EPISODE 494: Strategies for Igniting Buying Conversations with Blair Dunkley

Subscribe to the Podcast now on Apple Podcasts!

Become a member of the elite Institute for Excellence in Sales and take your sales career to the next level!

Attend the next Institute for Excellence in Sales Women in Sales Leadership Forum starting April 22, 2022. Register here.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Optimal Sales Mindset virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on December 28, 2021. It featured an interview with Profiler and Behavioral Researcher Blair Dunkley.

Find Blair on LinkedIn.

BLAIR’S TIP: “Simply start identifying your strengths of what you’re doing effectively and write those down. Three things every single day so that you start naming and labeling the things that you’re already doing that are effective. Then you have something that’s identifiable, repeatable and duplicatable and you’re already doing it. It’s the simplest most effective thing I can tell people to do.”


Fred Diamond: Blair, it’s great to see you. Blair’s the founder of Results Now and ReWiring the Mind. We’re going to be talking about a different approach to sales and sales training which he’s created which is called Igniting the Buying Conversation, IBC. Blair, it’s great to see you. You’re up north in Canada, I’m down here in Northern Virginia right outside of Washington DC. What we’re going to be talking about today is rethinking ways to go about sales, how to rewire the brain and how to make some shifts. First off, it’s great to see you. How are you doing?

Blair Dunkley: I’m doing great, Fred. Thank you so much for having me on, this is excellent.

Fred Diamond: I’ve gotten to know you and I follow you and I’m excited to hear what we’re going to be talking about. Let’s just get started here. Quick question. For years, sales professionals have been talking about trying to uncover the pain and we know those trite questions like when asking the customer, “What keeps you up at night?” You think that it’s not really about pain, it’s about fear and we talk about fear and courage all the time on the Sales Game Changers podcast. Why don’t you get us started here? Talk about the difference between pain and fear and how that’s going to play into the conversation.

Blair Dunkley: First thing’s first, our prospects are all getting more and more sophisticated, way more sophisticated than they were 30, 40 years ago. The primary thing here is pain used to work very well, because we didn’t need to get people moving as fast as we need to right now. We’ve got to take a look at the psychological drivers here. The psychological driver of pain is to protect, to pull in, to take care of a wound. Do we want to wound our prospects? No, we don’t really want to wound them, yet we have phrases and sales training like, “Twist the knife,” “Make them feel more pain,” and how does that psychologically set between you, the salesperson, and your prospect? They’re feeling wounded. They’re feeling like, “Do I need this guy in my face doing this?” No. We know scientifically from research that people will buy from the person they like, and if you’re wounding that person, are they liking you?

Fred Diamond: That’s a really interesting distinction there. That comes up a lot, the whole concept of people buying from people that they like, and they also buy from people that they trust even more so, I would say. The notion of trusted advisor.

Blair Dunkley: That’s right where I was going to next. Like and trust, and it depends on the person which one’s top, which one’s number one, but is pain the best way to get people to trust you or like you? My thing is I doubt it. I did some research and I was actually brought in to Xerox over 40 years ago now. A friend of mine was the head of sales and he brought me into Xerox and said, “Can you speak to my audience here? My 50 men that are out in the field, they need to get re-tweaked.” I did my presentation, but in that presentation I asked two key questions. The first one was, who here likes to be sold? And back then, 40% of the audience put up their hands, 40 years ago. Then I asked the second question, “Who here likes or loves to buy?” All but one put up their hand.

I had 60% of the audience not liking being sold 40 years ago and 98% of the audience liking or loving to buy. The liking or loving to buy, right up until the last time I asked that question in 2007 has always stayed the same, about 98%, depending on the audience. Everybody likes or loves to buy. But what has happened over the years is a direct trend down of people who like being sold, it’s also hit an all-time low of about 99% of the people out there do not being sold. Yet traditional sales trending has not changed fundamentally. You can see the fundamentals are still the same for over a hundred years, and I think the psychology of the buyer has radically changed.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here that comes in from Reggie, “Should I strive to be liked or trusted?” What should you try to be first, liked or trusted?

Blair Dunkley: I go for trusted first and then liked, but they’re a close one too. What I want to do actually, I’ll twist this around. Those are the two things that I like the best, but I want that person to feel understood by me because more times than not, understanding is the one thing that they’re not getting. They’re not feeling understood from other salespeople so I want that person to believe, to know that I am willing to understand their issue.

