EPISODE 049: Accelerent Sales Leader Michael Gordon Preaches Quality of Relationships Over Quantity of Connections
Michael Gordon is the Executive Vice-President for Accelerent. Accelerent is a business development platform designed for companies that serve the middle market business community. They operate in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Kansas City, Nashville, Phoenix and Indianapolis.
The partner base for Accelerent includes many well-known brands across 60 plus industries.
Michael’s had a great career in sales. He’s been in the carbon steel industry. He’s also worked in the real estate marketplace as a retail broker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Find Michael on LinkedIN!
Fred Diamond: Michael, why don’t you tell us a little about what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that?
Michael Gordon: We sell exclusive access to a membership driven business development organization and what excites me about it is we can only have one participating company per industry and it’s always been our goal to find the best mutual fit and not ‘can we be good sales people and trick somebody into buying it because we could get them to say yes’. Why that’s exciting is because we’re able to be selective on who we work with and we found that to be an incredible recipe for success when your clients are highly motivated, they love what they do and they bring that passion and energy to work every day.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about the Accelerent model, where you’re located, what do your customers literally get from you.
Michael Gordon: We are in 6 cities around the country today. Started here in the Washington, D.C. area and the model is we’ve got about 60 companies in each group and there’s only one per city. Everyone’s exclusive by their industry but what they have in common is they sell to the middle market business community and what we deliver for them is a very tightknit group of structured relationship building meetings to build trust, educate one another on our unique selling proposition and then talk about helping one another get new business. What we bring to that environment is goal setting, structure and support to help our clients reach their goals.
Fred Diamond: Your clients, do they have sales teams or are they business owner led or how does it typically workout?
Michael Gordon: Our typical client an executive that’s involved and it’s generally the CEO, President or Owner and their sales team as well. Our platform is set up for an individual who can absolutely do it on their own but most of our clients have multiple people participating at a peer-to-peer level.
Fred Diamond: How did you first get into sales as a career?
Michael Gordon: After leaving college 3 semesters in, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but while in school I was making t-shirts and I was quite entrepreneurial. We’ll leave it at that. I went to work for a family business selling steal. Spent a week in the warehouse, learning about the different types of metal that we sold and then sat the desk with a book of people that bought steel and spent my days calling people asking if they’d like to buy their steel from me.
Fred Diamond: Interesting. How did you, what was something about that that has stuck with you? What are some of the secrets of selling steel?
Michael Gordon: It’s a commodity. The secret wasn’t ‘is my price the lowest’ or ‘is my steel better than the next person’s steel’. It was ‘can I build a relationship with the buyer’ and ‘could they trust that what I was going to get them is what they needed and could I get it there when they needed it’. It was very much a relationship-driven sale, not a price sale.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the key lessons that you took away from these first few sales jobs that have stuck with you today? Again, you’re the EVP of Accelerent. You’re a company that helps mid-market firms with their business development platforms.
Michael Gordon: What I believe is my biggest take away. No matter what it is you’re selling, you have to build a relationship with the buyer. If you don’t have that connectivity, it doesn’t matter how cheap your price is. The next guy or gal with a cheap price is going to take your client and that is not a sustainable business model. It’s relationships.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more insight into what’s critical with relationship-based selling today.
Michael Gordon: Yeah, it’s a great question and it’s a really easy answer. All of the companies that participate in my group are not the cheapest at what they do. But, there’s a very strong selling proposition that exceeds a low price. Meaning you might be able to buy a forklift cheaper than what Alliance material handling can sell it to you for but all of the ancillary things that go along with that make paying more worthwhile.
What they need is access to the people that are going to buy those forklifts to explain why they’re more expensive maybe from a price standpoint but at the end of the day why it’s a better value and what we provide is access to those decision makers to tell them that story.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Michael Gordon: Well, it’s awkward to talk about myself in that way because I try not to but since you asked I think what I have developed into a very strong muscle is the ability to build very strong trusting partnerships that may not on the surface demonstrate the value. But, with the people that I have been fortunate enough to build these friendships with, they have paid me back my entire professional career and I may not know why or how or when it will happen but I have spent my entire life trying to help other people with whatever they need help with and in return it’s paid me back.
Fred Diamond: Interesting. Do you think that’s just part of who you are or did you learn that along the way or did someone kind of give you a tip or some guidance?
Michael Gordon: I think it’s just who I am and I think we all have people in our lives that we know that are like that, that you can tell genuinely enjoy helping other people. That’s who I believe I am at my core with no ulterior motive but just a real genuine sense of wanting to help and when you look at our clients that’s who joins this group. Imagine the power of an exclusive group of companies that are all these givers coming together to help one another.
Fred Diamond: Wow. Take us back to a mentor. Obviously, you’ve learned a lot along the way. You’ve dealt with some great companies. You’re dealing with great sales leaders all day long. Tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career.
Michael Gordon: Yeah, I’ve been so blessed with many people who’ve played a role in my personal and professional development. One of them was the former life coach and Chaplain for the Baltimore Ravens, a guy named Rod Hairston, and he was the team Chaplain when they won the Super Bowl and Rod spent time talking with me and just helping me focus on the things in life that are really important and also how to live life of service and it’s a lot of what I think Rod shared with me that’s helped turn me into the person I am today.
Fred Diamond: Michael, what are two of the biggest challenges you face today or companies face today as sales leaders?
Michael Gordon: I think one of the biggest challenges is knowing how to teach someone to sell in, let me be more specific, being able to identify someone’s strengths and weaknesses and help them turn them into the best possible salesperson they can be, also removing yourself from a selling role and turning yourself into more of a coach, allowing them the freedom to fail because that’s how they’ll learn and, again, removing yourself from wanting to fix it by jumping in and inserting yourself into the process and allowing them make the mistakes we’ve all had to make. That’s one.
The other one is there are so many distractions around us and understanding what really needs to be done. Just read a great book. The author is Rory Vaden and the title of the book is Procrastinate On Purpose. The gist of the book is time and things that come into our personal funnel, what can we eliminate, what can we delegate, what can we automate and what can we eliminate. It’s really, it’s not just procrastinating. It’s understanding how to be more efficient with your time and what is it really costing you. Getting rid of the clutter.
Fred Diamond: Those are two great ones, dealing with distraction and understanding how to help someone get better on your team at the art and science of selling. What are some of the other things that some of your members are bringing up to you that are challenging today?
Michael Gordon: Some of the things that I hear is they have people on their sales staff who may be high producers but culturally they’re not a fit with the mission and the values of the organization and coming to grips with eliminating that person from their team because the upside of whatever they sell will never outweigh the pain and the distraction that that person causes because of their lack of culture alignment. It’s a difficult decision for a leader to make because it’s hard to say goodbye to the revenue that they might generate but it’s very freeing when you do allow yourself the ability to say goodbye to someone who is hurting you more than they’re helping you no matter how much they sell.
Fred Diamond: With some of the companies you deal with, mid-market smaller companies you have so many quivers. Everything has to go right. The market has to be right. Your offering has to be right. You probably deal with a lot of companies that have been family owned businesses so there’s a legacy and how does the next generation take over.
And then, of course, you have all the macro challenges in the industry today. The internet has transformed the customer. Competition is coming in with a lot of the companies you deal with. There’s a lot of things that you’re probably helping them along the way with to be more effective to increase it and one of the things that we hear frequently is “Do we have the right people on the bus?”
Michael Gordon: Yeah, it is all about people and as you may imagine, my sense is you hear it too. We are constantly being asked if we know any quality sales people that are looking for an opportunity.
Fred Diamond: Michael, take us back to a sales success that you’ve had in your career. Take us back to the number one specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of.
Michael Gordon: When I first left school before I actually got into the steel business. My mother was an entrepreneur, was one of Bell Atlantic Mobile’s first authorized agents in the 1980s when cell phones first were being sold before they were in the big box stores and when you saw people carrying bag phones around and they’re hardwired installed into your car. Well, I worked for her for a while. I really cut my teeth on selling and the first deal that I really found lit my lamp was Lower Marion School District, where I went to high school, they wanted to put phones in all the school buses.
I tracked down that opportunity and at the end of the day was able to sell them over 70 phones for all of the buses in the school district and the process of finding out what was important, presenting myself, developing a relationship and ultimately closing that deal was so personally satisfying that I think it was that one singular event that got me excited about selling.
Fred Diamond: How old were you? You were probably in your early twenties I guess.
Michael Gordon: I was twenty-one years old.
Fred Diamond: Twenty-one, good for you. Was there a process that you have to go to the Superintendent? How did that, tell us a little about the sales process.
