SPECIAL EPISODE 010: Alan Stein, Jr. Shares How Sales Pros Can Raise Their Game By Applying the Preparation Habits of Elite Basketball Stars Such as Kobe, Nash and Curry
ALAN’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Adopt “10 assists.” Every morning you wake up, you can put 10 rubber bands on your left wrist or you can put 10 pennies in your left pocket. Every time you give an assist to either a current client or customer or to a prospect, take one rubber band off your left wrist and put it on your right wrist, or you take one penny out of your left pocket and you put it in your right pocket. Don’t go to bed until you know that you’ve dished out 10 assists, or that you’ve done 10 things above and beyond what you’re expected to do, to add value to someone else or to assist a prospect client or a current customer. Start to keep tangible count of how much you’re trying to help others and fill their buckets, both with future business and with current business. I guarantee you, that will help you raise your game.
Alan Stein Jr. is a performance coach who works with business leaders, sales leaders and sales teams all around the world.
He’s the author of the new best-seller Raise Your Game.
Find Alan on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you elaborate a little bit on your journey and tell us what you do now?
Alan Stein Jr.: I’ve spent most of my professional career in elite basketball. Basketball was my first identifiable passion, I fell in love with the game at 5 or 6 years old and made most of my living and career in the game of basketball until recently and worked as a performance coach. My job was to help players literally raise their game by improving their athleticism, their mindset, their habits, their disciplines and about two years ago I decided to take that framework and apply it to the business world to help leaders and sales professionals in organizations utilize the same mindsets and disciplines that elite athletes use, and how they can apply that to business and specifically to sales.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things that you do now? Tell us some of the things that you’re doing today, are you speaking? Are you doing individual coaching? Give us an insight into what Alan Stein Jr. is doing today.
Alan Stein Jr.: Most of what I’m doing is speaking. I absolutely love being in front of people live interacting and connecting and I found speaking is a wonderful platform to do that. I do a fair amount of key note speaking but then I also take some deep dives and do half day workshops and full day training where we can really uncover what’s required for someone to improve their performance in any specific area, but I found that both leadership in sales tends to be where my message resonates the most.
Fred Diamond: Can you give us a little bit more of the background on some of the things you did in the basketball world? 18 somewhat years you said you were working as an elite basketball coach. What does that look like, did you work with professionals? Did you work with teams or players that we might be familiar with?
Alan Stein Jr.: I’ve been self-employed since the day I graduated from college back in 1999 so I ran my own training business and that was multi-faceted. I was what many would consider a personal trainer for individual basketball players and then I also worked with several teams. Being a product of the DC area here, I was very fortunate to work with two elite high school programs, Montrose Christian in Rockville, Maryland which is where Kevin Durant graduated from and then Dematha Catholic high school in Hyattsville, Maryland who’s had a whole slew of NBA players. I had a nice combination of working with players individually as well as working with teams.
Towards the end of my basketball career, that shifted mostly to teaching coaches how to train their players, so I became a “train the trainer” so that coaches at the youth and high school level specifically would be able to train their players effectively. My claim to fame was because the DC area is so rich with high school talent that I was able to work with probably 15 to 20 future NBA players, but I worked with them when they were in middle school and high school. Again, names like Kevin Durant and Victor Oladipo and Markelle Fultz. I really enjoyed playing a role in their lives when they were young and help them matriculate up.
Fred Diamond: When you’re working with someone who’s that age, 14, 15, 16, – you’ve mentioned three tremendous players. Of course Oladipo has taken his game to a tremendous level and Kevin Durant is obviously one of the top 3 or 4 players in the league and a world champion. Do you see things in them? I’ll tell you why I’m asking that question, a lot of times we work with sales leaders and we talk about the challenges of finding top tier talent, and motivating and continuing to grow top tier talent which is what a lot of the guests on the Sales Game Changers podcast do. Can you sense when someone’s 14, 15, that they’re going to be one of the top 5, 10 players in the league at some point?
Alan Stein Jr.: You can certainly see potential. You can see the runway for where they’re going and especially with a sport like basketball, part of that is on the physical side. Do they have the physical tools to play at a high level? Surprisingly, there’s a fairly decent amount of kids that do so then what you have to start looking at is their work habits and their attitude, their commitment to being the best player they can be.
