If you’ve ever wished you knew the exact thing to say that could instantly close a sale then this episode is for you. Brian Robinson, author of The Selling Formula, has worked in sales and marketing with some of the best known companies in the world, including Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson. After leaving his corporate career, he helped launch a successful startup where he was the first person in the history of the industry to sell more than a million dollars in business in 12 months, entirely by phone.
He has more than two decades worth of in the trenches, battle tested, face to face and phone presentation knowledge that can benefit anyone, whether you’re working for fortune 500 companies or you’re an entrepreneur.
In this episode, you’re going to be transformed into someone who communicates like a top performing sales professional. These are steps that can instantly increase your sales.
Brian Robinson: It started about 18 years ago, I was working for Johnson & Johnson and my fourth division with them and came to a place where in sales and marketing, I was highly penetrated in my territory, about 85% of the business we were enjoying. It was going to take a lot of work to get the additional 15% that was left.
A friend of mine approached me and said, “Hey, I am starting a company and I’d like you to consider joining me,” and the opportunity looked strong.
I was kind of disappointed that all the years as I looked back, working in corporate America, I wasn’t really building equity in myself, it was building equity in a company and so I thought, I’d really like to build equity in a company that I have some interest in.
For about four months, my wife and I really prayed about it and were very serious about it and we decided to jump in. About six months into this endeavor, I reached kind of a watershed moment where my wife gave birth to twins. We had six children, 14 and under at the time, we have a total of eight children now.
“Yeah, even when I say it, I’m shocked.”
I’d been driving about 1,500 miles a week, cold calling our prospects, driving from state to state and she was drowning at home with the twins. I had to figure out a way to get off the road. Interestingly, what came into my hands was a really life changing audio series by Joe Polish and Tim Paulson entitled Piranha Marketing. In that, Joe talks about prerecorded messages.
I remember vividly, driving up to Kansas and hearing this thought about being able to record a message and drive people to that number, and then they’ll respond to you. Immediately, I yelled out loud: This is the answer, this is it.
I called my partner, explained it to him and he, it kind of just flew over his head. It’s like whatever, I’ve got to keep calling people, I’ll talk to you later.
I came back to the office, I set up one of our extensions with an extended voice greeting which became the message, and at the time, we had relationships with several state banking associations. That was our focus, was banks.
I sent out a fax blast—yes, a fax blast—when it was important and started to get the lines got jammed. People were calling, leaving messages, and I was able to generate leads this way. It was literally the turning point.
I told my wife, I think I can get off the road if I do this properly.
From Analog to Digital
Charlie Hoehn: Let me pause you there, Brian, what did the message say or what was a rough breakdown of the message?
Brian Robinson: The message was probably five minutes or so, and it basically stated the problem that if people are calling into your bank and you don’t have something that’s clear, that’s a call to action, that causes them to say something when they come off hold, you’re missing literally thousands of opportunities a year to speak into the ear of your customer and grow your business from it.
The call to action was, “If you’d like to find out more, just leave your name and number and I’ll reach out and we’ll setup a brief time to talk.”
Charlie Hoehn: This was like a webinar before a webinar?
Brian Robinson: Pretty much. Very many in a sense of a webinar, just a few minutes but just enough to pique the interest and get them to leave their name and number.
As I transitioned from going to see these folks face to face, my goal was to do this over the phone, I had no model to follow whatsoever. In fact, our service was barely showable online because of the time, dial-up internet was still en vogue, believe it or not.
It was difficult to get somebody on the phone and actually get them on a call where they could pull up a browser and see what we’re doing.
“It was super slow.”
Of course, that’s changed over time, but what it caused me to do and forced me to do is create a very exact process that I have to follow in order to understand the needs of the prospect.
Create something that interested them, be very focused on the benefits of that, and then try to close the deal.
It was a totally foreign way of doing business for me because for years, I was face to face with every one of my prospects in sales. Again, what this forced me to do is build something very specific which is what’s actually codified in The Selling Formula.
It’s the actual process that I’ve proven and that others have followed and have proven for themselves works really well.
It works face to face and it also works over the phone.
The Selling Formula Big Idea>
Charlie Hoehn: What is the big idea in the book?
