EPISODE 338: Selling from the Heart’s Larry Levine Says These Three Questions Will Flip Your Customer Relationships Forever

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the CREATIVITY IN SALES Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on February 5, 2021. It featured Larry Levine, author of the best-selling Selling from the Heart.]

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LARRY’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “If you ask these three questions it will change the conversation and it will build rock-solid relationships with your clients. First, why did you initially choose to do business with me? Stop and listen. Second, “What value have I been bringing to your organization? And stop and listen. And third, “How can I be of service to you right now?” and listen.  Think about how those questions can forever change the conversations you have with your clients, build deeper, stronger relationships.”

Fred Diamond: First of all, tell us how you came to write the book and then let’s get into some definitions of authenticity and let’s get deep into the conversation.

Larry Levine: It was a long time coming. Quick backstory is I remember early on in my marriage I had promised my wife I’d write a book, just didn’t know when but I promised her by a certain age I’d write a book. I’m going to spill the beans on this, I promised her by the age of 50 I’d write a book. I grew up in the office technology space so I sold copiers my whole life, Fred. I said, “I’m going to write a book about my life in sales in the office technology space. There’s not many people that are going to read that book, but if we fast-forward, I’m a firm believer life is full of a-ha moments, twists and turns.” My twists and turns came at 50 years old, actually, when I was fired from a high paying corporate sales job. It just came out of nowhere, it’s a long story but things happen for a reason and I wouldn’t be here today if that event didn’t happen. If we fast-forward three years after that, now I’m 53 years old, Selling from the Heart starts to come to fruition. It was first born from a podcast, the book came out 28 months ago.

Why Selling from the Heart? That’s the way I’ve led my life, Fred, as a sales professional in Los Angeles. I brought sincerity, I brought substance to the floor, Fred, I did things completely polar opposite and I write about in my book that many sales reps do. I’m not here to disrespect the sales world, none whatsoever, I’m an absolute sales nerd but there’s a huge difference between a sales professional and a sales rep. When you’re on my podcast, we even talked about it, but the areas that I really dive into I believe is the secret sauce. It’s the soft skills, it’s the heart skills, it’s the deep relational skills, this is what I believe the sales world is sorely lacking and that’s what I bring to the forefront in Selling from the Heart.

Fred Diamond: We did a LinkedIn post a couple days ago like I just mentioned where we did this poll and a couple people questioned even what authenticity means. Give us your definition of authenticity so that we put it into context here. Again, we’re going to be talking for the next 30 somewhat minutes about how the sales professionals listening to the podcast and watching today’s webinar can apply some of your ideas to be more successful. At the Institute for Excellence in Sales and our webinars we’re all about helping sales professionals get to the next level, be more successful in sales. Let’s talk specifically about the word authenticity, what does it mean so we put it into context?

Larry Levine: If you ask 10 different people, you’re going to get 10 different answers especially when it comes to authenticity. I’m a big believer it’s a lifestyle, I’ve gone on to say leading your life with authenticity and being real, being genuine and knowing who you are at the core, that’s a lifestyle, it’s not a light switch. This was hard work for me, Fred, because early on in my sales career I’d pretend to be somebody that I wasn’t because I had to live up to who was in the sales team, who was in the bull pen and all that and it just wreaked havoc on me for a long time. It wasn’t until I doubled down on really uncovering who I was and staying true to who I was, and I think at its core, that’s it. I believe in my heart we’re all authentic, we just choose, “Do we lead that lifestyle or don’t we?”

Fred Diamond: We’ve got a comment here from Rich, “I can definitely relate to that.” At the Institute for Excellence in Sales we talked about professionalism when we did your podcast and our goal is to help sales professionals be more professional. If transactions aren’t happening because of the industry challenges, what do you do to be a professional? We don’t really deal with a whole lot of people who don’t value sales, a lot of our listeners are in B to B, enterprise or corporate sales, a lot of them sell for companies like you saw, our sponsors in the beginning. It’s very serious to become a successful sales professional there so they understand it, but it’s a really interesting that you said where you made this transition. Another comment here from George, “I can relate too because it was very stressful not being my authentic self.” It’s almost like you have to remember what lies you’re telling, it’s like, “What lie did I say to this customer?” and you don’t want to be that way. The other thing too is customers are onto us now, they want those transparent relationships. Talk about that for a second.