Fred Diamond: You created this brand-new way to approach sales training and it’s called Igniting the Buying Conversation. We talk a lot about conversations. As a matter of fact, I was thinking about this as we were preparing for today’s show. The core of everything we do at the Institute is for sales professionals to continue having conversations. It’s not about getting to a conversation which is a hypothetical close, it’s about continuing to get to the next conversation and to continue having validity so the customer wants to continue to trust you. You want to be able to portray yourself in a way that you are liked by them.

You created Igniting the Buying Conversation. Let’s get deep into that. First question, buying language patterns. Maybe that’s the best place to start. Help us understand this whole concept of Igniting the Buying Conversation.

Blair Dunkley: I’ll just lay out the pattern. It takes a fair amount of skill to be able to hear the points, but the pattern is fear, you need to listen for your prospect’s fear, and then lead them into disclosing their dream. Then you quantify – not qualify – and put that into their value of moving from fear to dream. They will about 80% to 90% self-close. They’ll say, “How do I do this? How do I buy?” That’s where it goes, but it’s all done with mind models. If you cannot listen to how your prospect thinking, this doesn’t work that well. It works about as good as regular sales, it does, but if you listen to how somebody’s literally speaking, they will speak their language pattern.

They will speak what their fears are, and if you know how to listen, you’ll listen for only four fears. There’s only four fundamental fears that everybody buys on, and those fundamental fears are what I teach in my program to shift people so that they know specifically how that person is being perceived. When you use that language back to them, they feel deeply understood

Fred Diamond: You used the term mind models before. Talk about that in context, we’re getting some people who are saying, “What is a mind model?” Talk about what a mind model is and how as a sales professional can I be utilizing this knowledge?

Blair Dunkley: Mind models are basically models that are based on compare and contrast models that give you effective versus ineffective. That’s one of my mind models and most people know them, and it’s made up of sticky behaviors. Sticky behaviors are behaviors that preexist in virtually everybody’s mind at a subconscious level. When you raise it up to a conscious level, it’s there. It’s not a lot of work.

Number two, a mind model is like a magnifying glass. It lets you focus in and zoom in on that thing that gives you clarity on looking at that way of thinking. How to think. Literally, how to think. Mindset is about what to think, mind model is how to think.

Fred Diamond: Does the customer know what you’re doing? Customers are very savvy. Most of our audience is business to business, we have companies like Salesforce, Amazon, Red Hat and companies like that, that are members of the Institute for Excellence in Sales and they’re selling to very intelligent people. CIOs, CTOs, etc., financial people. From your work, give us a little bit of a peak into how the customer is viewing the sales professional. I’ve got to imagine that you’ve touched on that as we try to understand the mind of the customer. Give us some insights into, especially in an early part of a relationship, the customer, what are they thinking about? How are they viewing you as a sales professional and how do you get to the point where you’re beyond that?

Blair Dunkley: First thing’s first. I look at it as my job is to not really sell you, but problem solve with you. The senior executives that I’ve worked with and closed many times, they don’t need a salesperson, they don’t want a salesperson. They want somebody to provide high quality guidance and the thing is, I keep on getting complimented on my ability to ask questions. “That’s a great question, Blair, really appreciate that.” It causes that professional to think in a different way. By asking simple questions I train my people to try and ask all their questions in five to seven words, tops. Keep it simple because everybody else overcomplicates.

Fred Diamond: How does curiosity play into this? We did a show a couple weeks ago with Dr. Alison Horstmeyer who’s one of the world-renowned experts on curiosity in business and a lot of times on the Wednesday Sales Game Changers podcast I interview sales leaders and I say, “Tell us about a habit or a trait that you think is critical for sales success.” Of course they talk about listening and questioning like you just touched on, but a bit one that comes up is curiosity. Talk about how curiosity should be something that should be enabled by sales professionals and how can they apply curiosity to move the conversation further to the right?

Blair Dunkley: Fundamentally when we’re taking a look at sales professionals, when they engage in a traditional sales manner, trying to push their agenda as opposed to a pure discovery session that has no preset agenda except to discover if the prospect and you as the person who’s having the buying conversation have a similar agenda. If your agendas align, the sale is almost automatic. That can only be done with curiosity by you changing the flow, the dynamic, by getting curious about what that is and then causing the prospect to share what would happen if all of this would go away. When all that goes away, they have what it is. Then we get into fear, but then it comes into the quantify. What’s that worth to you? And by the way, these are the things that we deliver and what’s that worth to you? That’s where they see it at that moment, but you’ve got the first step, a transition, the second step, a transition and finally, the first time you ever inform your prospect about anything that you’re doing is right before the close because that’s them doing it. Because the rest is all about alignment.

