EPISODE 120: The Selling Agency’s Shawn Karol Sandy Tells How Beating Out The Andy Griffith Show Put Her Sales Career on a Trajectory Towards Success
SHAWN’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “If you think you’re not in sales, I want you to flip. Selling is a service. Selling to someone is the first place you are able to add value to them. You’re adding value because you’re helping them make educated, informed, enlightened decisions. Selling is a service. You are articulating your value in a way that is valuable to someone else.”
Shawn Karol Sandy is the Chief Revenue Officer of The Selling Agency.
She’s also the co-host of The SellOut Show with Dianna Geairn
Prior to creating The Selling Agency she held selling leadership positions at OfficeMax, Regus and the television division at Clear.
Find Shawn on LinkedIn!
Shawn Karol Sandy: Fred, thanks for having me on the Sales Game Changer podcast, I’m so happy to be here. If it’s not apparent or obvious within the first few minutes of meeting me, I’ll fill in the gaps. In my life, I fulfill a role for most everyone I know whether it’s my children, my colleagues, coworkers, clients, I’m the pusher. That’s just my natural personality, I’m the challenger who challenges people when you’re playing small or when they want to give up or when they don’t want to come out and play, that’s the natural role that I’ve found myself in. That’s why it works really well to be a sales trainer and skills builder and coach. I’m rather cheeky and bold and direct, and like to make things happen. Give people an experience that they can really relate to. That’s what naturally happens for me, I’ve lost some friendships that way but I really try to figure out how to introduce this notion to people who want to hear it. My poor children and family, they’re just captive. They have to be pushed no matter what [laughs].
Fred Diamond: It’s interesting, a lot of people come to the Institute for Excellence in sales – one of the sponsors of our podcast – looking to get sales coached and we have brought in great coaches to coach these people. One thing we’ve learned is they have to want to be coached and they have to want to accept the coaching. So many people say, “I want to do better at sales”. If that’s the case, you need to get up Saturday morning from 6 to 9 to do research. “Well, I like to play golf” or something like that. If you truly want to take your sales career to the next level and you want to be coached, you need to want to be coached. Why don’t you tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that?
Shawn Karol Sandy: I’m a very excitable person, Fred [laughs]. I love to actually ask people that question, because you will invariably get – I could say I sell training or people will talk about their products or services but what you sell is actually the results you produce. That’s what people are more interested about hearing when you say what you sell, they want to know about the results that you produce. How are you transformational in my business or how could you add value to me?
With The Selling Agency, what we do is change behaviors. We help people figure out in themselves – because yes, you have to want to change, you can’t just go build process and structure and expect change. We help people understand new ways to compel customers and what are your true differentiators, what results you produce that make you slightly different than the 17 other competitors that are calling on your exact customers. Once we figure out what that differentiation is, then we train your sales team on a take that to market. We build skills based on your differentiators and how you take those to market and then we usually bridge the gap on any skills gaps we see with individual salespeople.
Fred Diamond: How did you first get into sales as a career?
Shawn Karol Sandy: I can take you back to third grade where I got my first suit. Other kids were playing football on the playground or teacher or whatever and I wanted to hold meetings. I just knew that I wanted to do something where I was in charge of something and I felt important, that I also was the master of my own fate, that’s what that suit was for me. Later on, that’s what sales has become for me. It’s the knowing that my output determines my outcomes, and that’s very powerful. I looked forward to getting into sales for that reason and when the opportunity came to take my first sales position at a TV station I jumped on it because I want to be the master of my own fate.
Fred Diamond: The first thing that you officially sold – not including third grade, after college – you sold TV airtime or sold shows?
Shawn Karol Sandy: Advertising, yes.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the lessons that you learned from that sales job?
