Author Mark Evans’ bio begins by saying that he might just be the most enthusiastic person you’ll ever meet and based on my conversation with him, that might just be true. And I mean that in the best way. Mark’s is the type of authentic enthusiasm that sometimes seems all too rare to come by. In his new book, Raise Your Standards, Mark writes about the approachable, authentic system to selling that he shares with his clients in his coaching and consulting business, Standard Sales.
This approach is a guide to not only breaking out of outdated, corny, and manipulative sales tactics but also, to building sales and acquiring personal development in the process.
Nikki Van Noy: I’m so happy to have you here with me today because as your bio says, you might be the most enthusiastic person you’ll ever meet. And listeners, Mark and I were chatting for a little while before this podcast started and that bears out to be true.
Mark Evans: I am so excited to be here and to be on Author Hour, this is a real treat for me, thank you for having me.
Nikki Van Noy: Of course, we’re so happy to have you here. Let’s tell listeners a little bit about your background and why you’re so enthusiastic about this subject, to the point that you are compelled to write a book about it?
Mark Evans: You know, why I started the book–let’s start there. I grew up in sales and I grew up in a very entrepreneurial family. My parents started a business when I was four. They moved from the part of the Midwest where they were related to just about everybody in town.
I mean, it’s actually probably good we left. I would have had to marry a cousin. It would have been a big deal, right? But they shoved all the chips in the table, they took a really big risk, and a really big gamble, and they bought a small print shop in what I would call now my hometown. They moved myself and my three sisters up and had to mortgage everything to the hilt.
So, sales in business, when I looked back and as I was writing this book, were responsible for a lot of my best memories. For our family vacations, for my basketball shoes, for the tuition at my little catholic grade school that I went to. And once I started attaching that business in sales was something that really supplied myself and my sisters with a lot of the warm memories that we have furnished by my parents, that’s when I started to really take this seriously. So, I started working for some really fast-growing companies and I started to see some elements of why certain companies are successful.
It’s not just because they put a viral cat video online. It’s because they had certain sales in business systems. I felt so compelled that more small businesses and more medium-sized businesses need this now more than ever, that I just had to sit down and start writing.
Nikki Van Noy: That’s amazing but let’s not try and convince people to get rid of viral cat videos.
Mark Evans: That’s a good point, disclaimer here.
Nikki Van Noy: Perfect. On your back cover, it begins with the very bold statement which says, “The old way of selling is dead.” Talk to me a little bit about what you mean by that?
Mark Evans: Yeah, well, I think we all know it when we see it or experience it the old way of selling. The robotic communication, the salesperson that has no personality or no enthusiasm, the buzz words, right? When someone’s talking to you about synergies and various other, very catchy words, and they’re trying to do something to you instead of working with you.
I really feel that the Internet has obviously been one of the main reasons why the slick used car salesman that we so love to hate has been put out of business because there’s more transparency now than ever before. I truly believe that once it comes to sales now, especially the new way of selling, the real brand that I’m preaching, is something that you have to work with somebody on this. It is not something that you do, it’s not based on manipulation.
You don’t want to feel like you have to take a shower after either selling someone, or feeling like you got sold yourself. That’s really the thesis behind the book is that there’s an old way of selling that’s outdated and those that still subscribe to, they’re going to be put out of business in upcoming years. Those that subscribe to the new way of business, of really treating a person as a person and trying to work with them as best as you can–it’s really the new way to go.
The Old Way
Nikki Van Noy: It’s very difficult to imagine you in a position where you would ever be manipulative. When you first got into sales, when this was new to you, did you ever feel like you were being forced in that direction or maybe not that extreme but some direction that didn’t feel like you? Was there a moment of sort of clarity here for you or were you able to step into the field and just kind of do things your own way?
Mark Evans: Well, I started off in the field of selling, being absolutely terrible at it. Like just god awful, it was really pretty bad. I didn’t know what to possibly do and I messed up so often, and I would take advice from just about anybody. Have you ever seen the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, starring Alec Baldwin and Jack Lemon and a few other stars?
Nikki Van Noy: I haven’t, no.