Larry Levine: First of all, transparency is near and dear to me but if you want to develop trust, you have to be transparent. Let’s just go back in time and here’s what’s interesting, Fred. If you ask most salespeople how they would define salespeople, they’re going to give you all the negative attributes and I struggled with that a long time ago because look at the industry I came out of. Sales in general has got a bad name but go sell cars and go sell copiers and then see how you’re viewed. I had to deal with how I was perceived and I’m a big believer in this, we can key in on this for a moment. Perception is reality and that really played in my head early on in my sales career, how I was perceived and how the world of sales was perceived. We can either do something about it or we can just succumb to what everybody else is and I played into that for a long time early on in my career and it just screwed with my mind until I said enough is enough.

This is what I would like people to key in on, I started asking my clients and when I was in meetings with executive decision makers and mid-level decision makers I’d ask them out of the blue in the middle of a meeting, “I’m just curious, what do you look for in a salesperson? What are some key characteristics? What do you crave with people, especially in sales?” And I started to build a mental bank of notes. I just did something really simple, Fred, I just did exactly what they shared with me. It’s that simple, and I’ve built a whole lifestyle around it.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about this, we got a slide here that says, “Acceleration of Change.” I’ll be perfectly honest with you, at the Institute for Excellence in Sales I’ve met all the authors, I’ve read every sales book going way back, we had Liz Heiman on the webinar yesterday, of course her father wrote Strategic Selling. Everybody from Mike Bosworth and Neil Rackham have been on our stage, Neil’s been a guest a couple times on our live stage. I thought Selling from the Heart had been out there for like a decade and I always knew there was this guy, Larry Levine, “I know he’s out there, we’ll get to him at some point.” Then we met through a couple different channels and I was stunned to learn that the book came out just slightly over two years ago. As we talk about acceleration of change, the world has changed dramatically over the last 9 months. Even before that, customers were in control. We talk about this all the time that the customer doesn’t necessarily need a salesperson because they can get the information that they need over the internet on almost anything, or from social networks. The role of the sales professional has changed. Talk about what you mean here by the acceleration of change and how that plays into Selling from the Heart.

Larry Levine: I’m going to tie this in a little different mode but I completely get where you’re going with this. When I say acceleration of change, let’s just look back one year. If we look back one year ago, we were doing things completely different than we’re doing now. Six months ago we were doing things completely different than we are now. 30 days ago we were doing things different than we are now. I talk a lot about acceleration of change, there’s so much technological changes that have happened over the last year, rapid changes. The market place has changed, our clients have changed, prospects have changed, the buyers have changed but when I say acceleration of change, I’m going to have people directly look at themselves in the mirror and say, “Have I changed along with the acceleration of technology, with the acceleration and change of my clients out in the market place?” That’s the inner work that a lot of salespeople struggle with or fail to do. It’s really looking in the mirror and saying, “Everybody else is changing, but am I changing?” Growth and comfort just don’t coexist, it’s not like peanut butter and jelly where they go together. I know one thing, the older we get, the harder it is to change. That’s just a fact but if everybody else is changing at the rate they’re changing and if you’re not, what happens?

Fred Diamond: Of course, to grow you need to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. You raised a really great point here, a year ago some people were sitting in front of video, people might have been remote, a very small percentage of salespeople. The main thing that’s happened is not just that every salesperson has had to go remote, almost every customer has had to go remote. You look at some of the companies that we mentioned in the very beginning, a lot of those companies are not sending their people back to the office in 2021. One of the companies has been a sponsor of the IES for a number of years and this is a company with tens of thousands of people. He said, “We’re not sending people back to the office in 2021 and we’re telling them not to go to events.” The challenge that’s really happened is not just that they’re home but customers are home as well.