Shawn Karol Sandy: I think probably the first lesson I would go back and say is do your research about where you go to work because I had not been in a sales position and I didn’t know anything about ratings or selling TV, I was so thrilled that this station would take a chance on me. Then I figured out why they were willing to take a chance on someone who knew nothing about sales or ratings, because as it turns out I was working for the dog in the market, the worst TV station with the worst ratings in the market.
In fact, our 5 o’clock news ratings, we were beat almost every day in almost every demographic by Andy Griffith reruns on channel 50 that should have been off the air for like 29 years at that point. They only had 242 episodes and it was in a black and white, and our ratings did not beat those.
Fred Diamond: Worse than the Andy Griffith Show.
Shawn Karol Sandy: Exactly, that’s a tough sale. Here you are, you’ve got agencies for car dealerships and furniture companies and they want to place ads with you, and they’re trying to buy ratings. They have a dollar amount they’re willing to spend and you have no ratings, I had a buyer call me from out of market and she said, “I just need to check this with you. Is this a typo? Is that really a .05 rating in men 25 to 54?” “Yes, that is our real rating.” [Laughs]
The big takeaway for me was I had to find people who wanted to be on TV, not necessarily people who wanted to buy ratings and I found them, and I sold to them. I was extremely successful in doing that. There are two different things, so if I kept running and pursuing agencies and trying to sell stuff at such low, bottom of the barrel rates I would never have been successful but I did find an audience who wanted to be on TV and help them get on TV, and was very successful doing that.
Fred Diamond: The message you had then was, “You should be on TV”?
Shawn Karol Sandy: Exactly, this was a very powerful lesson for me too in my sales career. It was if everyone’s targeting these same customers, I’m going to go find a whole other pool, I’m going to fish in a different pond. For instance, I went fishing for people who were on radio but weren’t on TV, so I had a very affordable way to get them to bridge that gap from radio to television and was rewarded very well in doing that. They were super excited to be on TV.
Fred Diamond: Without a whole lot of risk to them, that’s great, very good. Take us to the present day, what are you an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Shawn Karol Sandy: Area of brilliance [laughs]. I love to help people understand how to change their own behavior. It sounds like a simple concept, but actually changing behavior there’s a whole lot of psychology and self-sabotage that goes underneath it. To present ideas to people and then have them to want to change is one thing. To compel them and inspire them, to move them and give them the tools to be successful and change is an entirely different thing. I feel like that is my zone of genius, that is my natural genius in helping people relate to something in such a way that they can break it down and build skills around it so that they change behaviors and achieve their results.
That’s a pretty broad description for what we’re talking about and that happens to be in the area of sales and selling where we focus.
Fred Diamond: Did you have any mentors along the way? Any mentors that helped you get to where you are today.
Shawn Karol Sandy: Not purposely [laughs]. I had some phenomenal sales directors, Tico Rovers was one of them. He was my sales director at two different companies actually, and Tico would always bring me back to the numbers. I’m a big personality emotional intelligence person but when I would get frustrated about my outcomes, Tico would always make me go back to the numbers and say, “Let’s work it backwards. If this is where you are now, this is the results you want, what do we need to do to get there?” I think a great mentor, sales leader or director is someone who understands exactly what you need to be able to get you back to where you’re focused or back on track and he did that for me.
Another sales director, VP of sales I worked for with Regus, his name is Sean Deaton. He’s kind of crazy but he said something that stuck with me and this has helped me in so many facets in my life. I don’t even know if he’s the originator of this, but he said, “Be accountable to the plan, not the results.” So many people want something and they want these results, and then at the end of the time period they’ve set for themselves to achieve it they’re like, “Well, I didn’t lose 20 pounds this quarter” but what are the steps in between that you were not accountable to so that you didn’t achieve your results? If you want to earn this much commission, then what do you need to do in sales? If you want to do this much in sales, how many people do you need to talk to? How many people do you need to approach, who needs to be in your pipeline? It’s being accountable in those more incremental areas that will get you the results, that was really powerful.
Personally, you and I have talked about women sales pros. As I’ve gone and built The Selling Agency and building a pool of colleagues that have done these things before, built agencies and training and consulting, that’s been really helpful and talk about my colleague on The Sellout Show, Dianna Geairn has been an incredible both colleague but also influence on my own sales practice, how I sell to people. We talk about it constantly, Dianna and I do but she has helped me really understand, she has a love and passion for selling and I feel the same way. To talk to someone else about that and then be able to practice ideas that someone else has about that, especially as a solo entrepreneur out there now, I don’t have a sales director. It’s great to have her on my corner.
Fred Diamond: Shawn, you deal with tons of sales leaders, what do you think are the two biggest challenges that they face today?
Shawn Karol Sandy: I think you’re going to get a lot of sales leaders who say the same things: finding people, getting them to stay, having time to be able to develop them. Here’s something I see as a trainer, as someone who’s trying to get people to build new skills. I think you see this whether I’m working with veterans in sales or newbies, or as we like to affectionately call them, junior woodchucks. The big challenges are getting people to try new things. That is super tough, to get people to try new things and get out of their comfort zone, to be OK with failing, with a flop and to learn from that.
That’s a huge roadblock, you can’t get past that, what are you going to try? That’s how we un-stick deals and that’s how we build confidence is by trying new things and learning from failures or learning from success. That’s the first thing, the second thing goes hand in hand with that, Fred. This is the challenge: getting people to believe in their own power to impact the outcomes. It’s, “We need a new tech tool to do this” and I am not blasting any SaaS products or technology but if you think that we can just throw technology at a problem instead of having people figure it out and apply a new effort, then you’re going to get stuck. That is a really big challenge, is having people understand that they, you yourself, you can impact the outcome if you have a different mindset, if you apply different input you can actually impact the outcome. We are not victims here.
Fred Diamond: Take us back to your sales career, what was the #1 win from your career that you’re most proud of? Why don’t you take us back to that moment?
Shawn Karol Sandy: I love this story. You may not love it, but I love it.
Fred Diamond: [Laughs] hopefully out listeners will love it.
Shawn Karol Sandy: [Laughs] I played chicken with a VP of Finance over a deal. This was when I was selling business to business print services and I had worked this, this was a very large regional bank. I worked it from the bottom to the top, they had a print contract with someone else, but I went at the bottom user level and gathered intel and information. No one else knew they had a contract, they would go outside of the contract.
I gathered all this information and then one of my office products partners brought me into meet the VP of finance which was the COO and she had gathered some information that their current printer who printer all their letter head and business cards just locked the door, left orders. They were really in a pinch. We didn’t tell him that I knew that, so I met this person and he was a bit of a character. He used a hundred dollar words, he wanted to impress me with what he knew about the chemicals used in printing and stuff, it actually was so not relevant to what he needed but he just wanted to show me what he knew and he was rather abrupt and gruff and the type of person who likes to try to make people feel small. That was how I inferred his behavior.
He told me what he needed and I put a plan together and we tried to discuss the plan, and he would slam his fist down on the table and tell me that this was a bunch of crap and that I was way too expensive and that I didn’t know what I was talking about. I played this game with him for two rounds and on the third conversation – because I had actually pointed out to him what he had, the current cards he had wasn’t even what he thought he had.
Finally, I was just done. On the phone he one more time said, “You’re so expensive, this is so crazy.” I said, “This obviously isn’t going to work, so why don’t you just continue on with the current vendor you have?” and he started back paddling. I knew he didn’t have a vendor, I knew he had orders stacking up and he needed a solution fast so I just said it and I shut up, and I listened to him back paddle, and I purposely didn’t even respond for about a full 30 seconds and actually ended up working over. What happened there was the leverage shifted to me because I was not going to put up with this crap and I wasn’t going to grovel, I was ready to walk away because I had integrity to say, “I’m not going to play this game anymore.” I like to call that playing chicken with the VP of finance, that to me was a really big win and it turned out to be a deal that ended up to be almost $100 thousand over the course of the next year. That is really a lot, that’s a whole lot of business cards, Fred.
Fred Diamond: I’mgoing to ask this question slightly different as the air conditioning in the conference room where we’re having this podcast is kicking in.
Shawn Karol Sandy: That’s because we’ve heated things up, Fred. [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: Did you ever question being in sales? Again, you’ve devoted your career now, you’re the chief revenue officer of The Selling Agency, you trained, coached and helped sales teams around the country. Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Shawn Karol Sandy: No, and I will tell you why. If I’ve ever thought things were too hard, I’ve gone back to that notion that my output controls my outcomes. I’m actually more challenged by my own goals than anything anyone else can put in front of me, any obstacle anyone can put in front of me. I know that if I desire it then I’m going to go after it. Sales is definitely hard, there have been times where I feel like the universe was trying to send me some signals and burn things down or tear things apart but at the end of the day I’ve always thought, “I chose this and I’m more powerful than any obstacle if I realize that I can change the outcomes.”
Fred Diamond: We say that sales is hard and I ask that question the same way mainly just to see how people have gone through the journey. Typically, people we interview on the Sales Game Changers are hugely successful and have had tremendous sales careers. Do you think sales is harder now than it was 10, 15 years ago?
Shawn Karol Sandy: No, I don’t actually. I think it’s challenging for sure, I think it’s better than what it used to be. I’ll tell you why, this is where my passion for this comes from. It used to be more transactional, it used to be a technique manipulation game or if you look at it like selling used to be an arm wrestling match, there is a winner and there is a loser. The way buying has evolved now requires that selling is so much more emotionally intelligent and I love being in the sales role because you’re more like the conductor of an orchestra bringing people together. When does this section crescendo and when does this section move?
You have so much knowledge to bring to the game and the party that we’re not manipulating anyone now. I think in that way it’s better, I don’t know that it’s harder. Certainly, it’s harder to get people’s attention but if you’re creative and you’re dedicated and if you’re persistent, you have the grit to outlast your competitors, you’re only going to knock on their door twice – who knocks on doors now? I actually still knock on doors but if you can outlast your competitors who are going to give up so easily, it actually can be much easier.
Fred Diamond: Shawn, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the selling professionals listening to the podcast to help them improve their careers?
Shawn Karol Sandy: Two things. This first one I think you might be surprised, it’s a novel concept. You don’t need to outsell your competition, your job is to outlearn your competitors. How’s that for a tweet? [Laughs] When I started my agency, my goal was to outlearn my competition and to learn as much so that I could bring that back to my clients. That’s applicable no matter what you sell, to constantly be agile and have that agile mindset which means you’re constantly learning, trying to improve, trying to be better than we were yesterday. Better for yourselves but mostly for your customers, can you be better for your customers? They will love you more, they will respond to you, you have new ways to reach them, you have new things to talk to them about so learn harder, outlearn your competition.
That’s the first part, the second part goes hand in hand here, the second tip to improve your career. I’ve had people ask me, “What would you go back and tell your younger self?” I would say, “Shawn Karol Sandy, you go prequalify thousand times harder than what you did.” In that prequalification it’s not necessarily the questioning of your clients, it’s defining what makes a great client.
What are the characteristics that makes an awesome offer from us? Not just the psycho-demographics of where, how’s their industry, what’s the size, but what are the other things? What transitions are they going through right now? We might call them pain points, but what are the triggers in their industry? In recruiting right now there’s such a war for talent, so that’s a trigger. Why is it a trigger for this industry? Thinking through the problems from your client’s lens helping you build the exact target customer you want to go to and then prequalify heavier. I’ll try to prequalify them out of your pipeline so that it is so much easier to convert. If you’re putting garbage in your pipeline, you’re spending a lot of time pushing that garbage around but if you can prequalify people out of your pipeline the more you dial into your ideal customer the higher your conversion rate is going to be.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things you do today to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Shawn Karol Sandy: I love to challenge myself, and in multiple disciplines. I look at a lot of psychology, I read a lot of marketing and customer service type of books, I look at leadership, I actually do a lot of study of change management and how we think. I do more anthropology studies than I ever thought I would but probably the most important thing in challenging myself is I try to get out of my physical comfort zones.
This is something I didn’t really start until maybe a couple years ago on my own health journey but when I started getting out of my own physical comfort zones it started with running mud races. I love to get muddy, those are lots of fun and they’re challenging, and my goal is not to light the world on fire with my best personal record, my goal is to finish first and to just say, “I’m going to do this, I’m going to reach that goal. I started playing volleyball, I was coaching my daughter’s volleyball team and thought, “This is so much fun, I want to play volleyball.” I haven’t left the ground in 20 years but darn it, I’m going to figure out how to approach and hit. I don’t care what anybody else thinks about that, that is my challenge and that is something I want to do. Running trail races, I did that last year, I did a 4 race series of off road running and then I decided recently that I think I would be really good at surfing, Fred. I’m going to go to Costa Rica to learn to surf in January, I’ll let you know how that goes.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Shawn Karol Sandy: I looked at the way people learn. We talked about learning harder and when I look at the way people learn – and this has come from all those different multi-facet initiatives. Coaching volleyball players, coaching sellers, training, working with girl scouts and what I’ve learned about learning is that we don’t change behavior and we don’t improve by reading a book. We don’t actually improve by learning, we improve by doing so it’s all about the practice.
My major initiative was this skills builder concept, I even want to move the idea away from training and more towards skills building. We build skills by repeating, learning, muscle memory. You have to do that, you have to change habits, in order to change habits we’ve got to stack a habit and attach it to an existing habit so it rides along and we repeat it and we’re much more successful. That’s why I build the skills builder series, the bad-ass selling skills builder series. The first one, it’s not a book. I told you my big accomplishment this year is I did not write a book [laughs], this is the skills builder. It sits on your desk and you focus on one skill every week. You start in the morning with whatever your morning habit is and then you practice that skill and you do it for a week solid, and that is how you improve. The skills builder is my big initiative.
Fred Diamond: Why have you continued? You’re so passionate about sales, you devoted your career to sales and you’re helping thousands of people around the country be more successful at this chosen profession. What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Shawn Karol Sandy: I love the creativity of being a sales professional and whenever we talk with a stumbling box or there’s obstacles, there’s always a creative way up and down the mountain, always. If that person is never going to do business with you then fine, I’m going to go find another mountain to climb. I think there’s always a way to creatively express how you can do that, no matter what level of creativity you think you have. Your personality is enough, your personality is capable of un-sticking deals if you just try something new and find a new way around it, or to zig and zag, it’s just possible. I think that has always been what’s kept me going.
Fred Diamond: Give us one final thought to inspire our listeners today.
Shawn Karol Sandy: Hold on to your hats, Fred. This is my favorite lightbulb that I see go off when people talk about this. Some of the clients I work with are not in traditional sales roles and might be recruiting. “I’m not in sales”, no, you are in sales, everyone is in sales. It might be a managing partner of a large firm and they don’t want to call it sales and selling because people have historically attached some unfortunate filters with the notion of selling. “I don’t want to be too pushy” and people felt pressed into answers or technique or manipulated but here’s the thing I think that you have an opportunity to recognize about selling now, here’s the switch I want you to flip: selling is a service, selling to someone is the first place you are able to add value to them. You’re adding value because you’re helping them make decisions. You’re helping them make educated, informed, enlightened decisions.
Obviously, we want people to make decisions to purchase from us but if your job is to add value to that process, that is very simple. Selling is a service, you are articulating your value in a way that is valuable to someone else.