s what you’re about to learn. Now, here is our conversation with John Reid.
John Reid: I went to University of Maryland as a marketing major, and I never had had a chemistry course in my life. Back in those days, companies would interview on campus, and one of the companies that I interviewed was Dell Chemical.
At that time, Dell Chemical was looking for people that they thought were personable, that could build relationships, and they had decided that whatever chemistry that was needed, they would teach them.
“I started with Dell Chemical having never taken a chemistry course in my life.”
I still haven’t to this date. The eighth grade, tenth grade, I never took a chemistry course in my life. Now I’m selling chemicals and I’m wildly successful selling chemicals. I know I’m wildly successful because I was pretty rapidly at number one in the ranking system of sales people at Dell Chemical.
I think I was very fortunate—because I didn’t know anything about chemistry, I was far more curious than my competition. Even my competition outside the company or my competition inside the company. Other people are people who are trapped or cursed if you will, by their own knowledge. They gotten educated, they knew a lot and so the last thing they wanted to do is show up at a client and ask a question that they believe they should know the answer to.
Meanwhile, I’m like pointing at tanks and going, “What’s that,” you know? “What did that do?”
People, when they hear this story sometimes, go, “Wow, that’s kind of embarrassing,” but people like to talk about what they do. It’s okay if you don’t know what the tank is, because it gives them a chance to talk about the tank.
I recently met a guy at EY, Ernest and Young and he’s a partner there and he has started with ExxonMobile.
I kind of shared with him the story and he goes, “My gosh, you’re right, these people love their tanks.”
I started in sales from a place of genuine curiosity, and that has served me well.
Most of my peers are self-limiting because what they think they should know is the curse of knowledge. Second of all, they’re going to be vulnerable because they think that will look foolish, and there’s a fine line between vulnerability and looking foolish.
Thirdly, maybe one of the bigger draws is they’re so focused on making the sale that their limited curiosity is around stuff is going to help them make the sale. Asking questions that has nothing to do with a line of site to the sale is not obvious to them, and therefore they don’t do it.
My journey started there, I think I’m blessed, lucky, whatever you might want to call it that I was able to start selling something of which I knew nothing about.
How Traditional Sales Miss the Mark
Charlie Hoehn: Could you kind of give an example of how a typical conversation might play our for you? And compare it to what a normal sales person does wrong?
John Reid: I can probably start with the normal one and then I’ll do a contrast if that’s okay with you. I think the normal salesperson goes in, has an objective and is under the pressure to deliver a number, gets sales results, they come for that, there’s pressure from their management on that. There’s a short term dynamic that takes over.
All of their questions are around current business and what is you need now and who are you buying from now and how did that last order go and what are you looking for.
It’s not very creative, it’s not very differentiated, and it is focused predominantly on the short term. Either tactical current questions or qualifying questions.
Charlie Hoehn: It’s about winning a game.
John Reid: Its focus is short term, and it’s about making a sale. It comes across that way to the other person. Sometimes they’re close ended questions, they’re not questions that allow the person to expand but they really are focused on the here and now, the short term.
What really happens, based on about 30 years of doing this and training people, they get one or two questions out before they start talking about themselves too.
You can trap almost all sales people within 30 seconds of getting them to talk about themselves, even when you’ve told them they should not, even when they know they should not, even though they want to be curious.
“You can say something and they will start to talk.”
Normal people get caught up in current short term questions and rush to talk because the client said something. Let’s say the client says “Well one thing [we care about] is quality.” Most sales people will take the bait and go, “Well we have quality. Let me tell you about our quality.”
Rather than “Okay, quality is one, what else do you care about?”
They can’t help themselves.
What I learned is that is powerful is that you can’t do that. What you want to do is go genuine curiosity, go long term. Go personal.
“You’ve been here for two years, how’s it been, what’s it going? What do you like about your job? What have you learned? What’s different than you thought when you came in?”
You can really get some personal stuff out rather quickly. You want to make it a conversation, so you do want to say “Wow, I’ve seen that in other places,” you know?
“You want to make it a conversation not an interrogation.”
When sales people are taught, typically, they’re taught like an interrogation.
Go in, purpose benefit check, setup the meeting, ask your questions, create some pain, and then educate the client. It’s a conversation. Really try to avoid talking about yourself or your solution for as long as you can.
Less About Yourself
John Reid: When you’re talking about yourself, when you’re talking about your product, you have the risk of creating objection. Any time you’re talking, you run the risk of creating objections.
You want to talk less, just common sense, right? It’s part of sales is objection avoidance. If I say “Hi, my name is John Reid.” “I dated a guy named John once, I hate all people named John.” That didn’t work.