Mark Evans: Well, there’s a famous speech from Alec Baldwin. It’s very high pressure, basically, and they’re having a sales competition, it’s like first prize wins a Cadillac El Dorado, second prize is a set of steak knives, third is, you’re fired. Basically, that whole movie is how can we swindle, how can we cop people out of investing in these vacation properties that really are going to go belly up?
I tried that. I tried to be the slick person in front of the jet, I tried to be like the next guru and none of it felt authentic. It wasn’t until I really found a mentor who really challenged me to say, “Hey, you’ve got more in you, you can do more, you can do better. It’s just you standing in your way.” It was until I really had that mentor, who unfortunately passed away from liver cancer a couple of years ago, that it really started creating in my mind that, “Hey, I can be myself, I don’t have to do anything to anybody, I don’t have to compromise my morals, or compromise my values. I can just be me and still have success with it.”
Nikki Van Noy: I would imagine that felt like freedom.
Mark Evans: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there are so many salespeople I think that are trying to be someone else. They’re trying to be someone that they see on Instagram, in front of the Lamborghini, or they’re trying to be just someone else, entirely. It’s got to be tiring, it’s got to be really exhausting.
Nikki Van Noy: Did you have any early moments that stand out in your mind when you realized, “I can be myself and do this from an authentic place and it actually works?”
Mark Evans: Yeah, definitely. One of my first positions, when I got into sales, was selling a very technical, very engineering-focused type of service. I had dyslexia when I was in high school, I really struggle in math, I struggled in science. I basically tried to major in partying and drinking.
Nikki Van Noy: Anything fun.
Mark Evans: Anything fun, right? Anything besides those core curriculums, which I guess those are important. I really found myself in this situation where I’m selling something very complex, very engineering intensive and focused, to people that are engineers. To people that are very math and science-driven–our personalities clashed, and it just didn’t go very well.
It wasn’t until I really started bringing a level of enthusiasm where I would get really excited, because I started to understand, “Hey, we can really help these people,” and so I’d apply this enthusiasm to it and often, they would buy from us, not because we were the cheapest or not because we always had the best profit margin or whatever that would be.
But they often bought and they would tell me, “Man, you just seem so darn enthusiastic about where you’re selling, I just naturally thought yeah, I want to be a part of that, I don’t normally get this, I work with engineers all day, so yeah, let’s do this.”
Sale and Personal Development
Nikki Van Noy: That makes perfect sense. I mean, it’s such a simple concept. Also, I have to say to you, I could feel a little bit of anxiety taking up in my body. Just thinking about being in that position where I felt in any way like I had to speak authoritatively to something that was not my innate language, that sounds horrible.
Mark Evans: It’s not great and I really struggled in the beginning part of my career, especially with those engineering managers. I naturally would think about how I would like to be sold–I’d like to be wined and dined and maybe go to a basketball game or something.
So, I’d get these front row tickets to a local sports team. Just these primo seats and I’d call these engineering managers who are very closeted, they don’t want to interact with strangers, and be like, “Hey, guess what? I’ve got this amazing opportunity where we can sit courtside and network with strangers!” One of the guys was like, “Mark, that’s literally my worst nightmare. I’m going to have to go to counseling after this,” and that’s not great. Little sales fail there.
Nikki Van Noy: You have come up with a system that allows sales to be a more approachable and authentic process. But what’s interesting to me is that you’re blending in personal development with this. I wouldn’t necessarily put those two things together.
Mark Evans: There’s really four chapters of the book or four sections of the book. It goes mindset, prep work, selling, and follow up. Really, selling in the act, in the art of selling is really only one part of that. What you’re referring to is really the mindset and I think that there are really 10 core foundational elements that you need to have from a mindset standard when it comes to successfully selling in life, and when it comes to successfully selling just in general. If you don’t have the right mindset, if you don’t have that good base foundation, you’re going to suffer in life and whether you make a lot of money or whether you don’t, it’s really not going to matter.
Because at the end of the day, you’re going to be a lousy person.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, that’s fair enough. I would agree with that entirely. Let’s work through these. We have mindset prep work.
Mark Evans: Are you familiar with a term in cooking called mise en place?
Nikki Van Noy: Yes.