Here’s the other thing which I want to talk to you about as it relates to Selling from the Heart. Every customer is going through the same things that we’re going through, every customer that we have to deal with is dealing with the repercussions of COVID, quarantine, health, lockdown, becoming a homeschool teacher. Every customer that we’re dealing with is dealing at some level with the financial repercussions of COVID either themselves, maybe they lost a job or their company’s, if they have a spouse who owns a restaurant, all the stuff they’ve been going through, then the third thing. I know we’re going to be talking about this in a little bit but I want to get your definition of empathy. Empathy has got to play a large role in what you do and I’m sure you’ve talked about empathy tons of times. It comes up every day on the Sales Game Changers podcast and the webinars we do, I just want to get your definition of empathy and how empathetic selling comes into play in this as well.

Larry Levine: You bring up an interesting point and some people may throw darts at me after this but that’s okay. There’s so much fake empathy and not enough real empathy and it’s why in the last chapter of Selling from the Heart, Fred, I talk about being an empty suit. People smell insincerity and fake empathy instantaneously. Being able to look somebody in the virtual eye or those that can still go face to face or on a phone or through a video message back to somebody and say, “Fred, I truly understand how you feel, I really do because my clients have been going through the exact same thing you have been going through.”

To me, empathy is about deeply caring about what they care about. I’ll even go one step farther, it’s giving a rip and I write a lot about it in Selling from the Heart. Truly put yourself in their shoes, what’s a day in the life of a client, of a prospect? What are they going through? And walk through it, until you walk through it, you have no idea, you can only imagine what it is. This is what’s interesting as I was bringing Selling from the Heart to the floor front, it’s the soft skills that nobody really wants to talk about. I’m going to places in Selling from the Heart that we’re all capable of going to, but we all have choices and decisions that we make. We focus so much on the hard skills we don’t focus enough on the soft skills. If we look over the course of the last year, it’s the soft skills that are going to propel the profession forward in a profession that lacks trust, that people don’t believe what they say and they’re skeptical about everything. To me, if you bring heart to the forefront and really connect and relate on a true human level with somebody, it’s amazing what happens.

Here’s our signature moment on the podcast at Selling from the Heart and you know this, Fred because you had to answer the question not too long ago. We always ask people, “What does it mean to you to sell from the heart?” If I were to ask that question to all of the people that are listening to this, one year ago you’d probably give me a little bit different answer than you’d give me right now. Here’s what’s unique about this, this was about a year and a half or so ago. We’d ask the guest, “What does it mean to you to sell from the heart?” and this was the mic drop moment of all mic drops. When you hear dead air on a podcast for five seconds, Fred, and you know this, that’s an eternity. This person said this, “It’s hard to sell from the heart if your heart is broken.” Think about that for a moment. I’m going to have people think through this for a moment. If you have a misaligned heart, it plays havoc on the outside of what you do. In other words, the internal baggage that you carry with you prevents you, in my opinion, from becoming the best version of yourself. If you’re having a bad day or if you’ve had a series of arguments with a spouse or a significant other and your heart is out of whack, it plays havoc on your career, especially in sales. I’m a big believer that the hardest work that anybody will do is the heart work and if we don’t get that right, we can never fully be successful in our career. That’s what I’d like for people to really understand is I’m going to ask people to think about, “What’s your heart capacity?” Stop and think about that, it’s not so much your heart health which is your cardio health. That’s massively important, but what’s your relational health look like? What’s the relation with yourself, what does that look like? Are you working on your heart, your mind and your body all at the same time? I write about it in Selling from the Heart, sales is a full-contact sport, Fred. You’re going to get knocked down but you’ve got to pick yourself right back up.