Michael Gordon: We had to find out where the decision was being made, who was going to be involved in making the decision and it was a combination of naivety, not knowing what I didn’t know and then just insane persistence but not to the point where I would offend anyone but let them know that this was a meaningful opportunity for me and whatever they needed I could do and I had to hope they believed me.
Fred Diamond: That’s pretty incredible because selling those types of devices, I’m not going to disclose your age but probably over 25 somewhat years ago, those were enterprise type sales. Those weren’t you walk into a mall, you buy a store. There was complexity. There was integration. There was rates.
Michael Gordon: Prior to that deal, literally, my selling process was I had a yellow pages in front of me and I would just start at A and call companies out of the yellow pages and ask for the owner and ask them if they’d ever thought about owning a cell phone. It was one cell phone here or two cell phones there and that to me was a huge win. To sell 70 at one time to a large organization, it was absolutely enterprise level.
Fred Diamond: Yeah, at the age of 21. Good for you, Michael.
Michael Gordon: Thank you.
Fred Diamond: Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself “it’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Michael Gordon: Every day.
Fred Diamond: Everyday?
Michael Gordon: Every day I have it. I have a huge need to be liked and rejection has always been that thing that scares me when it comes to selling. I think as I’ve gotten older I take it a lot less personally. I also think that I’ve been very fortunate, maybe it’s my philosophy, maybe it’s my style or maybe it’s just the path that I’ve ended up on but most of the business that I’ve developed, sold directly myself over the last 12 to 15 years have all come from warm introductions from people that know me and trust me and when I walk into an opportunity to sell, I have a very active, open and willing participant on the other side of the conversation. In that regard, I’ve been very blessed.
Fred Diamond: Michael, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Michael Gordon: Think long term. You must have the big picture in mind. When you first get into a sales career, you may be money-driven. You may have other aspirations as far as maybe being promoted and getting into management and running divisions and rising through the ranks. You have to, I believe, treat every opportunity as if it’s a stone in your wall to get you to the top. Don’t think short-term. Think big picture and recognize that the decisions you make today will impact where you end up in the future.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things that you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Michael Gordon: I spend a lot of time talking with people about their business. Most of that time is asking them questions about what they’ve learned, things that they’ve struggled with and who’s helped them. And then, I also try to read as much as I can from a variety of different resources to learn about what others have learned before me.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Michael Gordon: I’m spending a lot of time focused on bigger picture ideas and how technology is impacting or not impacting my industry which is relationship-driven business development. With technology platforms like LinkedIn and others, there’s a human element that I think is eroding so I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how technology is going to impact the one-to-one face-to-face personal interaction with the younger generation who seem to spend more time with their eyes on a screen than in the eyes of another.
Fred Diamond: If you don’t mind my asking, why don’t you enlighten us? What are some of the thoughts that you’ve had on that?
Michael Gordon: At the end of the day, at least right now, I’ve been able to really, every time I think about it all I come back to is this platform that we’ve created is a human interaction platform and some of our clients have said to us “Have we thought about ways technology could make like simpler?” Meaning, instead of driving to a meeting of 10 people around someone’s conference table, having everybody sign in and do it via technology and it just doesn’t have the same effect. Very quickly, when I start thinking about new and potentially different ways to do what we do I just keep coming back to “You’ve got to be face-to-face.”
Fred Diamond: Michael, sales is hard. People don’t return your calls or your e-mails. We’ve talked today in large part about the relationship nature of sales. Why have you continued? What is it about a career in sales that keeps you going?
Michael Gordon: I think it goes back to the book. Do what you love and the money will follow. I don’t think I would love being a sous chef. I don’t think I would love being a car mechanic. All very valuable meaningful important jobs but I don’t think I would love it. Finding something that I love doesn’t make it feel hard.
Fred Diamond: That’s true.
Michael Gordon: There are challenges that come up, of course, and that’s going to be in anything anyone would do but loving what you do doesn’t make it feel like work and doesn’t make it feel hard.
Fred Diamond: Michael, why don’t you give us one final thought? Give us one final thought you’d like to share to inspire the sales game changers listening to today’s podcast around the world.
Michael Gordon: Quality. Quality over quantity. I’d rather have ten really strong intensely personal connected relationships than a hundred superficial non-connections. It’s all been about quality to me. When I’m in a room and it could be a room of a thousand people, when I’m standing there talking with someone I’m not looking over their shoulder, who else is walking around, I focus on who I’m talking to and I would like to think that they’re focused on me. It’s all about quality.