When I think of the players we just referenced – Kevin Durant and Victor Oladipo – yes, they had the physical tools present but they had all of the intangibles. They were incredibly coachable, they had positive attitudes, they were infectious team mates, they were always the first one to the gym and the last one to leave, they consistently wanted to improve their craft. When you see the combination of the innate talent mixed with this desire to be great and to have great habits and to be coachable, then you know they have the potential to be an elite level player.
Fred Diamond: We ask the question on the Sales Game Changers podcast about mentoring. A lot of the people that we interview believe that they’re mentors and they’ve been able to be mentored. You used the word “coachable”, how would you apply that from your basketball experience to maybe your sales career?
Alan Stein Jr.: Coachable simply means having the humility to be open to someone providing direction that no matter how talented you are, no matter how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to learn. You should be incredibly open to learning from a variety of sources. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to carve a niche in the business world given the fact that I’ve spent most of my life in a gym, is that I tell organizations, “I’m going to come at this with a completely different perspective.
You’ve probably been taught many of the same things if you continue to live in the frame that you live, but my goal is to be able to share some things from a completely different perspective” and again take those aspects that I’ve learned through coaching and through basketball and elite performers and then apply those appropriately to things like sales. I believe being open to being coached or being open to being mentored is one of the most important characteristics for anybody to have.
Fred Diamond: We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe to today’s podcast. What are some of the key lessons that you took away as a basketball performance coach that you believe translates into sales and sales excellence?
Alan Stein Jr.: If I can back up one step, keep in mind when I said that I’ve been self-employed since 1999. That means I’ve been selling my entire career, I had to sell my training services. In basketball I had a series of online training products and coaching courses, so I’m very familiar with the selling on that level but then coaching is all about selling your beliefs. It’s about selling your vision, it’s about creating buy-in and believe-in with your players. Whether it’s selling my philosophy and methodology or selling an online vertical jump training program, I’ve been selling for my entire career.
Back to what you specifically asked of what I learned through coaching that directly applies to selling, first and foremost would be the mantra that I learned at a very early age, and that’s you have you connect first and you coach second. If you want to get a player to give you the effort and the focus that’s required for them to be a great player, you have to build trust and you have to create a connection. Once you’ve done that, players will be willing to do just about anything you ask. I believe the same is true when it comes to selling, you need to create trust and a connection with the person or the organization that you’re selling to and that’s what ultimately will lay the foundation for everything else that will follow.
Fred Diamond: Very good. I have a question, when elite players are on the basketball courts – your LeBrons, your Durants, if you will – obviously not everybody is going to be as great as those guys. Even if you’ve made it to the NBA, you’re one of the top 300 people in the basketball world at that time. How do elite players interact with less elite players? Maybe like the 10th guy who’s also on the court at that time. Give us a little bit of insight into the mindset of the elite player as they’re working with someone. The reason I’m applying it is maybe someone who’s a sales leader, who’s a coach, he has maybe 2, 3 top players but maybe number 5 through 10 aren’t going to make it.
Alan Stein Jr.: When you get to a player like LeBron’s level who will go down as one of the all-time greats, he realizes that his legacy is only partially based on what he does, that the vast majority of his legacy is based on how much better he makes everyone around him which ultimately will determine whether or not they win. Sometimes that’s difficult when players are younger, they tend to get a little bit frustrated with the fact that not everyone is as good as they are or not everyone works as hard as they do, but usually through maturity – and I’ve seen it time and time again with players like LeBron and KD -is they realize that they themselves are a leader and they themselves are a coach on the court. They take pride in knowing that it’s up to them to help raise the level of, as you just said, say the 10th player and find ways to model the behavior that they want to see in that player.
They lead by example and to help pull them along, and to say, “I get to the gym an hour early every day, why don’t you start meeting me here? Let me help you work on your game.” They take the role as mentor because they realize that they can have a tremendous impact on the team and the culture well above and beyond just what they do on the court.
Fred Diamond: You’ve spoken about the concept of connection through touches, what does that mean?
Alan Stein Jr.: I believe connection – or trust, rather – is built through connections. I reference a story about Steve Nash who’s probably my favorite player of all time. Back in 2004, it was the first year he won back to back MVP titles and he actually led the league in only two statistical categories that year: one was assists – which for any of your listeners that follow basketball means he likes to share the sugar and get other people involved, which is a great trait of a leader. The other, he led the league in touches. In this case, we’re talking about high-fives and fist bumps and pats on the backside. If you’re listening to this and you’re wondering how I could possibly know that he led the league in touches, let me tell you.
There was a study done by UC Berkeley where a research team wanted to measure if showing signs of enthusiasm correlated to winning games. They had a team of researchers and they watched every minute of every NBA game that entire season and the made a tally mark every time a player gave a high-five, a fist bump or a pat on the butt. The Phoenix Suns, who Steve Nash played for, they were so enamored with this study that they hired a full-time intern to do the same thing just for Steve Nash. Amazingly, the very first game that the intern recorded – and an NBA game is 48 minutes long – Steve Nash recorded 239 high-fives, fist bumps and touches.
What I take from that is Steve Nash is a furnace of human connection. In a game like basketball, physical touch actually has a psychological and a physiological transfer of energy to your teammate, it picks them up and again he was a furnace for connection. We can translate that same mindset to sales, and now we’re talking about mental touches or emotional touches. These can be in the forms of text messages, emails, phone calls or grabbing coffee with someone. If you want to sell at a high level, it’s all about touches and once you’ve qualified your prospects and you know who’s a good fit for what it is that you’re selling, then you need to make sure that you’re establishing that trust through constant connection. You can look at these almost as a bank account and you want to make daily deposits, you want to make touches as often as possible and not only leading up to the sale but even after the sale is made. I think real sales professionals continue to create touches with the folks that have purchased from them to keep them in the pipeline and to make sure that they feel great about what took place.
Fred Diamond: That’s actually a great point. Some of the Sales Game Changers that we’ve interviewed, they’ve been selling into the same market for some cases 20, 30 years and they talk about a sale that they made 20 years ago and they’re still in connection with the customer. I want to raise a slightly different question right here, one of the key words that comes up frequently at the Institute for Excellence in Sales is mindset. We’re talking about that in theory throughout this entire interview and you obviously are a mindset guy.
Give us an insight into the mindset, we talked about trust a little bit, talk about the mindset of elite performers on the basketball court and talk about some guys – not guys, specifically – but how have you seen a shift towards the quintessential type of high performing mindset?
Alan Stein Jr.: Mindset is the key, mindset is the only thing that will allow us to fully reach our potential with our talent and with our skill. Without mindset, you’ll be mediocre at best regardless of your natural talent. I believe the mindset that elite performers – and this could be in any walk of life, this could be the best salesperson that’s listening to this podcast, we could be talking about Tom Brady or Beyoncé, or any elite performer – they have the ability to live in the present moment.
The short definition of being in the present moment is to be where your feet are which sounds sometimes counter intuitive, “How could you be anywhere else than your feet?” In a day and age where we are constantly bombarded, especially with digital distractions, I can guarantee that we have listeners right now who have been with someone but they haven’t really been with someone. If you’re with a prospect and you’re not giving them your full, undivided attention, you’re not making great eye contact with open body language, you’re not actively listening, there is going to be a disconnect because that means you might be there in body but you’re not there in mind and spirit.
There’s a few things that if we take a deeper dive are required to live in the present moment. One is to focus on the next play, and this mindset is crucial for folks in sales, it might be one of the most important pillars. Two is to focus on the things that you can control which really, if you brush away all the cobwebs, there’s only two things in this world we have 100% control over and that’s our own attitude and our own effort. Third – and this is incredibly important to sales as well – is to focus on the process, to not attach yourself to the outcome but to fall in love with the process. I know that can be incredibly challenging for sales professionals because our success is measured by the outcome, it’s measured by how many we sell or what we sell but you have to learn to fall in love with the process and trust and respect the process because when you do, you greatly increase your chance of whatever outcome you’re looking for.
Fred Diamond: Trust the process, that’s actually come up in a couple different of our Sales Game Changers podcast. We interviewed a sales VP over at Red River named Kush Kumar, it was one of our most downloaded shows and the title was focusing on trusting the process. We’re talking today with Alan Stein Jr., he’s the author of Raise your Game. He’s a performance coach, he’s worked with elite basketball programs in his career, now he’s working with sales teams and leaders. Alan, we were talking before the show about the concept of selflessness and the concept of really focusing on others, and you were telling me about a coach’s mantra that applied to this. Tell us a little more about that.
Alan Stein Jr.: I was very fortunate early in my coaching career to have some really amazing mentors. One of the things they taught me which is something that all young people need to hear – because I find that when we’re younger we tend to be a little more egocentric, we tend to think the world revolves around u, as we all get older and hopefully wiser and more enlightened, we realize that it doesn’t. A coach’s mantra should be, “It’s not about me, it’s about you” and that would be me as a coach speaking to my players. I wholeheartedly believe the same is true when it comes to sales, that if you’re a qualified prospect for me, Fred, it isn’t about me, my product or my service, it’s about you and what is it that you need. I’m sure we’ll dive in later to that mindset of, “I don’t really even believe we’re technically selling.” What I think we’re doing is we’re solving a problem for people – in the form of sales, of course – but if you put your focus on the other person and what is it that they need, what would be a good fit for them, how can you resolve the challenges that they have, you’ll find that you don’t even really need to sell anything because it’ll sell itself once you’ve established that.
Fred Diamond: We’ve talked about some elite performers, one thing that comes through in the Sales Game Changers podcast is the people that we talk to and interview have made it to the highest level in sales. I remember one day thinking, “I’m interviewing all these great people and they’re all so successful.” Then I began to realize that they’ve all had 15, 20 years, you just don’t show up one day and become a VP of sales. You also don’t show up one day and become one of the top 10 basketball players. You once told me a story about Kobe Bryant, your first interaction with Kobe, can you share that with our audience and how that much provided evidence to you of the amount of work that a guy like that puts in?
Alan Stein Jr.: What you just said just reminds me – I don’t know who to attribute the quote to, because I’ve heard it from several people – but that it takes several years to make an overnight success. It’s the same thing, you see someone that’s selling at a high level and you think, “They just happened into that.” No, they didn’t. They’ve been trusting and respecting the process for years to get to that level. The story you reference is one of my favorite stories, one because I actually think it’s a decent story but two because the moral of the story which I will share with you all had a profound impact on my life and on the way that I viewed not only coaching but my entire perspective.
Back in 2007, Nike Basketball flew me out to Los Angeles to work the first ever Kobe Bryant Skills Academy. Nike’s goal was to bring in the top high school and college players from around the country for an intense 3 day minicamp with the best player in the world. For anyone listening, if you’re not a basketball aficionado, it’s OK. Michael Jordan who pretty much everyone’s heard of had already retired a couple times at that point and LeBron James in 2007 was on his way to greatness, but he was still climbing that mountain, most experts would agree that Kobe was the best player.
As I told you all, I’ve lived in a basketball bubble basically my entire life so I had heard the urban legend of how insanely intense Kobe’s individual workouts were. Now that I was on camp staff, I figured this was my chance and this was my shot. At my earliest opportunity, I walked right up to him and asked him if I could watch one of his private workouts. Kobe was incredibly gracious and hospitable and said, “Sure, no problem. I’m going to go tomorrow at 4” which confused me because I had just got done looking at the schedule and the first workout was with the players was the following day at 3:30. Kobe noticed the confused look on my face and he quickly clarified that with a smile and a wink and said, “That’s going to be 4 am.”