Fred Diamond: A comment here comes in from Richie, Richie is in the DC area and he says, “Larry, did you get a lot of pushback with Selling from the Heart?” You mentioned, Larry, when I asked you about empathy, “I may get a lot of darts thrown at he mere.” I’m making the presumption that people bought off on Selling from the Heart but you’ve been living this every single day. Talk about that for a second, was everybody all in? Once again, congratulations for hitting a nerve in the sales world, your book had taken off, your brand has just exploded with Selling from the Heart. Like I told you, I thought it was around for decades. Talk about that for a second, did you get a lot of resistance where your old copier guy is saying, “You’re full of crap, Larry, it’s about the connivance” or whatever it might be?

Larry Levine: Richie, I’m going to hit this one head-on. The only flack that I got really was in the channel that I came out of because they saw me as that guy who sold copiers his whole life but they really didn’t know me. Those that really know me, my deep inner circle, they know what I brought to the market. There’s only really one dart that was thrown at me in this whole journey of Selling from the Heart so I know I’ve hit a nerve, because I’m pushing a message and my foot is all the way on the gas pedal on this. I was about three chapters in writing Selling from the Heart – this is a true story, this is absolutely hilarious – and I had somebody call me up through a LinkedIn connection. Somebody had asked me to connect, I sent a pleasantry back and I still save this message because it lights my fire every single day. This person went on to say this, “Larry, it intrigues me because anyone who’s going to write a book about heart and sales, I want to know what the research and the science is behind the book. What case studies are you bringing to the forefront with the book?” I said, “Full disclosure, none whatsoever. I don’t have a PHD in psychology, I don’t have a master’s in human behavior, I have a PHD from getting the crap kicked out of me selling copiers in Los Angeles my whole life. I’m bringing things to the forefront in sales that I believe sorely lacking and this is through a practitioner’s eyes. Either buy the book or don’t I really don’t care” and we moved on. But this person said something that forever stuck in my head, Fred, “I want you to look up the word deception in the context of how you’re going to be writing your book.”

Long story short, I asked this person, “What do you really mean?” and he says, “There’s a lot of people that have written sales books around EI, EQ and heart but I always question, do they lead that lifestyle or are they deceiving the readers and trying to capitalize on writing a book around it?” I said, “This is my lifestyle. Again, go buy the book or don’t buy the book.” It’s one person. Fast-forward, 30 days after the book comes out I’m scrolling through Twitter and sure enough, this person is tweeting out parts of my book and this person is deep into the book, so that means they got the book. Since, we’ve become friends, we talk all the time, he tweets and reposts my stuff all the time. I share this because I thought it was going to happen more often than not, but I think I’ve hit a nerve. When we start thinking about secret sauce, I talk about it all the time but it’s really around uncovering internally what you bring to the market. I’m a big believer we all have that secret sauce and I’ll end with it before the end of this podcast, but I want people to key in on words.

I’m a big believer, words matter and message matters. If we look at these six words, genuine, authentic and real, I drew an invisible line between them because if you ask your clients, “What do you expect from a whole-hearted sales professional?” they’re going to say, “I want somebody who’s genuine, authentic and real.” If that’s the case, then I’d like the listeners who are listening in, those that are watching, key in and truly define what those words mean and internalize it. Then, I want you to think about compassionate, caring and loving. Now you’re going to go, “Where the heck is Larry Levine going with these words?” but these are the words that your clients are craving from salespeople. It just goes against the grain of what most people believe because it’s too icky-sticky, mushy-gushy type stuff. Bring compassion and caring to the forefront, that’s how you’re going to connect on a deeper level with your clients, you’re going to scratch way below the surface if you do that.

Now I’m going to bring the L word into this in loving and this is where some people freak out, Fred, but I’m here to say if you don’t love on your clients, somebody else will. I’m not saying in holy matrimony and all that, but I’m just saying if you don’t deeply care about your clients… What’s really interesting, the clients I work with, we all say we love each other. That is part of who I am, it’s built in my DNA, I have global heads of sales that I work with that will say, “Hey, Larry, I love you.” They never said it until they started interacting with me, but it’s who I am, that’s the secret sauce.

Fred Diamond: We always say you’ve got to pick up the phone, let’s talk about that for a little bit, getting away from your keyboard.