Fred Diamond: What do you teach? I know you also train organizations and sales leaders. Talk about some of the ways that you teach sales professionals to be better at this, to understand how to have these mindful conversations.

Blair Dunkley: There’s 8 fundamental mind models that I teach to start off with. These include the question concepts which literally give you fair advantage to hear how somebody’s thinking on the fly. I also created a profiling process based on my research back in the day of Life Skills College where I created the ability to profile people based on their language pattern. We shrunk that down and built that into the IBC program so you can hear the transition points, literally hear if somebody’s stuck or frustrated or overwhelmed and what are they lacking? Is that lack paired up with my offering of whether it’s a service or a product? Does that actually align?

In that moment, you create that alignment and you give people that opportunity to hear it deeply. A question that comes up is one of eight primary ones that I do in the first half of the training, and that is done through video training where in a live process I actually give you a director’s cut. In the next three days of a six-day training process, the following week or two, three-day process, I put together all the rest of the pieces of how to apply that in real time. You can do that with about a day and a half of practice so you can get in there.

Fred Diamond: We’ve got a question from Rich, “I manage young sales professionals,” he probably should say junior, “What should I be teaching them right now to speak to a high-level audience?” We have a lot of sales leaders who listen to the show or read the transcript. How can they train their junior sales professionals on how to be more valuable to senior customers, to people who are at least director level or above?

Blair Dunkley: One of the key things is to get them to focus on asking questions and to cause themselves to self-evaluate. Most junior-level sales reps are requiring their sales manager to evaluate them and to tell them, “This works or doesn’t work.” Every senior sales rep knows when they’ve made a mistake and usually can correct on the fly if they’re that senior. They see that the customer just went slightly sideways, wrong question, boom, go over here, that’s going to be more effective.

One of the things that we teach are the three E’s. The first of the three E’s are effective versus ineffective. The second one is external versus internal and the third one is evaluation versus judgement. It’s called the three E’s because you want to do all of the first three E’s. If it’s external versus internal, if it’s the internal stuff, doesn’t work because that’s opinion. If it’s effective or ineffective, if it’s the other I here and it’s ineffective, we don’t want to do that. And we don’t want to put it in terms of judgment because at the end of the day, all I’ll do is beat myself up and now I got a junior salesperson who’s toast for the rest of the day because they’re now going around beating themselves up. That’s not effective, it’s not a good use of your time as a sales manager.

This is one of the things that I do on a custom basis is train sales managers how to language, how to talk to their new recruits and get them trained up so that they can focus on what works, what didn’t work. Not good, bad, right or wrong because that’s judgmental language. We want to shift it to something that’s externally verifiable. It’s like this jacket, I can go change this jacket. If you think of this jacket like a behavior, I can change my behavior but if I make my behaviors me, which most people do, then I’m bad, I’m not good, I’ve screwed up. As opposed to, “I have a wardrobe of behaviors that I can change into. It’s just the jacket didn’t work, so I can change out. No big deal. Next.” So people don’t take it personally, especially when they’re young professionals trying to work their way up. This is a huge differentiation.

Fred Diamond: What are some of the main things that you see people doing wrong time and time again? We touched on some things they can be doing better, but what do you see as the common habits or traits that sales professionals just keep getting wrong time and time again?

Blair Dunkley: So many sales professionals want to tell and sell. That’s all they want to do. They’ve got their script, they don’t care about their client or the prospect, they just want to deliver their script. They know that it’s just a numbers game. I’ve gone into an organization that had an internationally recognized sales training company in there and they were getting 10% close rate on their cold calls. They replaced them with myself and I did an incomplete IBC training for them, because it was just catch-as-catch-can and got them worked up over four months in time. They recorded a 20% increase in close rate with no additional ad spend and not changing the ad set at all whatsoever.