Brian Robinson: The subtitle is Five Steps for Instant Sales Improvement. But the theme that’s running through each chapter really boils down to this concept: you’re one habit away from changing the whole trajectory of your life. If you’ll just do one thing.
What I recommend in the book is grab an idea, focus on it for one week, see how that improves your process, and then add one more idea on top of it the next week and just continue to do that to expand the capability of your selling process.
For example, price options. When we started selling our service, there was only one price, and I found out I had to craft one off deals very frequently in order to get something closed. I had to adjust the price or the terms or something else to make it more appealing if someone wasn’t going to just accept the price we were offering.
I decided to come up with three price points, and I tested it and it made a dramatic difference.
“The concept here is anchoring.”
When you give somebody a price, they’ll usually of course look at the high and the low and tend to go in the middle, and that’s exactly what happened.
It also gave me the opportunity to craft a deal in between those options if necessary but it became less of a question of price and more of a question of which one do I want. It kind of shifted the whole mentality of the sales process at the end when the pricing was given and there were three options.
Charlie Hoehn: I love pricing anchoring, I think it’s brilliant. Why does that work so well? Is it because it changes people from yes or no to A, B or C?
Brian Robinson: It does. I think even more so, there’s something that were hardwired for internally. I think as humans, with the number three, I don’t know the reason why but there’s something inherently comfortable about ABC, 123, good, better, best and it’s very easy to remember. I think it’s just kind of in our DNA
Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, it’s totally true. Now, let’s dive in, if you’re up for this Brian, I’d be keen to do this as a real life, like almost a coaching session, if you want. It’s up to you. But I’m working on an offer right now that I can give to potential clients and be fun to go through The Selling Formula with the offer I’m working on.
What I’m doing is I’m working on selling a video marketing, basically, offering to be a chief video officer to other businesses. I’ve done video for 15 years, I know the strategy really well and how it fits within the marketing and I also know the technical part as well, so I can communicate with the experts and the professionals and I also know how to do that stuff.
What I’m thinking of offering is actually exactly as you said, having a low, middle, higher offer. According to your book, it sounds like the first thing I have to do is to connect and set the agenda, is that right?
Brian Robinson: It is, there’s little ground work prior to that, though. this ground work is critical if you’re starting with some kind of a new offer and that is obviously, you need to determine who your ideal prospect is. Then, once you’ve nailed that down, you need to create a unique selling proposition statement, something that clearly states what you can do for them in one sentence.
No doubt, your listeners and yourself have probably heard the old USPs from FedEx, when it absolutely positively has to be there overnight, FedEx, Domino’s pizza, previously was delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free. That kind of a USP.
Once you’ve nailed that and tested it, then, it’s time to figure out your agenda for the conversation, and I recommend a three point agenda. What you do is, and this is the most critical piece in my opinion, my experience of any selling process besides what I just mentioned in terms of targeting:
It’s coming up with the questions for understanding and eliciting the need of your prospect.
This became really clear to me when I was with Johnson and Johnson. I explain in the book, this experience I had where we were going up against an entrenched competitor in the division I was in, we sold endoscopic products.
These are products you used in laparoscopy where the surgeon puts in ports in someone’s belly, they blow the belly up with CO2 and then they’re in there with like video camera and they’re doing the surgery. This particular device was for hernia repair and our device was clinically superior.
“Our competitor could not touch it.”
However, they were entrenched in the space and well-known.
I decided to go ahead and just put down on paper the features and benefits and what questions I would ask to turn the attention of the surgeon to why this was clinically superior, it took me hours because I hadn’t done this type of thinking before.
I tested it, and within 30 days, my trials of this product doubled and so did my sales. The key was, the line of questions and the order in which the questions were asked and over time, as I trained other sales people in the organization, they saw me working off this list of questions and they said, “What is that?” That’s the question list that I just – I’m consistently using.
They said, “Can I get a copy of it?” I said sure, I passed it on to a couple of people, they got the same results and pretty soon, I had people calling me, we had 460 person sales team. Calling me from all over the country saying “Hey, I want a copy of your questions.”