Certainly anyone listening to this can appreciate the fact that there’s not really a legitimate excuse in the world of why you can’t be somewhere at 4 in the morning, especially when you’re talking to a guy like Kobe Bryant, so I’d basically committed myself to being there. I figured, “If I’m going to be there anyway, I might as well try and impress Kobe. I might as well show him how serious of a trainer I was.” I came up with a plan to beat him to the gym, so I set my alarm for 3 am and the alarm goes off, I jump up and I get myself together and I hop in a taxi and I get to them gym. I step out of the taxi, it’s around 3:30 in the morning and of course it’s pitch black and yet I can see the gym lights already on, even from the parking lot I could faintly hear a ball bouncing and sneakers squeaking. I walk in the side door, Kobe’s already in a full sweat. He was going through an intense warm up before his scheduled workout started with his trainer. Out of professional courtesy and just because I was incredibly thankful to be there, I didn’t say anything to Kobe and I didn’t say anything to his trainer, I just sat down to watch and for the first 45 minutes I was actually really surprised.
For the first 45 minutes, I watched the best player in the world do the most basic footwork and offensive moves. Kobe was doing stuff that I had routinely taught to middle school aged players. Let’s not get it twisted, this is Kobe Bryant so he was doing everything with surgical precision and he was doing everything at an unparalleled level of focus and intensity but the stuff he was actually doing was incredibly basic. The whole workout lasted a few hours and when it was over, again, I didn’t bother him or his trainer, I just left but my curiosity got the best of me so I had to know.
Later that day at camp, I went up to him and said, “Kobe, I don’t understand. You’re the best player in the world, why are you doing such basic drills?” Once again, he flashed that million dollar smile and was incredibly gracious but said with all seriousness, “Why do you think I’m the best player in the world? Because I never get bored with the basics.” The hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I tell that story because I remember how it made me feel. It’s like one of those epiphany moments that we all have, it made me realize that just because something is basic it doesn’t mean that it’s easy. We live in a society and culture today that tells us it’s OK to skip steps, that tells us it’s OK to skip over the process, that all but pushes us to chase what’s shiny, hot, new, flashy and sexy, and ignore what’s basic but the basics work. They always have and they always will, it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about footwork on the basketball court or we’re talking about the ability to sell at a high level, the basics work and if you want to be elite you’ve got to fall in love with the basics.
Fred Diamond: Not infrequently throughout the Sales Game Changers podcast when we ask the sales leaders for their advice for the sales professionals listening around the world, what should you be doing to take your game to a great or good level? Talk about things like practicing, working on role plays, practicing your pitch in front of a mirror. So many times people show up at a customer site and they start practicing some of the things that they should have known years before and hours and months before. A lot of the Sales Game Changers talked about their preparation and things along those lines. Not only Kobe Bryant showing up at 3 o’clock in the morning for practicing, I’ve got to imagine almost anyone who’s in the NBA, anyone who’s even in the D league. Obviously, they’re not going to get up at 3 in the morning most of them like Kobe, Kobe is elite as is LeBron, I’ve heard stories about him practicing at 3 o’clock in the morning as well but anyone who’s even made it to the D league level, college division 1, had to have had this type of performance improvement over the years in their whole career. Alan, before we take a short break, tell us about the book. It’s called Raise Your Game, what should we expect from this book?
Alan Stein Jr.: The book has been two years in the works and I’m really proud of the final product. What I did was I uncovered the secrets, and I say that tongue in cheek because I don’t believe there are any secrets per se, but really the secrets of what makes the best, the best. It’s things like we’ve been discussing, it’s sticking to the basics, trusting the process, being coachable. The book is divided into three sections, you have one section that’s the player’s section which again, would be any individual on a team, this would be an employee at an organization. The next section is focused on the coach or again, as we translate that to business, a manager, a director, a supervisor or the CEO and then the third section is focused on the team or the organization.
Each section has 5 chapters and each of those chapters has a specific theme or word that’s required to be the best player you can be, to be the best coach you can be or be the best team you can be. Please know even though my background comes from basketball this is a business book, this book’s target audience is folks like the folks listening to this, folks in sales, folks with leadership positions in business, it just happens to do so through the lens of a basketball performance coach. I did an equal amount of research to give the book the proper balance of elite level sales professionals and CEOs and what the highest performing companies and organizations do, so it’s a nice mixture of seeing what elite performers do on the court as well as in the office.
I’m really pleased with it, excited about it and certainly hope you guys will enjoy checking it out.
Fred Diamond: I could talk to you for the next 7 hours about this topic, and we actually have a number of podcasts we’re doing, some of the guests that have been on the show are elite athletes, collegiate champions, some have made it through the pros, we talk about their sales career. Before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, we’re going to come back and ask you for some of your tips, I just have to ask you: who are your top 2 or 3 players of all time that you idolize? Obviously you told us a great Kobe Bryant story, I’ll tell you mine. The guy played for the Sixers when I grew up, Billy Cunningham, hall of famer, Kangaroo kid, North Carolina. I grew up in Philly, watched him play, he was on the 67 Team. Of course, he coached the 1983 team as well. Who are your top 2 or 3 players that you idolize as superstars?
Alan Stein Jr.: I’m 42 years old so giving the time period where I grew up, Michael Jordan is definitely my #1. Some of my best childhood memories were watching him play on TV and trying to go out to my front yard in the driveway and emulate things he was doing. I had every pair of Jordan’s and posters all over my wall, Wheaties boxes that I didn’t even open to eat the cereal because I just wanted to keep the Wheaties boxes on my dresser. You’d be hard pressed to find any basketball person around my age that didn’t think Jordan was the most amazing, but given that I’ve been in the game for this long there’s so many players that I just absolutely adore.
mentioned Steve Nash, I would say Steve Nash is probably my favorite player outside of Michael Jordan just because I think he was equal part basketball talent and equal part amazing teammate which I found really electric. If I had to pick a third, of course I’m biased to the players I’ve worked with so I’m going to excuse them from the ballot. I’d have to say Stephen Curry. I think Stephen Curry is absolutely remarkable, I literally think he is changing the way the game is played at the NBA level because of his ability to shoot the ball from distance. I would go with Jordan, Nash and Curry.
Fred Diamond: Alan, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals listening around the globe right now to help them improve their sales career?
Alan Stein Jr.: I want them to look at selling as filling other people’s buckets and finding ways to raise the game of other’s. In order to do that, you have to take care of yourself first. It’s a very old adage that you can’t pour anything out of an empty cup which means if your battery is drained and your bucket’s not full, you will not be able to sell or serve at a high level. Sales takes a tremendous amount of energy, not just in looking, in qualifying for prospects but the actual process itself and the follow up, it takes a lot of energy. You have to take care of yourself first, so you have to figure out the things that you need to do to perform at a high level whether it’s your nutrition or what you do for fitness, or what you do to push yourself mentally and emotionally.
Maybe it’s reading, maybe it’s continuing to listen to great podcasts like this, but it’s whatever you need to do to perform at a high level. Then you need to make the time to do that, that if you take a player like LeBron James, if he were to show up to practice or show up to a game and he wasn’t well rested, he wasn’t well fed, he wasn’t hydrated, that’s actually an act of selfishness because his choice to not be well fed and ready to perform at a high level he’s taking away from everybody else on the team. That’s how I want you to view sales, that in order to pour into others, you have to pour into yourself first and that is not being selfish. When you take care of yourself first as an act of service to others, that is the definition of unselfishness.
Fred Diamond: Alan, I want to ask you a question. We talked about the concept of next play and keep looking next play which is so very powerful, I want to ask you a slightly different question, the concept of break down. We talked to elite sales performers and people may turn in a great year, things are going well, the market’s good, there’s demand for their product, right place, right time then the next year starts, all of a sudden nobody’s buying. Customers aren’t returning phone calls, customers are going to the internet without having to go to a sales professional.
Could you answer one question on the concept of break down and how do you get past that? What are some strategies that you’ve seen some elite players over the years, once they have a bad game or maybe the first half, nothing syncing or anything like that or they wake up, they have 5 fouls in the first quarter. What are some things that elite performers do when there is a break down to move past it?