Mark Evans: Okay, for your listeners, I’m going to explain it and unpack it a little bit. Mise en place is really a technique that a lot of cooks use and whether you’re dining at a five-star Michelin restaurant or you’re going to the local Denny’s, chances are, they’re going to use it–more at the five-star restaurant than they are at the Denny’s–but still the principle applies. If you go to a dinner service, let’s say it’s at 6:00 or 7:00, the chefs didn’t just show up at 5:00 and go like, “Hey, what are we cooking today?” They were there you know, at like 10 AM in the morning or at 11 AM or even earlier, as you see on some of these Netflix chef documentaries, which I love.
Really, mise en place is the art of everything in its place and that’s what it means. The chefs are there all day, getting the seasonings ready, chopping the vegetables, getting the meat prepared, making sure that the sauces are just so. So that when dinner service comes, it’s fluid, the dinner service flows, and they can put out an exceptional meal.
So many businesses and especially so many salespeople aren’t doing the hard work that it takes to make sales easy. They’re not putting in that prep work. They’re not getting ready for their day. They’re kind of taking this scattershot approach, which is really not benefitting them, it’s not benefitting their customers, and it’s not getting them to where they want to go.
Nikki Van Noy: Why do you think that that is?
Mark Evans: Well, I think there’s a couple of things. I think most of the time when I work with companies or when I speak to a company, really, no one’s talking about it. The emphasis is always on more, more, more. Give me more sales, make more contacts, make more calls, but we really need to look at how we are preparing to do? How are we preparing to go out in the world and start our day?
I think it just takes a little bit more intention, it just takes a little thought of, “All right, what do I want out of today? What do I want out of sales, what do I want out of my business?” And then just doing that little extra hard work to say, “All right, if this is what I want, this is the amount that I have to put into it, I better darn be ready for it.”
Nikki Van Noy: That’s interesting to me. I could not sell anything to save my life. I would end up paying people probably as opposed to actually selling something.
Mark Evans: Nikki, I don’t believe you at all. You could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves. I have no doubt.
Nikki Van Noy: The CEO of our company literally told me a couple of days ago, he wouldn’t imagine anyone worse in selling than me. I assure you–this is true.
Mark Evans: Wow, that’s some feedback right there.
Nikki Van Noy: It’s okay because that has nothing to do with my job, so I am in the safe zone. The reason that I say that is because that’s where I am coming from. I might be projecting this, but I can compare it to going into an interview where I would be so scared to try and have a conversation with someone if I hadn’t done a little bit of prep work. So, I am just surprised to hear this when so much of selling, it seems to me, is a dialogue between two people or more.
Mark Evans: Well, I think it is because a lot of salespeople, from my experience, they want to rely on their mojo and their creativity. They feel that hey if they put any sort of discipline or disciplined approach into how they get ready for business, how they prepare, how they plan out their day, that it is really going to stifle their creativity.
I found that it is exactly the opposite. I will quote a famous author, Jocko Willink–discipline equals freedom. I think that same rule definitely applies when it comes to sales, whether it is in your interaction of you selling yourself in an interview and trying to make progress there or whether it is even in your interactions with your family. Maybe your kid’s school, all of these interactions. If we just take a little bit to prepare, think through how we want this interaction to go, plan a little bit for who we are potentially talking to, know what might really resonate with our audience, whether it is a PTA meeting or whether it is sitting across from a Fortune 100 business executive where you are trying to sell us illusionary service, just take a little bit of practice, a little bit of forethought, a little bit intention and that will go a really long way.
Nikki Van Noy: That is just a good life rule. I really like that.
Mark Evans: It is. I think it is rude if you don’t. I don’t know about you Nikki, but my mama didn’t raise me to be rude as much as she tried. And I fail her all the time. I am trying mom, I’m trying!
Nikki Van Noy: You’re writing a book about it, so you’re doing good, you are spreading the message.
Mark Evans: Yeah tell that to my three sisters. What are you bringing for Christmas this year?
Nikki Van Noy: Right, step it up let’s go, two months left. Okay, so then you talk about selling, which is obviously what we’re getting at here. So, talk to me about what selling–I don’t want to say should look like to you, but talk to me about your thoughts about selling and best practices?
Mark Evans: Yeah, I will break this down as best as I can for the audience here. So, I really think that selling comes down to two main things. One is a framework of how to have a really good conversation and it is really just having a persuasive conversation in trying to get your point across and to try to also understand what that other person is trying to get at. Chances are and often is, that the other person just needs a chance to talk.
I feel like so many salespeople get that part wrong. They get a word or two out of you and then all of a sudden, they have this magical solution that is supposed to make all of your problems disappear. That is not the case.
So really there is a framework and then there are also people types. I will break both of those down. I think when it comes to selling, there is something really important to keep in mind. The art of a good conversation and the art of a really good sales presentation I think boils down to four main points. The first is building rapport. Just like you did with me on this podcast before. Man, I feel like, Nikki, we’re like best friends after only a couple of minutes here. You built such a great rapport with me.
Nikki Van Noy: I agree.
Mark Evans: I know, yeah you are going to be coming to the Evans Family Christmas here in no time. So, you build a good rapport and then you ask really good questions. That’s where a lot of that prep work comes into play because I really think that asking questions is the most important part of the entire sales presentation. It is not this epic close and pitch that you know most people commonly think sales is.
I think really the real magic happens in the level and depth of the questions you ask. Because when you can really peel that layer back when you can really get to understand the conversation that’s going on in the mind of your prospect, or whoever you’re talking, they are going to think that you have the solution. They are going to think that you just understand them more than anybody else.
A Good Question
Nikki Van Noy: I want to land here for a second because I feel like asking good questions is one of those things that can come very naturally to some people and then for other people it doesn’t. So, tell me what a good question is to you?
Mark Evans: Yeah, well the framework that I always try to think of, whether I am meeting someone at the grocery store and talking to them or whether I am in a business transaction, is I try to think of where they’re trying to go. Because really if you think about it, with most people, we are looking at where we want to go. There is an awful lot of chatter with most people of what happened in the past, but I am not as concerned about that.
I am more focused on where do they want to go? Especially in a business transaction. I try to think of what their goals are, what is the most ideal solution for them, what is an ideal outcome, and then my questions reflect that. And so, I will ask those simple questions of, “What are your goals, where do you want to go, how does this impact your people, how does this impact your business?” I think that is a really great framework to think of, where are they right now.
Almost think of it, Nikki–imagine if you called me and you said, “Mark, I know we just met but I am lost, and I need your help.” Well, naturally Nikki, my first question would be, “Well Nikki, where are you?” And then the second question would be, “Where do you want to go?” And those are the two critical questions in everybody’s mind especially when it comes to business. Here is where we’re at, here is where we want to go.
If you can tie your product, your solution, your widget to where people want to go, man, you are going to win so much business. You are going to have much greater results when it comes down to that framework.
Nikki Van Noy: That makes a lot of sense.
Mark Evans: So, that is asking questions and during that time, you are maybe talking like 25% of the time. This is a good rule of thumb. I break it all the time. I am going to pinch myself in most meetings because I just want to chitchat all day and then you listen 75% of the time. So, it really allows someone to open up and answer fully, then you move into speaking to answers.
I just listened to you Nikki. You gave me all of this great information and now I am going to speak to answer. So now, this is when I am going to say, “Hey, here is my solution. Here is how I can help. Here is how we can really benefit you, your life, your company, your family.”
Then last but not the least and I think this is where most salespeople get a really bad rep is what people commonly refer to as the close. When I think of the close, I think that is such a negative connotation. That really to me denotes, “Hey, this is something I am trying to do to you, this is something that it is in my best interest that I want to make sure happens to you.” And I don’t think that’s how business should work, nor is that how you’re going to create repeat lifelong friends, fans, and customers.
I call it a win-win. How can I create a win-win? Something that is really going to benefit you and obviously going to benefit me as well if you buy my service, my product, or my solution. How can we create a win-win together?
Nikki Van Noy: And that leads us to follow up.
Mark Evans: So, follow up is a great thing, because so many people and so many sales teams are neglecting it. I recently read a stat where it said something like 80% of all companies or all people at a company basically don’t buy anything or don’t pick up a phone call or answer a call from a salesperson until after the 7th or 8th interaction or email or phone call. And in that exact same study it said that most salespeople get stopped after two or three attempts.