I passed them on and I’ve seen this work in other industries outside of this with other people that have carefully crafted their questions, they’ve seen a dramatic improvement in their ability to engage their prospects and to get new business.
Asking the Right Questions
Charlie Hoehn: Interesting, once you get past the basic information gathering stage which I assume, the types of questions that you’re asking them there are like who are your customers, what is your price point, basic stuff, right?
Brian Robinson: That’s just information gathering. For example, let’s say that you’re selling an advertising service. One of the questions might be, as a third party, going to this prospect that you can reduce their time involvement because you can pick up what they’re doing in house and maybe get it out of house for them.
Some of the questions you might ask for general information gathering would be:
- If you could offload the time that you’re spending right now, doing your advertising activities, how much time would that actually save you?
- What is the greatest frustration you experience right now with your current advertising and marketing that you’re doing in house?
- Are you a one person shop? Do you have other people you work with outside of your company?
“Those types of questions pinpoint where their pain might be.”
Then, once you’ve written that out and you’ve taken notes on it, you have already got questions associated with the greatest benefit that you provide and you start asking questions associated with that benefit.
An example would be, this is in the book, let’s say that you sell home cooked meals that are premade and you just buy them and put them in your freezer. One of the questions might be, “How much time do you spend right now creating your meals or developing or cooking your meals for your family?”
Let’s say the answer’s an hour.
“Okay, if I could reduce that to five minutes, basically taking something out of the freezer and putting it in the oven, how would that increase the frequency of your family meals?”
What you’re doing is associating that question with some benefit, the frequency of family meals and that’s very close to most people’s hearts, and what you’ve done is you’ve just plucked an emotional string and you’ve really met a need, potentially. Does that make sense?
Keeping Them Engaged
Brian Robinson: A step we’re actually missing is developing rapport with your prospect before you even ask questions. I can circle back to that if you like, but let’s just continue on where we are.
After you’ve asked the questions of your prospect and you’ve taken notes, then, after that, you transition into the presentation/conversation about your product or service.
So, you already prepped them with a three-point agenda. Three-point agenda is, I’m going to ask you some questions about your current situation, and then I’m going to show you the key components of our service, and then we’ll finish up with a review and chat about pricing. That’s just kind of a generic overview.
They’re expecting you to go to the next step, which is an overview of your service. Then, what you do is say, I’m going to give you, there are five components, six, whatever the key components of your service are, you simply say, now I’m going to review the five key components of our service.
“If you’re taking notes, here’s the first one.”
And what you want to do is wait for them to pull out a piece of paper and a pen if they haven’t already done so. The psychological benefit of this is twofold. Number one, people that take notes on what you’re saying view you instantly as an authority.
“Because we take notes on what authorities tell us.”
Secondarily, it actually moves the content from short term to long term memory when you write something out. You’re actually making some imprints in that person’s brain when they write it out. They’re making the imprint.
You just start stepping through the key components of your offer. Now, the critical piece here as you do this is you refer back to your notes and you use them as you focus on your key components of your offer.
For example, you might say, I noticed during our conversation, you mentioned that one of the frustrations you experience when you do your advertising development in-house is that often times you wish you had somebody you could reach out to show you how to tweak something because you’ve got the sense that maybe it just could be one bit better, one slight iteration difference or change or color or hue could make it that much better.
But you don’t have anyone you can really reach out to, to ask that question. Well, if you do that with us, all that’s taken care of. We have the best in the industry, we have countless testimonials about how we’ve helped people do that very thing. That’s just an example of how that may work for you by being very aware of what your prospect is saying and writing those notes down and then using them to focus on that benefit.
Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, that’s good, that’s really good. I love by the way that you recommend that they take notes. It’s nice to be told to do that because you feel like okay, I have an authority and an expert really telling me something important here.
Brian Robinson: You’ve gone to the questions, you’ve now reviewed the key components of your offering, now it’s time transition into pricing. And so, what you said in your upfront agenda was that you would do that. There’s an open loop, they’re waiting for you in their mind to go to that next level and so that’s what you do.
You say now, “Let’s chat about pricing.” And I found it’s critical to say it like that because it becomes just a comfortable conversation. They were expecting you to bring it up because number one, they know you’re there to sell something and number two, you already said it in the agenda.
Then, what I would suggest saying is, “We’ve got three options: option A, B and C. Now, there’s just one key difference between the options and it’s related to X.”
And let’s say there’s a couple of differences, but let’s just say that there is one key difference. So what you do is you explain each option. And by the way, you also say if you are taking notes and you’re expecting them to write this down of course, then after you write your three options out you ask them a trial closing question.
“You don’t even give them the price yet.”
What you say is, “Now if you were to try this,” and that is a keyword, “If you were to try this, which option do you think might make the most sense to consider?”
So what you are doing is you’re not putting price out there as a factor that they are considering at this moment, they are actually considering your offer on the basis of one or three options right now, right?
And so typically they’ll give you either A or B. It just depends on your offering and then you say:
“Okay, well let’s go ahead and let me provide you with that pricing,” and what’s critical, in my opinion, when you offer pricing is you give option A, reinforce what you are offering. Give option B price, then option C price.
Charlie Hoehn: In order of a high-middle-low or low-middle-high?
Brian Robinson: Great question, high-middle-low. You always want to anchor high first because then the other options will appear to be more attractive. Highest anchor first on price.
And then after you have done that, what I highly recommend is you have some guarantee that you offer and then some special offer, some deadline.
In my opinion if you don’t have an offer and a deadline, your deal may be dead on arrival.
The Power of the Guarantee
Charlie Hoehn: You know it’s funny I’ve always known this with writing sales copy but this makes total sense like in conversational scales and fulfillment basically over the phone or in person, I’ve never given a guarantee. Or I have given guarantees but I have never given a deadline. That makes complete sense.
Brian Robinson: Yeah and guarantee first, deadline second. So after you give the pricing you would then provide the guarantee.
By the way, after you give the pricing you say, “By the way, we have two guarantees or one guarantee, that our service has. If you are not satisfied in the first 90 days for any reason, we’ll give you a 100% refund.” “If you are not satisfied in the first 12 months for any reason, we’ll give you a pro-rated refund,” whatever the guarantee is.
And you can guarantee virtually anything. You know this from your copywriting, terms, service, longevity, if it doesn’t turn red within 60 days, I mean whatever it might be.
An example I give in the book of the power of guarantees is I worked as a consultant for a company in Colorado that years ago had the software that would allow a bank or credit union to quickly pull together their loan documentation when they had an audit.
And often times when the auditor is coming in, they give them a few weeks’ notice or a month’s notice, it created this flurry of activity to get everybody on board, all hands on deck, let’s get all the loan documentation together, files and files of stuff. They really have to have their act together to get this on the table for the auditor.
Well this loan processing software took all of those paper files and made them electronic. When I was quizzing them about the advantages of this I said:
“Realistically, how fast could somebody be prepared for an audit if they use your system?”
They said, “Realistically they could just pull it up in minutes they’d be ready.” I said, “What about 45 minutes?” “Oh yeah, piece of cake.”
I said, “Does anyone guarantee an audit preparedness within 45 minutes?”
They looked at each other and said, “No.”
“Could other companies guarantee that?” “Well, yeah.” “Well then you guarantee it.” And then we actually came up with four guarantees.
And before they even made their presentation, these four guarantees spoke to the major pains that bankers had preparing for an audit. When they opened up their sales discussion they said, “Before we even get into our service, let us share our four guarantees with you.”
These people were blown away, and they doubled their business.
“That’s the power of a guarantee if it is used properly.”
And so you provide your guarantee. And then what I recommend is provide some incentive to take action now.
“So within the next 30 days, we’ve got a special discount,” but the critical piece here is you don’t tell them about the discount at the end of your presentation. You tell them before you even give them pricing that way it doesn’t feel manipulative.
So before you even give your pricing, you say “By the way, we have for the next 60 days,” or by the end of May or June or whatever it is, “we’re providing additional 10% discount. We have a national promotion running. We are providing additional 10% discount off the rates I’m going to give you and I will give you more details on that when we are finished.”
And then you give them their pricing and you remind them as you are giving them the pricing there’s an additional discount off of this or you don’t even tell them the discount.
You just say, “We have a special discount off the rates I am going to give you and I will give you more details on that at the end of our conversation.”
And then you summarize with that price and say, “And through the end of May it’s going to be this price.”
Charlie Hoehn: So after you said the price you say, “And through this date is when you can get your discount” basically just to reinforce like this is coming to an end.
Brian Robinson: Exactly. I found it to be critical to move people forward.
I found it works well to do an addition to a discount, maybe a special incentive like we’ll give you three months of free service in addition to this extra discount if you give us authorization by this particular date.
Closing the Deal
Charlie Hoehn: We’ve covered the pricing, the guarantees, closing the deal. Closing the deal itself, this has always given me a bit of nervousness when it gets to this part, right? I care too much, Brian. So what do I do at this part of the conversation?
Brian Robinson: Well first of all, the closing is actually integrated into initially kind of a trial closing. It is integrated into when you present your pricing when you say, “Now if you were to try this, which option do you think might make the most sense to consider?” So what you’ve basically allowed them to do is tell you what they would actually like to try if they’ve already even use it.
After presenting the pricing, you simply ask the question again.
So you have seen option A, B and C, now which option do you think might make the most sense to try?
“Well, I don’t know I like option B, or I kind of like C,” and often times, you’ll get the response of what option they want and it’s, “Okay great. Well let’s move forward,” and you sign them up.
Now if they start giving pushback and say, “Well I really – I don’t know which option. I really need to think it over,” this is when you go into some pretty classic think it over questions.
And one of those would be, “Okay, I understand. What is it that you might need to think over a little bit more? Help me understand what that might be.”
“Well I don’t know that we really need all that you offer with option C, even your lowest option.”
“Okay, what is it that you would like to remove from that package that might make more sense for you? Because that might give me an opportunity to lower the price even more.”
“Let them tell you what they need in order for you to close them.”
A game changing question for me was, “If I could offer you,” if they are hesitating.
I have already given the price, I have given them a special incentive and then just say, “Hey if I could offer you some incentive to move forward now as opposed to later, would you be open to hearing that?”
So you are not offering it. You are just asking if they are open to hearing it and I had a handful of people tell me, “I am not open to hearing it, Brian.”
“Okay, great talking with you.”
Or “Yeah I am.” Okay, well if I could split the installation with you or if I could give you X, do you think we could move forward now as oppose to later?” “Yeah, if you gave me X I think we’d do that deal.”
“Alright, let’s do it.”
Finding Your Voice
Charlie Hoehn: You know part of the resistance in doing sales, for myself at least is like when I do it I’m like: “I don’t come across as the way that I normally am.” So I loved all of that. That’s fantastic.
Brian Robinson: What I was going to suggest is for a deeper dive obviously you can go through that in the book. I’ve got scripts that I have written. I’ve got pricing scripts, I’ve got guarantee scripts.
So I’ve discovered that if you can own the language of this approach, it will work. For example, I have one of my associates several years ago was very frustrated with the way he wasn’t able to get some deals closed and he asked for a copy of my recording for a particular product, when I sell this. So I gave him a copy of it.
He actually listened to it, he told me, about 50 times. He had it memorized and he could do it when he was driving in his car, and he more than doubled his sales and became salesman of the year just by owning that language.
That is something I mentioned in the book. I am convinced, having worked for Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson.
“I don’t know why big companies don’t do this.”
If they take the top sales people that have a duplicatable process, because honestly, some of the best sales people kind of wing it even though they are following a process. It is difficult to duplicate it. But if you can find one of your top people that has a pretty clear cut process, you record them and I would recommend sending it out to everybody in this field.
Say this: “Look I need you to memorize this, and when we go on ride alongs if you are not following this you are not going to get a good review.”
Now I am not suggesting that you get rid of your personality by any means, but the best actors, the best people on stage still have their own personality.
They are using keywords in certain phrases that really make an impact, that’s the suggestion.
Success Leaves Clues
Charlie Hoehn: Now the final chapter in the book and then you have two bonus chapters, the final chapter is called Becoming a Selling Master. Is that what you recommend there is to continue your studies? What do you suggest?
Brian Robinson: It is, one of the things I do suggest is what I just mentioned and that’s listening to the fastest way to overcome any sales challenge in my opinion is to listen to the best on your team and duplicate that.
As you’ve heard many times probably in many ways, success leaves clues. It is simply following someone else’s path and doing your best to duplicate it integrating your own personality into that.
Secondly, obviously reading books, listening to podcasts like this.
Those types of things are critical, and I reinforce really what we started with at the beginning of this podcast and that is choose one thing.
“I am convinced we are one habit away from potentially changing our entire lives.”
But what happens is we are I think most of us are on autopilot from a habitual standpoint. So 90 plus percent of what we do I think on a daily basis for good or bad is habitual. We don’t even think about it and if we could actually take one idea.
I am looking right now at a bookcase in my office and I’ve got tons of books here, if I implemented 1% of what the information I’ve read in this books, I probably would be that much better 100%, 200, 300% who knows? I’ve only implemented a handful of things that have changed everything for me and that is the point of being a selling master.
It’s just that one piece of discipline. That one idea implement it for seven days, add it to your repertoire and do another seven days and just watch what happens. It is just a commitment of discipline to one thing.
Charlie Hoehn: So some of your favorite most effective questions, phrases and then bonus chapter two is The Assumptive Appointment Solution, what is that?
Brian Robinson: That is what actually allowed me to start doing this business, cold calling and getting leads. Basically, the assumptive appointment solution is assuming the appointment and then confirming afterwards.
So the way that works is I had a copy of old Microsoft Streets and Trips on my laptop. I was given a book of bank context in Kansas and Nebraska and told to go sell. It was beautiful, so what I had to do was develop a process that allowed me to set up appointments from several states away.
The way that worked is pick an anchor appointment.
So let’s say you draw a circle around a certain city that you plan to go to. Contact one person in that city and the essence of what I would say in that case was if I get their voicemail, “This is Brian Robinson. I am going to be in your city,” name of city, “Next Tuesday at 10 AM, and I wondered if you’d be opposed to me stopping by for no more than five to 10 minutes just to show you what we are doing with hundreds of other banks like yours around the country? Of course I don’t know your schedule so if that time doesn’t work, if you could kindly let me know I would appreciate it. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you next Tuesday at 10. My number is…”
And I would just assume the appointment.
“Shockingly, about 70% of those appointments would hold.”
I would call back a few days before to confirm. If I didn’t get them on the phone I would just leave them another message telling them I’d be there next week at that time and just drive and go see them.
And then I had a ring I put in my software 25, 50, 75 miles out from that anchor appointment, and when I would call the next potential appointment I would reference the appointment I made that was actually confirmed.
“Hey I’m going to be seeing Peter Smith over at this location in this town at 10:00 Tuesday and while I am in the area I wonder if you’d be opposed to me stopping by around 11:30 to show you what we are doing with hundreds of other banks like yours,” etcetera.
And it created curiosity. The psychology was, “Wow if this guy,” who they probably know because they are not that far away from one another “is seeing him, maybe I should find out what he is doing too.”
We use that power of curiosity in setting appointments in doing it this way.
One Thing from The Selling Formula
Charlie Hoehn: Can you tell our listeners something, the main thing you want them to test out from your book?
Brian Robinson: It’s just taking an honest look at your selling process, see where you tighten up, where do you start getting nervous then focus on that area of concern and fear and then ask yourself what’s the one thing I can do to shift this, what’s the one thing I can say.
That is where you want to put your focus. Let that be your guide as it was very eloquently stated by the gentleman who wrote The War of Art, are you familiar with that book?
Charlie Hoehn: Steven Pressfield, yeah.
Brian Robinson: Yes, great book. Let resistance be your guide as to where you should focus your effort.
Charlie Hoehn: Nicely said. So Brian you delivered a ton of value in this episode so thank you. Thank you for doing that, the book is awesome, The Selling Formula. How can our listeners get in touch with you, follow you and see what else you’re working on?
Brian Robinson: Three things, you can go to thesellingformula.com and there’s free content that I reference in the book that you can put your name and email address in and get instant access to us.
The scripts I mentioned with actual recordings of me speaking them so you can get a sense of how you might want to copy that.