Alan Stein Jr.: There’s two, and one we’ve touched on briefly which was continue to trust the process, to detach yourself from the outcome. We mentioned Stephen Curry earlier, I think he’s going to go down in history as the greatest shooter the game’s ever seen but inevitably he’s going to have an off game. It doesn’t happen often because he’s that good but if Steph were to go 2 for 20 from the field tonight, he’s not going to go change his shooting form the next morning in practice. He’s going to stick to what he knows works, he’s going to stick to the script and stick to the process and realize that eventually, things will even out. There are going to be all sorts of ebbs and flows, especially when it comes to sales. Some of those may be in your control and those are the ones you want to focus on, maybe you didn’t prepare to the degree that you were capable of, maybe you didn’t put in the required effort but the vast majority of time are going to be things outside of your control which means we can’t dwell on them. I think another thing that sales professionals need to do is learn to view every interaction you have with a prospect as a way of gathering feedback and regardless of the feedback that you get. In sales, most people would agree that if you make the sale that’s positive feedback and if you don’t make the sale that’s negative feedback but I view feedback as inherently neutral, as completely sterile, it’s completely unbiased.
The whether they buy or not is simply the outcome but regardless of whether someone buys or doesn’t, there will be feedback that you’ll get. Elite performers take that feedback regardless of what it is and they mine for the gold that allows them to move themselves forward and continue to get better as opposed to using it in a way that cripples them and moves them back. If I’m trying to make a sale with you, Fred, whether the sale goes through or not there are things from that interaction that I can learn to make sure that I do a better job in the future as well as things to avoid. That can be really difficult to do, but if we get detached to the outcome, if I’m frustrated or in my feelings by the fact that you didn’t buy, that’s going to revert me backwards that’s going to push me in the wrong direction. I think viewing feedback as a tool and as a gift is a way to increase our performance and certainly increase sales.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What are some of the things that you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Alan Stein Jr.: The #1 thing that I do is try to look outside of my direct industry. If you had to put me in a box, I would be considered a professional speaker and I don’t spend a ton of time studying other professional speakers, I spend a lot of time studying musicians and actors, stand-up comedians is a big one not because I’m trying to be funnier but I think those are all folks that have mastered the art of being an orator and I want to learn from them. I want to learn about their timing, their rhythm, their inflection, their body language, the way they deliver, the way they connect with an audience.
For me, in this example of trying to improve my professional speaking skills I look at a variety of other domains to help me do that. I firmly believe that sales professionals should do the same thing. Yes, you should absolutely be in the know, continue to listen to this podcast and devour everything that the IES puts out, continue to study your own sale strategies but also look at other people that have the ability to connect. If you really believe that sales is about connection, then you should study coaches, you should study other leaders and people outside of sales in addition to what you’re doing inside the frame.
Fred Diamond: Can you just tell us something else that goes on the basketball court? It doesn’t have to be tied to sales, give us an insight, something that the average viewer may not know about. You talked about Steve Nash and obviously he’s someone who’s radically transformed the game, obviously Steph Curry, we see how he’s transformed the game by sinking shots regularly from 40 feet out, if you will. Feet, not yards – yards would be a hell of a shot. Give us something that the average fan who loves basketball may not know about that goes on either in the court or the course of the season that will give us a little bit of insight and inspiration.
Alan Stein Jr.: A good friend of mine, a former partner and an elite basketball trainer named Drew Hanlen coined the term “unseen hours.” In basketball, those are literally the hours when the cameras aren’t rolling, the lights are off and the cheerleaders are not dancing. That’s ultimately where a basketball player is made. Inevitably, if we turned on a game tonight and Steph goes off for 45 and makes 8 or 9 three-pointers, we’re amazed by that but if you saw the amount of work that he put in during the “unseen hours”, it becomes less amazing. That is not a back handed compliment, that is a sincere compliment that if you knew the type of work that a player like Steph put in behind the scenes, you wouldn’t be that surprised that he makes those 40 footers because he does them routinely every day when no one’s watching. The same thing is true in sales, your game is when you’re actually sitting down with a prospect and you’re trying to make the sale.
Most of the heavy lifting should have been done ahead of time when you’re researching and qualifying that prospect, when you’re thinking of why your product or service is going to solve the problem that they have. That all comes down to preparation and then your game is when you’re actually in front of them. That’s why, as Fred mentioned so perfectly, your practice, your preparation, your role playing – I’m amazed how many sales professionals don’t role play and I think that’s a huge mistake. Your role play is the fundamentals of what you’re trying to do. I think what players do during the “unseen hours”, it’s amazing the commitment that these elite performers have.