I am no math major, but if we are stopping at two or three attempts, yet most people will only respond after eight attempts. It is like, “Hey guys, we got to figure this out.” Most people are falling short. I really feel that’s where the money is and that is especially where the results are in sales is when you have a consistent and creative follow up. It is easier than ever to be creative.
We’ve got the internet. You can buy things. You can purchase services, Fiverr is a great resource for this, as well as just being creative in following up in a proactive scheduled way. That is what it comes down to is do you care about that person to remember them on their birthday, to follow up with a handwritten note after your interaction? Can you remember that you should email them once a month? It is just little simple stuff like that.
Creative Follow Up
Nikki Van Noy: Give me an idea of what a creative follow up might look like.
Mark Evans: Oh yeah, I can definitely do that. So, something that I do, and this is really simple that just about anybody in your audience can replicate, is that I love books. I struggled reading as a kid, but when I became an adult, I really started to love personal development books and I am now able to read like 30 or 40 a year. I know it is exciting, cue in the applause. I just love reading. It is one of my favorite things to do and so I collect a lot of books.
So, every month or at least every quarter or so, to a core group of clients and people that I want to do business with, and influencers in my sphere, I send them a book and just a quick little note. It is a really small book. It is easy to do. It takes less than $10 a person. I get so much goodwill, leads, and business from that and it is just something simple, a quick book, “Hey, I thought of you while reading this. I hope you really enjoy.” Send that off to the mail and you’ll be amazed at the results that follow.
Nikki Van Noy: I mean obviously, I love that.
Mark Evans: Yeah, well I mean you have written books. You know what is up, people love books.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, seriously but you’re right. That is one of those things that it does not feel generic. There is something really lovely about that.
Mark Evans: Yeah and let us even think about the handwritten note. I mean I don’t know about you Nikki, but how many emails would you say you get on a given day? Is it north of 50?
Nikki Van Noy: It is too many.
Mark Evans: Right? Yeah and so what do you probably end up doing with the vast majority of those emails?
Nikki Van Noy: Delete, delete, delete, delete.
Mark Evans: Yeah, exactly yeah. You and everybody else, right? And so, most people want to send an email that says, “Hey, it was great to meet you,” blah-blah-blah, delete. But just think of how a handwritten note stands out. When was the last time you threw out a handwritten note in the mail without opening?
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, it would never happen.
Mark Evans: Yeah, never right? So that is a really easy trick, if you want to call it a trick. I think it is a really good life lesson to think about following up with a handwritten note to really stand above the crowd. Because people won’t do it. They won’t take the time to do it.
Nikki Van Noy: The answer to this question and I fully realize maybe simply it doesn’t, but I am wondering how this translates for people who sell online has to be some element of their sales.
Mark Evans: Yeah, well I think that is a good point. I think that this can apply, so a lot of the things, a lot of the tactics and the frameworks that I put together in this book are really geared towards people that are meeting in person, people that are conducting their sales via phone or via webinar, things like that. But when you want to bring it online, I think one of the most important things is to be authentic, to be real, and there are a lot of elements of follow up and understanding who your buyer is and your ideal buyer is on the other end.
If your ideal prospect is a 43-year-old father of four, well that is going to be a very different conversation than a 22-year-old female that just left undergrad college. Really understanding who are you trying to sell to, what is going to motivate them, what is the conversation going on in their mind, and how you can enter that conversation, is going to be really critical and those are a lot of the topics I cover in the book as well.
Nikki Van Noy: So, let us bring this back full circle to you. How have things shifted for you since you’ve started to sell in this way, both in terms of results and also just how you feel about your job on a day-to-day basis?
Mark Evans: Yeah, let us start with the latter. I feel amazing, like I feel great, I feel so fortunate to get an opportunity to one, practice what I preach. I feel very in line with what I speak, and what I teach, and how I actually sell, and it is very empowering. It is very empowering to know that what I am out to do and try to help people, whether that is through my services, my coaching, or whatever, what I’m looking to do is to really try to help.
From a real tactical level, it’s been incredible. The results that myself and my clients have seen have been tremendous, many clients have been able to, from putting the principles and play from this book, add hundreds of thousands of dollars to their bottom line and to their revenue. So, it has been a real game changer for them, as well, which is just the best feeling ever.
Nikki Van Noy: Beautiful.