Larry Levine: When I say stop hiding behind the keyboard I actually mean it. Technology has done wonders, I’m a technology guy, I’m not anti-technology but let’s just think about it. When I say be personal and build relationships, it’s hard to build relationships with faceless communication. Text is the #1 form of communication worldwide, I text every day, Fred, I’m sure you do as well, I’m sure the listeners and the people watching text every day but text is short form of communication. If I really want to build a relationship with somebody, I’ve got to stop hiding behind the keyboard. I’ve got to pick up the phone or I’ve got to drive a video message or in the virtual world I’ve got to use whatever video platform because you can see me. I can invite people into the conversation, you can pay attention to tonality, you can lean in and things like that, but texting and email is blind communication and it gets misconstrued. A capital with an exclamation point could be construed in a bunch of different ways and we’ve got to stop hiding behind our keyboards and truly get to know somebody. The only way you get to know somebody is to start driving meaningful and engaging conversations, you can’t do that with short form blind communication.

Here’s what’s interesting, it’s about re-humanizing relationships and this is what I think is absolutely hilarious. Here we are, we’re all human beings but we’re talking about re-humanizing relationships. It just goes back to how much we’ve leaned on technology and we’ve taken that human part out of it. We’ve automated so much of this that we’ve forgotten that at the core of this is a human heartbeat and to me, automation and technology doesn’t have a heart. The people behind it do but technology and automation don’t have hearts, if you truly want to connect to somebody, show that you care and engage in great conversation. It’s as simple as that. You talked about care a second ago, I always tell people there are people in the LA marketplace that would out-strategize me, out-sell me, no one is going to out-care me and it was all based on serving. In chapter 6 of Selling from the Heart I dive deep into this. I’m a big believer that in order to truly understand what it means to serve, you’ve got to grow yourself out into the community. The only way you are going to understand what it means to serve is you’ve got to lend a helping hand out in the community which means get involved in community service, get involved in your community, sit on a not-for-profit board. I’m a big believer you give and you just keep giving and it’ll come back. It’s about leading your life with gratitude.

As we end this – and I’ve had a great time, thanks, Fred – is I’m going to give people some ideas to help them engage and drive in conversation. I’m a big believer every day you must show your clients gratitude. I wake up every single morning and I just jot down what I’m grateful for for the day. I’d like for us to key in on our clients for a moment – and this could be picking up the phone moment. I want everyone to pick up the phone, before they do that I want them to listen to their clients, listen to the marketplace, learn something new about your client that you did not know before. I’m a big believer listening is the new prospecting and you’ll see how this all ties in, I’m going to roll through this really quick.

I’m going to use you as an example, Fred. Let’s just say you’re with ABC company, you and I have been working together forever and a day, I’ve been listening, I’ve been following you on social channels and all of a sudden I just find out that Fred just donated $10,000 to the Boys & Girls Club at DC. I’m going to pick up the phone and I’m going to say, “Fred, Larry Levine. Congratulations, I applaud you for donating what you did to the Boys & Girls Club in DC, spot on. I didn’t know that. In my community that I live in, I give back to the YMCA. The next time you get ready to donate, can you please let me know? Fred, by the way, I appreciate you and thank you for allowing me to serve you.” Imagine what that would do in opening up conversations.

As we bring this to a close, I had promised everyone I’d give them three secret sauce questions to ask their clients. I promise you this, if you ask these three questions it will change the conversation and it will build rock-solid relationships with your clients. First one is this: why did you initially choose to do business with me? Imagine that for a moment. I’m a big believer that salespeople will do this, the stories in their head are the stories that they tell. “I’ve got great relationships with Fred Diamond.”  “Great, when was the last time you’ve really asked what that relationship looks like?” What I’d encourage everybody to do is take them back to that moment in time mentally that they agreed to do business with you and then ask them, “Fred, I wrote thank you for the partnership we’ve had over the last five years, I’m going to take you back five years ago. Can you put your thinking cap on for a moment?” “Sure, Larry.” “Can I ask you, five years ago, why did you initially choose to do business with me?” and stop and listen. It’s a golden moment there.

The next question that I’d like everybody to ask is what value have I been bringing to your organization? And stop and listen. For many salespeople, that means you may have to bite your tongue so hard that it bleeds and these might be uncomfortable moments for many. I promise everybody this, the last question will get you so many responses. “Fred, how can I be of service to you right now?” and listen. Think about how those questions can forever change the conversations you have with your clients, build deeper, stronger relationships. In those three questions will open up things and you will learn things that you have never found out about your clients before.

Fred Diamond: We have one or two more questions that are coming in here, Larry, if you don’t mind.

Larry Levine: No, but before we get to that can I just key back in on the second point? Here’s what I want everyone to really key in on, is it’s the value that you’ve been bringing, it’s not the value your company has been bringing. Key in on the word, “What value have I been bringing you?”

Fred Diamond: That puts it into a whole different context as well. Larry, we’ve got some people who are chiming in saying, “Thank you so much, I definitely want to buy the book.” Quick question is where do you get the book, wherever good books are sold pretty much?

Larry Levine: It’s where all good books are sold now, so everyone can go to Amazon and they can find Selling from the Heart in paperback, they can find it in Kindle and audio version.

Fred Diamond: Mike says, “Thank you so much.” Roberta says, “Wow, this was really good.” Justine says, “Thank you so much, Larry.” Before I ask you for your final action step – and you’ve given us so many great ideas here – I have one quick question. How has your life changed in the last two years? Again, we mentioned that the book came out two years ago, you’ve gotten a lot of attention, a lot of notoriety but how has your life specifically changed based on the response to the book?

Larry Levine: I have a hard time dealing with it because I’m a pretty humble guy, I really am. Even when I was in corporate sales, I just silently went about doing my business and I never bragged about anything that I did, I just let my actions speak louder than words. I’m telling you, I’m having a hard time dealing with it and I’m shooting this straight as an arrow on this. To get the messages that I get coming in every single day saying, “Larry, I read the book, I listened to the podcast, I get your daily inspirations and you’ve changed my life.” Sometimes I just sit in my room or in my office and I cry like a freaking baby because I didn’t know the impact this was going to have. This is how I’ve led my life forever and I day, I live this 24/7, I don’t waver from it. What you get is what you get with me, my personal life is the exact same way as my professional life, I removed that barrier a long time ago but it is heartwarming to know the message and the book has had in a very short period of time.

Fred Diamond: Larry, once again, you’ve touched tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of sales professionals out there who’ve had an impact on their life and proved their sales skills, made them more conscious about how they’re going about it. Another word we talk about all the time is intentionality and if you’re selling from the heart, you really have some deep intentions. I want to applaud you for creating this movement. You’ve given us a lot of great ideas, just give us one thing that people listening to the webcast or the podcast should do at this moment to take their sales career to the next level.

Larry Levine: I’ll give you one simple thing, are you all ready for this? Learn how to capture the morning. It’s about where you start, it’s not about where you end up. Think about creating some kind of rhythm every single morning and stick to it, it’s about developing morning consistencies, it’s about waking up in the morning and self-reflect for a little bit, becoming a little bit more self-aware of who you are. I’m a big believer in the power of “I am” statements, I have five 3×5 index cards that I read every single day.

Fred Diamond: I recommend this book all the time. Hal Elrod created The Miracle Morning, he’s come out with 10 books, something you could do. Miracle Morning for Entrepreneurs, Miracle Morning for Teachers, Miracle Morning for Companies. He talks about five things you should do every single morning to start your day off like you’re talking about, you should do that, Selling from the Heart for Entrepreneurs, Selling from the Heart for New Salespeople, you could have a whole compendium. For everybody else watching today, thank you so much, if you’re a listener of the Sales Game Changers podcast, thank you so much. Larry, have a tremendous weekend, thanks for all the great work you’re doing.

Larry Levine: Thanks, Fred.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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