They’re across the board because elite performers love hanging around other elite performers, and the NBA players that I’ve been around, you know who they go and visit in the off season? They go and visit top musicians. They want to see what Beyoncé is doing to prepare for a world tour, they go and talk to business leaders so they’re around high performers as well and that’s one thing that unites all of them, including those of you listening right now, is you have to master the “unseen hours” if you want to perform well when everybody’s watching.
Fred Diamond: That is a tremendous answer and as we’re talking here, one of the key themes that comes up throughout the Sales Game Changers podcast as we interview elite sales leaders is preparation. A lot of times, people who we interview for the show or elite sales leaders will say one of their most important skills is the ability to listen and I’ll say to them, “Tell us something you do to be a better listener.” They all have given a lot of great answers, but one of the answers I love is, “I over-prepare. I get to know everything there is to know about the customer, his or her industry, what the challenges the industry is facing, what type of things their competitors are doing” and that’s right, Steph doesn’t show up on the court and say, “I think tonight I’m going to try this.”
He’s obviously creative, that of course he’s creating new things as was Kobe and LeBron and all the elite players, but at the same time all those “unseen hours.” Sales Game Changers listening to the podcast, please take that at heart. Thank you, by the way, for listening to this podcast. You’ve just invested a great half hour of your time if you’re driving or working out or walking the dog to get some great insights here from Alan Stein Jr. We’ve done hundreds of shows, I encourage you to keep listening but what are you doing when you’re not in front of the customer, when you’re not on calls? What are things that you’re doing to get better at the art and science of selling? Alan, do you want to say something before we get to your final tip?
Alan Stein Jr.: I sure do, you just reminded me of two thoughts. One, I had an opportunity a couple years ago to spend a half day with Mark Cuban from Shark Tank and the brash owner of the Dallas Mavericks. One of the things that he said was that his goal was to always be the most prepared person in any room that he goes into. He can’t control whether he’s the tallest person in the room, he can’t control if he’s the richest person in the room, he can’t control a lot of those things but he can control his preparation and he would never want to enter a room unless he knows that he was the most prepared.
Another story, back to my man Steve Nash, when I had a conversation with him he said that at the end of every off season workout he would pick an unusable finish around the basket. Maybe it’s a reverse layup with his off hand or maybe he’s jumping off of the off foot, just something unconventional and his ticket to leave his workout was to make that 100 times. Again, maybe it’s an off foot layup with his off hand and he would do that 100 times before he would leave.
Then he said, “Inevitably this season, Alan, you’re going to see me do something that looks crazy, that looks magical, that you’re going to think I just pulled it out of thin air but I didn’t. I guarantee you that whatever you’ve seen me do in a game I have practiced before no matter how unconventional or how unusual it is. I have absolutely done that before, I’m never doing it for the first time.” I think both of those stories really speak to the ability to prepare which is something that we have major influence over. To be an elite sales professional you have to fall in love with preparation.
Fred Diamond: Very good. We’re talking today, Alan Stein Jr., he’s the author of a book called Raise Your Game. This has been a tremendous interview, it was a lot of fun, thank you so much Alan, for the great insights. Why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe today?
Alan Stein Jr.: I’d like you guys to adopt something I learned from a mentor several years ago and it’s called 10 assists. What you do is every single morning you wake up, you can put 10 rubber bands on your left wrist or you can put 10 pennies in your left pocket, whatever works for you, and every time you give an assist to either a current client or customer or to a prospect, then you take one rubber band off your left wrist and you put it on your right wrist, or you take one penny out of your left pocket and you put it in your right pocket.
The only rub is you don’t go to bed until you know that you’ve dished out 10 assists, that you’ve done 10 things above and beyond what you’re expected to do, to add value to someone else or to assist a prospect client or a current customer. Just like anything, some of you that are elite, you’re probably given 10 assists before breakfast. If that’s the case, then up it to 20 or 25, find something that stretches you but start to keep tangible count of how much you’re trying to pour into others and fill their buckets, both with future business and with current business. I guarantee you, that will help you raise your game.