Anything you say runs a risk. So A, say less, this isn’t that complicated. B, be the devil’s advocate for yourself.
I do a lot of, “I don’t know if you need my help” or “You know what? I think you’re on the right track here.” I have conversations all the time that I know my peers are reluctant to have.
Where I’ll say, “You know what? Given what you’ve told me, I think you’re in a good place” because that’s what I think. I’m not articulating it, I’m not being clever by half.
“I just honestly think, based on what they told me, that maybe they don’t need our help.”
I did this the other day in Chicago. These three executives just laughed. They’re like, “My gosh, nobody ever says that.”
What’s at the core of that is this belief that you want to differentiate people—how is this guy, this experience different than the traditional. You could almost predict the traditional sales call. You’re not going to differentiate yourself if you follow that path.
It’s far better to be authentic, far better to be genuinely curious and have conversations about stuff that doesn’t relate to your practice and service. It’s far better to do that just to differentiate yourself in the customer’s mind.
Charlie Hoehn: I’d imagine you have clients that you’ve worked with for 10 years or more, based on being long term.
John Reid: Yes, what’s amazing about my firm that’s unusual for the training space. In the training space in general. Most training companies are selling content, and that content is delivered for maybe a two or three year cycle. It runs its course, and people get tired of it, and then they look for the next best content. This plays itself out over and over again. You know, we were a Miller Heiman shop and now we’re Wilson shop and then we’re going to be a Richardson shop…
I take clients for 10 years because I’m not selling a model when it comes to sales training. I’m selling the mindset, I’m selling the design, I’m starting a level of engagement.
“I’m trying to sell them how they want their sales people to sell.”
If you like what I’m modeling, if you like what I’m doing, this is what I’m going to teach your sales people to do. That tends to resonate.
The point in my principles has always been, I don’t have to sell you today, right? If I have to sell you today, my behaviors are all bad. They’re all short term, they’re all pressure, they’re all what we think poorly about sales people.
I just have to sell you eventually.
Maybe I’ll not sell it at all, maybe they’re not a fit at all, but if the pressure’s to sell you today or this week or this month, I’m in trouble as a sales professional. I’m not going to be at my best in terms of my behaviors and what really drives relationship.
Charlie Hoehn: Can you explain a bit more specifically what you mean by Moving From Models to Mindsets?
John Reid: I mentioned earlier, I was in the training and chemical industry, and I grew up going through lots of different sales methodologies. They’re content built in the 1980s, 1990s, still being used and popular today. I went through that content as a participant, and it was always about the model.
This training company, this training founder—the John Reid of that company—had come up with a model.
If you follow the model, you will be successful. Or if you fill out the green sheet or the blue sheet, you will be successful. You’ll notice the cover of our book has a blue sheet on fire, because of what I experienced and I knew not to be true because I was successful. I knew I wasn’t doing these things that they said you should do, because it was all modeled content-driven rather than conversation- and mindset-driven.
It didn’t quite work for me or other high performers, and I know it was designed in retrospect for lower performers. They designed training for a low performer, maybe mid performer, but never for the high performer.
That’s why most high performers balk at training. The questions were asked back then, should high performers go? Do they have to go? Because it wasn’t designed for them. It was designed for the low end performer. The belief was, we come up with a model, we come with a methodology, we’ve done some research, our research shows it works, surprise, surprise.
Which is all interesting about my industry, right? We did our own research, and it works. If you follow this, you’ll be good. Off they go.
If it doesn’t work, and often times it doesn’t work, the training companies would blame somebody. They would blame the participants because they didn’t do what was necessary, blame the managers of participants because they didn’t coach on it or blame the company that bought it, the culture wasn’t right.
“There was no introspection.”
There was no, “Maybe our green sheet is too complicated. Maybe our blue sheet has too many boxes. Maybe the practices we do aren’t relevant for these people.”
There was none of that, right?
In training, in the ‘80s and ‘90s and even today, when I look at that stuff and then looked at what I was doing. I thought, well the difference is, what they miss is the mindset. They miss having a conversation.
What does your belief system have to be to capture value? What does your belief system have to be, when you engage with a customer, what do you have to believe about yourself, your company, your goods and services in order to be successful?
They never have those conversations. It was assumed that you had the right belief system, but behaviors are an outcome of a belief system. So I want people to behave differently. I’ve got to look at their underlying belief system.
Set Up for Success
Charlie Hoehn: How do you change people’s beliefs and set them up for success?
John Reid: You can do it pretty fast and clever, to be fair. I mean, the first chapter of the book has a powerful example of that. Most people’s belief is that they are trustworthy. Most sales people’s beliefs—I’m talking about like 90, 95% based on the work we’ve done—Believe that they’re good at building relationships, that they are relationship salespeople and that they’re good at it.
“How do you teach people that they’re not good at something they think they’re good at?”
How do you change that behavior? Well, first we have them identify that they are good at it. We do this sticky dot exercise where they put a dot up for what they think they do well, green dot if it’s a strength and a red dot if it’s less strong.
They’re all green dots when it comes to relationship building, they get 90, 95%. We talk about trust and the fact that you have to have a personal relationship. Then we give them a scenario, it’s a quick scenario:
“You have a new customer, you have an hour meeting and the customer says, I want to keep it to 30 minutes because I want to see my daughter’s soccer game.”
You’d be shocked but you know, maybe two out of 20 ask about the daughter. The other 18, they write down, “I’ll keep it brief, I’ll keep it to 30 minutes, how do you want to use the time we have?” But only two actually realize the power of that and the power of relationship building.
In that activity, which is 15 minutes 20 minutes in length, you have people start to think, I thought I was good at this, still think maybe I’m good at this, but I’ve got to do a little bit better. I’m missing cues.
We have a lot of activities like that. They’re not tricks. There’s no trick to that activity, where you were forced into doing the wrong thing. You show up as you are, you make a choice, it’s a conscious choice, and then we reflect on that. Is that a great conscious choice? The other thing about training that people overlook is, they’re not doing anything bad.
I mean, not asking about the daughter is not bad.
You don’t get fired for this behavior. It’s only a good behavior, it’s not the best behavior. So you respect them that, hey, I’m not saying you did something wrong—which has sort of an emotional and defensive reaction. I’m just saying there’s a better reaction. You can bring the learner along much easier with that sort of thinking.
Charlie Hoehn: You talk about creating trust and of course, staying curious which is one of your strengths in sales. Is there anything else in this part one that the reader might be surprised to learn?
John Reid: I think the trust one is the big one, right? The fact that they think they’re good at personal trust and building rapport, and they often miss it. The second part is that when they look at trust, the three dimensions of trust—one that you’re confident, one that you care about people personal trust like we just talked about, and one that you’re credible, that you do what you say you’re going to do.
Most salespeople, again, try to win on being credible, trying to being responsive. They get back to people quickly, they’re always available, they take pride in this.
It’s not something that have to be prideful about, but it’s the wrong thing to be prideful about in our minds.
They self-discover. We get them moving around the room, we get them talking about each of these areas of trust. We ask which ones they want to win on. We’ll have them go over 70% go over to this idea of being credible and doing what I say I was going to do, and then being fast and responsive.
Then we ask the big question: What other department in the company might describe themselves that way?
And they quickly go, “Customer service.”
I’m like, “Yeah, you guys are trying to win on being glorified customer service people.”
You are sales people. You are sales professionals. You are not customer service professionals.
If you want to be that, go do that. But if you want to be a sales professional, this is not how they win. They realize that what they need to win on is bringing insight, being competent, knowing the industry.
So they know this internally. In fact, with one group we said, “Well what do you think the customers care about?” and they all went across the room. So they knew that what they were trying to win on was not the most valuable to their customers, but they didn’t know how to get out of that trap. They didn’t know the consequence of that trap.
Curiouser and Curiouser
John Reid: I talked about genuine curiosity, so we have that in here too. Curiosity is clearly a super power. As kids we were curious, we were wildly curious. We lose that for a variety of reasons, so we have them recapture that.
We put them through a couple of activities, but one thing that still surprises me is the difficulty people have in being curious.
Let say there is a picture of people in a meeting. This happens in the workshop. We show them this picture of people in a meeting and ask what questions they have, and I’ve had people go, “No.”
But what are they meeting about? Who is the boss? Who is speaking? Where is this meeting being located? How many other meetings are there?
I can ask 20 to 30 questions about it. I find that sales people don’t ask more than two or three the initial time they see the picture, because it is all self-edited, not that curious. If that is happening with this picture, they are going out every day going into clients that they have known, calling on people that they know—what do you think is happening?
They are not being that curious.
If the picture proves my point, you are not being as curious as you can. You can’t turn around and say, “Oh no, no, no, on a call I am much more curious that I just was there.”
Come on. Stop. You’re not.
Now that is solvable, right? We can get much more curious. So we talk about that in the workshop and in this section in the book about relationships.
Charlie Hoehn: In part two you talk about conversations for opportunities. What is the meat of this section? What do you really want to impart listeners with here?
John Reid: I love the model of Real-Win-Worth It, which is simply looking at an opportunity and always assessing: is it real, can I win it, is it worth it? That is just the gold standard of how to quickly assess something, because high performing sales people use their time well, right?
They either want to lose early or they’re going to invest the time, the resources, and the company resources they want to win the business.
Constantly asking yourself those questions has made the difference—and being honest with yourself, right? We can always tell ourselves a story.
There’s not a sales opportunity that I have come across that I couldn’t tell myself a story about why I was going to get it and why it was worth our time.
“Most of that stuff is just nonsense.”
If you have to work really hard to convince yourself you should go after it and it is going to be worth it, you make an investment and you start to use words like that, you’ve just got to check yourself in the door a little bit.
I think Real-Win-Worth It is powerful. I think the other one is that people pay for insight. So you want to be insightful, and you really want to look at how do I grow this opportunity to be as big and robust as possible. I had sales people that I manage, they could take a $100,000 opportunity and make it a $10,000 opportunity.
That’s easy. Any sales person can do that. What you want is people that can make 10 into a 100 by asking a few questions, by being curious, by identifying problems the customer wasn’t aware of and by doing that.
Charlie Hoehn: How do you that? I mean people pay for insight, how do you develop the ability to give them that insight?
John Reid: Well you read, right? I mean you just read stuff, you listen to clients. Clients tell you stuff. You learn and listen and learn and listen so you are constantly learning and reading so you can be insightful.
You take some risks. So you’ve got to be willing to go, “You didn’t mention this, but if I were you, I’d be worried about this.”
So you’ve got to be well read and be willing to take some risk. Most sales people, because they’re relationship oriented, are worried about taking the risk. They make that calculation and don’t want to risk the relationship.
“But it is a false choice, because you can have both.”
When you take the risk, sometimes it strengthens the relationship because this person is bringing more value. So they are really happy to see you.
One point I make early on is that no customer ever has spoken up and said, “Wow, I hope a sales person calls me today and I hope I really like them and I hope we become friends.”
That’s never happened.
The idea that I want people to like me—that’s nice, but I want them to respect me.
If they want them to like me, that’s one set of behavior. I’d bring donuts, I’d bring pizza, I send notes to them about their kids, that is all good stuff—maybe, maybe not—but that’s not what I want to win on.
Respect suggests that I offer value and I have insight. Now, we have a competitor company who challenges our selling, which I think goes way too far, because they go into this idea that you want to educate your customer and you want to rationally drown them.
These phrases, these are these phrases Charlie: “You want to rationally drown your client.”
Charlie Hoehn: Rationally water board your client.
John Reid: Oh yeah, because the idea being you’re going to get a team together, you are going to create some insight, you are going to have something the customer doesn’t know and you are going to go in and you’re going to be the smartest person in the room and your customer is going to be so impressed by this, they are going to surrender, and you’re going to win the day.
I mean, it’s just nonsense.
“To do that, you have to have a relationship.”
There’s a reason people say they are more persuaded when you show humility. There’s good Harvard stuff out there that if I say, “Hey I am not sure about this but if I were you I’d think I’d be doing this,” that is more persuasive than, “I had a meeting with my team and this is what you should be doing.”
When you repeat it back, it is obvious, because one sounds threatening. I am right you’re wrong. So humility, authenticity, all of that matters in this conversation for opportunity.
Charlie Hoehn: The third part of the book is called conversations for commitment. What’s this about?
John Reid: There are three conversations in sales. There’s relationship, there’s opportunities—and that conversation could be five minutes or it could be five years. The relationship is answering the question, “Do I trust this person? Do I admire and respect this person? Would I possibly do business?”
Once this question or these questions are answered, then okay, we have some opportunities. It can happen quickly. It can happen over time.
Now these opportunities, how do we make these opportunities meaningful, have impact, lead to other opportunities? What do we need to do around that conversation?
And then finally, commitment. Not only commitment in terms of negotiation, but just commitments at the end of every meeting—getting the client committed to our approach.
The most unique thing in the whole book if you say what’s unique was in chapter seven. If you read nothing else, if you want to know what will blow your mind, blow your customer’s mind, it is chapter seven.
Chapter seven is storytelling, and storytelling is being taught to sales people. It’s being taught all over the world, and guess whose story sales people are being taught to tell?
Charlie Hoehn: Their own?
John Reid: Yeah. Once again, can you imagine its 2018 and we are teaching sales people how to go in and talk? Like that’s the problem you have to solve.
So this is just show up and throw up in a fancy dress.
I say tell the client’s story. Get great at telling the client’s story. When I do this on a sales call it is magical. When I am at my best and it is something I discovered a long time ago was rather than just summarize to the client like, “Okay you have been here two years and you are looking at changing providers. You currently are buy it from Richardson and Wilson but you are looking to another supplier because you have it globally” and blah-blah-blah, facts and data, facts and data.
You can do that same summary in story form. You can say to a client, “Well, let me tell you what I heard you say. So two years ago you joined the company. You’re excited, you took on this role, you thought there was a lot of opportunity to make a difference, and so the first few years you walked around and really took that listening tour, and you met with managers and you met with these people and in doing that walk around you come to a conclusion. And that conclusion simply is that what we’re doing today is not going to serve us going forward. Now you’re at that point of choice. Well what do I do? Because on one hand you want to change things. On the other hand, you have a sense that there is inertia in the organization to change. So how can I get the change I want, but respect the organization? Is that the story you’re involved in?”
That is what it would look like.
“When I do this on a call, people are blown away.”
What have I done? I have made them the protagonist. I have made them the hero in the story. It is their story that matters—not my story.
Buying is a point of choice right? There is conflict, there is opportunity, there is something going on there, and I am able to put emotions in. If you have noticed the example I gave, you were excited, you were optimistic.
I can weave in emotions and surprise. People make decisions on emotions and cognitive reasons, but emotions drive decisions. So I want to be able to verbalize those and check those.
When it is done well, the customer says, “Wow, you got it.”
If the customer feels really understood and feels I really got their situation, they trust my solution. There’s not a lot of push back on my solution. There is not a lot of negotiation on my solution—because you got it, right?
But if I don’t feel that you have it, then I’ve got to pick apart your solution. I need a discount. I think it’s a silly argument, but it is a fun argument that discounting is simply the penalty you have to pay for not fully understanding your customer’s needs.
If somebody feels really understood, they trust your solution. We all want to be understood. It is why we want to talk, because we want them to understand us.
That is why we are teaching our sales people storytelling, because we want them to understand us.
I say stop.
Yes, I am being dramatic to make a point as I always am.
Storytelling is fine. It is okay to teach sales people storytelling. It’s not going to win the day in my mind. It’s not teaching them a better story. It’s teaching to be more curious. It’s teaching to tell the clients be a better listener and playing back the client story in a very compelling and powerful way.
That is far better use of everybody’s time than storytelling. That’s chapter seven.
Connect with John Reid
Charlie Hoehn: I have a couple more questions for you. The first one is what is the best way for our listeners to either get in touch with you or follow you if you’d like that online?
John Reid: You could always send me an email. I’m sure we have a web presence. We have everything on our website. We are on Facebook, the company, we do blog posts all the time. It’s just at firstname.lastname@example.org. www.jmreidgroup.com is our website.
Lots of ways to find us, we’re out there talking about the book, obviously talking about other subjects as well. Since now we do lead sales, we also do leadership and other content areas.
Charlie Hoehn: What is the one thing listeners can do from your book this week that will have a positive impact?
John Reid: The one thing that they can do differently is just ask better questions. So they could really reflect on the questions they’re asking and ask themselves, “Do these questions really make my client think, evaluate or speculate? Are my questions differentiating myself?”
Really come up with some questions that they think are unique that the client will react to.
You should hear, as a sales person, your goal should be for the customer slow down and go, “Wow that’s a good question. I haven’t thought of that. Nobody has asked me that question before.”
There is huge value in helping the customer think differently and worry less about trying to tell your story or position yourself differently. Really focus on asking questions to make the client think differently. It will give you additional insight. That will do it.
Charlie Hoehn: Do you have a favorite go to question that falls into that category?
John Reid: Well you can always take a question in third party—meaning you could always take a question and put a third party. It will force the person responding to have to think. So for example, if I ask anybody any executive “What’s your strategy?” that is an open ended question. It sounds like a good question, but they don’t have to think. They know their strategy. That’s their job to know their strategy, so there’s no thinking.
But if I ask them, “What would your middle managers think of the strategy?” they have to then put themselves in as the middle manager.
“What would your predecessor think of your current strategy?”
So you put a third party in the question and they have to do these mental gymnastics of no longer just answering autopilot, but they have to engage—“Okay that person, what do I know about that person?”
“How would that person feel about my strategy?”
It just slows down the response and it makes the person think deeply.
It’s all teachable, right? There is nothing I do that’s like, “Well nobody can do that” or you’re born that way. It’s all stuff that I believe because I got taught along the way.