Following that, when I completed the training they had their national conference that happened every year – this is pre-COVID – and that was in Vegas. They wound up in the previous year having their best year ever with 400 buying units. They then sold 1.2 million, but they did have a 35% refund rate. The next year when I came in, from 450, it was dropped down to 350 but the close, they sold 1.9 million but the refund rate was only 2% because I also want to focus on, guys, if you’re out there trying to get people to make a decision, stop. What we want to focus on is empowering and having the prospect become a customer, feel, enjoy the process of making a choice. If they choose – not forced into making a decision or imply that they need to make a decision here to go forward. When they can choose, and they do, the refund rates plummet because it was not only their idea but their desire to do that. Refund rates just plummet.

Fred Diamond: One of the things that we frequently get on the Sales Game Changers podcast is the concept of stop selling or unselling. We ask people, why are you such a great sales leader? “Because I don’t sell and I engage in those trust conversations.” That’s great when you’ve gotten to a certain point and you’ve proven time and time again that you do have the ability to sell, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I agree with you a million percent when you just said, I think it’s called system-one thinking when there’s more power in the customer creating an idea as compared to hearing an idea. I’ve got one last question for you here. You call one of your offerings ReWiring the Mind and we talk a lot about this. How do you change a habit? We talk about this so many times and we could talk to you all day long, the expression, “Insanity is doing the same thing time and time again and expecting a different result.” Talk a little bit, and I know you could probably talk for a day on this, about that concept of ReWiring the Mind because I agree with you a thousand percent. Sometimes I’ll talk to a sales professional, they’ll reach out to me for some advice. We’ll give the advice and a couple months later I’ll go back and, “Has there been any change?” “No, I’m still doing this.” Well, you’re not going to get the same result if you do it harder, if you do it faster. Talk about the concept of ReWiring the Mind.

Blair Dunkley: Again, there’s neuroscience-based stuff that I work with all the time and the neuroscience shows, number one, don’t try and stop or unlearn a behavior. Just build a replacement behavior. That’s how come I stress the wardrobe idea, things that are worn out that no longer work are replaced by new things that work very, very quickly. If you learn a new replacement behavior and you find success and you know how to do that, then you’re going to go after the things that work very, very quickly. It’s pretty darn simple at the end of the day.

People get excited to do that and they want that pop, that buzz, that joy of getting it and saying, “I got a win here.” They do that and they immediately habituate. The funny thing is because they’re starting to habituate and do the same thing over and over again, the issue is they don’t have all the mind models, they don’t know how to name and label what it is they did effectively, so they can’t make it identifiable, repeatable and duplicatable. That’s mind models.

It took me over 25 years to put this program together for IBC because it was always about finding those people that were saying, “I’m unselling,” or, “I don’t sell, I do this instead,” and whatnot. They had huge close rates, how did they do that? When you ask them to break it down, they always went back to the standard stuff but I am a behavioral scientist at my root. Their behaviors did not line up with what they told me they were doing, so I went, that’s not it. Let’s observe these people, let’s listen to their calls, let’s see the videos and see what it is and name and label those behaviors so that you can change your behaviors into a new suit of clothes that is a perfection conversation that allows somebody to choose.

When you perfect that conversation and your focus is on providing choice for your prospect, and you’ve already proven there’s an alignment, what do you think the odds are of them aligning with you, which have been proven, and they now can choose? All they can choose to do is ignore what they’ve already told you that is an alignment for what they need to move into or not. They either move forward or they don’t, and usually the only two things that stop them, the only two objections that you have then is money or time.

Fred Diamond: It’s you have a choice, back to one of the tiny things that you mentioned in that great answer there is that you as a sales professional have the ability to make a choice about doing something different, about making the phone call, about trying something unique, about taking a break, about pulling back on the breaks. As another famous Canadian once said, even if you choose not to make a choice, you’re still making a choice. Of course, that’s the great Neil Peart from Rush.

Blair, I just want to acknowledge you for the great work that you’ve done. You’ve worked for some of the most amazing companies on the planet helping them rethink about the sales process and how they can be successful in very challenging times. The last two years have obviously been very challenging and it’s going to continue to be that way. Blair, give us one final action step. You’ve given us a lot of great ideas. Give us one more specific thing, something people should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Blair Dunkley: Simply start identifying your strengths of what you’re doing effectively and write those down. Three things every single day so that you start naming and labeling the things that you’re already doing that are effective. Then you have something that’s identifiable, repeatable and duplicatable and you’re already doing it. It’s the simplest most effective thing I can tell people to do.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *