EPISODE 510: Selling Different with IES 2022 Sales Speaker of the Year Lee Salz

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on December 31, 2021. It featured an interview with IES Sales Speaker of the Year Lee Salz. He will receive the IES Sales Speaker of the Year Award on June 1. He is the author of  Sell Different.]

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LEE’S TIP: “Look at every touchpoint in the buyer-seller relationship and identify ways to outsmart, outmaneuver and outsell the competition. That’s what this new book helps you do.”


Fred Diamond: Lee, it’s great to see you. You’re the author of a couple of great books. I just gave a review on Amazon of Sell Different and we’ve had you on the IES Live Stage a couple of times, and we’ve had you on the podcast before. You definitely approach this from a different perspective. You’ve written two books on the subject of sales differentiation. What prompted that? What sparked your interest in focusing on that particular topic?

Lee Salz:  I’ve written two books. The first one came out back in September 2019, which was Sales Differentiation and Sell Different has now become a bestseller. It came out in September 2021 but let me go back to your question about my interest in differentiation. Remember the Golden Girls, Fred?

Fred Diamond: Absolutely.

Lee Salz: Remember “picture it, Sicily”? Well, this is picture it, Marlboro, New Jersey, 1986. A high school kid needs a summer job and a family friend has this revolutionary idea to start a new business. You ready for this, Fred?

Fred Diamond: Yep.

Lee Salz: It’s pickup and delivery dry cleaning. That was it. Remember the year, 1986. He didn’t own a dry-cleaning store. What he said was, “I think people find it to be a hardship to take their dirty clothes to the laundry mat and then come back and pick them up from that dry cleaner. He hired me as his driver, that was my summer job in 1986. I was intrigued, but I wasn’t sure what people would be willing to pay more to have this service. What do you think, Fred? What people would pay more? The answer was some people. Marlboro, New Jersey, we have a lot of people there that commuted to Manhattan, to New York City and in 1986, people wore suits. If you were commuting and you didn’t have someone at home or a way to get your clothes taken to the dry cleaner and picked back up, you thought this was brilliant. But if you work locally, maybe didn’t wear a suit every day to work or you had someone to help you with getting your clothes to and fro, you thought we were just nuts.

So, at 17 years old I learned three really important lessons that are still valid today. The first one is that price is not the primary decision factor when buying. People will pay more for what they feel is meaningful value, which means we need to understand them. That led to the second takeaway for me which was know your audience. In other words, you have to identify who will perceive meaningful value in what you’re selling. Does your audience like free stuff?

Fred Diamond: Absolutely, everybody does.

Lee Salz: Of course. Well, let’s give them something free. What I’m talking about, knowing your audience, it’s having a target client profile. You may be saying, “No, you mean ideal client.” No, I don’t mean that and I don’t mean it in a semantical way either. An ideal client profile says if all the stores were to align, this is the business we’d love to have. A target client profile says this is who will perceive meaningful value in what we offer, and that’s where every minute of every selling day should be invested, in the pursuit of those opportunities. I’ve got a tough URL, you ready? You can go to targetclientprofile.com, you could download a worksheet that will help you gain clarity on your target client so that you can invest every minute properly of every selling day.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great offer, Lee. We’ll put the link in the show notes. Lee, before we go to the next question, Jonah says that he has a crush on Bea Arthur so I wish you wouldn’t have brought up that same analogy.

Lee Salz: [Laughs]

Fred Diamond: Jonah, my apologies to you. You could have at least said Betty White which would have been more copacetic, if you will.

Lee Salz: Let’s talk about this for a second. I stay away from the word unique, I focus on the word different. But I’ve got to say, that’s probably unique. That may be the first person that said, “I have a crush on Bea Arthur.” [Laughs]

Fred Diamond: Good for you, Johan, thank you so much. You can get some therapy. Lee, the book that just came out, September 2021, Sell Different. I’ve got to ask the obvious question. What is different about Sell Different? Two years after the first book, so tell us what’s different about this particular book, and what did you learn in the two years that led to this new book coming out?

Lee Salz: Fred, I’ve spoken to your Institute twice. My second time on the podcast and you put me on the spot right in the first few minutes. Do you think that’s really fair to ask me?

Fred Diamond: It is, because I’ve got a lot of people here who want to know. So, yes, it’s very fair.

Lee Salz: You know what, Fred? It is. And for the salespeople that are watching or the sales managers who manage salespeople, whether buyers ask you that question point blank like Fred did or not, that’s the huge question on their mind. Every single time they meet with a salesperson, they want to know what’s different and if you can articulate it. If you can’t demonstrate it, you know what wins the day, Fred? Price.

All right, so what’s different about Sell Different? There’s several things. First of all, for most, sales has never been tougher than it is today. Competition’s fierce and the differences in features and functions between one provider to another have gotten really subtle, really small. So it’s more challenging than ever for most salespeople to differentiate what they’re selling. Now, we’ve got sales managers watching us here today. I’m guessing none of them said, “Hey, salespeople, I know it’s tough out there. We’re going to lower your quota by 50%, go ahead and sell the deal at 25 lower margin points than you were before.” None of you have done that, you’re still expecting your salespeople to win at high rates while protecting margins. How do you do that? How do you win deals at high rates, or as I trademark, how do you win more deals at the prices you want when those differences in what you’re selling are so slight?

That’s what the new book is about, and it’s titled Sell Different, which means, look at every touchpoint in the buyer-seller relationship and identify ways to outsmart, outmaneuver and outsell the competition. That’s what this new book helps you do. Fred, I know you had the opportunity to read it. Let me tell you one of the big differences and it was intentional on my part and I’ve gotten so much feedback from readers on it. So often you read a sales book and you go, “Boy, this is great.” Can’t implement anything I read.

When I first wrote the manuscript, I sent it to several executives and I said, “I’m not looking for you to review the grammar or the spelling. Here’s what I want to know. What could you not implement based on how I’ve described it?” I made all those adjustments so that you don’t need to pay me to implement anything that you’ve read. Every chapter is a stand-alone strategy and I give you the steps to implement it yourself, and that’s not very common, Fred, in sales books. A lot of times you read it and you’re like, “Great stuff, no way to implement it in my organization.”

Fred Diamond: That’s absolutely true. I did think about that as I was reading the book and I was saying to myself, “This is executable.” We talk about this all the time on the Sales Game Changers podcast and the Institute for Excellence in Sales. The theory of stuff is great, it helps, but you’ve got to be able to execute. We’re going to ask you at the end of today’s show for something specific. You’re giving great ideas, but something specific the listeners can do right now.

I’ve got a question for you. You and I have spoken many times about sports, I know you’re a Yankees fan, unfortunately [laughs] but we’ve talked about baseball many times. You’re based in Minnesota, for people listening, I’m in the Northern Virginia, Washington DC area. You take issue with the common contrast of salespeople with athletes. Why is that an issue?

Lee Salz: Fred, that’s very common. You’ve heard that before, right? There’s a lot of similarities between salespeople and professional athletes but there is one core difference that almost completely invalidates the contrast. I’ll give you a little background, I’m a competitive powerlifter, I’ve got two sons playing college baseball. One of my clients is the most prestigious Triple-A baseball team in the major leagues – they’re a minor league team, so triple A. Here’s the big difference. If you think about what professional athletes do, they work countless hours perfecting their craft. Hours, days, weeks, months, years so that when they’re in that moment of competition, they perform flawlessly.

When you compete, you can’t think. When you’re at the plate, you’re talking baseball, you can’t say, “Okay, are my hands in the right place? My head’s straight, my knees…” You can’t do any of that. Muscle memory has to take over and you have to execute flawlessly, but Fred, what do most salespeople do? They play the game over and over again hoping to get better. They deal with the competition over and over again hoping to be better the next time. Not enough salespeople work on their craft outside of the game, they just take lead after lead hoping to improve or meeting after meeting hoping to be better.

One of the things that I tell salespeople all the time, we drop in this word, professional. If you want to have the word professional associated with you, “I’m a professional salesperson,” then you’ve got to follow that same example as a professional athlete. You set aside time every day, every week, every month and invest in making yourself better tomorrow than you were today.

Fred Diamond: Absolutely. One thing we’ve learned over the last 19 some-odd months is things changed dramatically when the pandemic started. Things that you might have been planning for didn’t happen, so what do you do as a sales professional? We would say that all the time. What should you be doing if you’re a sales professional? You need to be working on your presentation skills, understanding your customer’s industry, understanding better ways to research, to prepare. You’re right on target with that, man.

I’ve got a quick question for you. You just mentioned that you have two sons who are playing baseball. Speaking of athletes, in the book I really enjoyed the story when you talked about your son and his recruiting experience and that whole process. Would you mind sharing that story for a little bit? Talk about what you felt the key message was, taking away for sales professionals.

Lee Salz: You’re talking about my son Steve and my older son. When he was playing high school baseball, he had aspirations to play in college. The summer between his junior and senor years, he was asked to play on our city’s American Legion baseball team. If you’re not familiar with American Legion, this is where the college baseball scouts come looking to recruit talent. Fred, in a one-week tournament Steven hit four home runs and three doubles. Prior to that, my wife, Shannon and I kept saying, “Hey, Steve, you need to set up some college tours, you got to set up the visits.” He was a little slow in doing so and I’ve heard from a lot of parents that their kids aren’t necessarily doing that at the rate that they’d like to see done. But once he had that performance, we would no longer ask him to set up visits, the colleges were now coming to us.

If you’ve ever been through a college recruiting process before, you know it’s a sale. These coaches are trying to sell you on their institution, but they can’t differentiate what they’re selling. They can’t add a major, build a dorm, they can’t change the meal plan in the cafeteria, can’t move the campus. Everything for them is a fixed asset. So, what they need to do is sell different. In this case it means differentiating their sales approach and some coaches were absolutely fantastic at it, and some failed miserably. Fred, I know you have a daughter. Do you remember when you first visited college campuses, when you first went on those tours? As soon as you crossed the border, your blood pressure jumped 30 points. Do you know why that was? It wasn’t the tuition, you couldn’t find a place to park.

This one school we visited, we pull into the parking lot and there’s a spot with Steven’s name on it, stopped us dead in our tracks. We go inside, there’s an agenda for the day, Steven’s name printed right at the top. What did it cost this university to do those two things? A penny for the paper and the ink? Think about what they did, they made us feel like Steven was the only athlete they were recruiting for any sport anywhere on the planet. Of course, that wasn’t the case, but that’s how they made us feel and that whole feeling special is something that we forget in sales. For us, we may have 20 conversations in a day between discovery meetings and follow-up meetings and phone calls but think about that person on the other end of the phone or on the other side of the desk. We may have done it 20 times, they did it once with us.

Fred Diamond: That’s a fantastic point. Someone brought this up the other day on the Sales Game Changers podcast that your prospect isn’t a prospect, it’s a person. It is the only time they’re going to be interacting with you and if you treat them like a scripted type at the end of the phone… I love that story that you told about personalization. Whoever thought about that, good for them for making you and your wife and your son feel great about this trip that you made. I don’t know how far you drove but you got there and if you think about it, you as the customer, you want your son to go to the right place and there’s a lot of risk in making sure that happens.

We have a couple comments here. Dan says, “I agree with everything that Lee says, it’s not practice makes perfect, it’s perfect practice that makes perfect.” I want to talk about competition for a little bit, you do talk about competition in the book and you have an interesting take on it when you talk about the fact that most salespeople haven’t even identified who their toughest competitor is. Let’s spend a minute or so talking about who do you think is a salesperson’s toughest competitor.

Lee Salz: It’s one of my favorite questions to ask salespeople, and I’ve got to tell you, Fred, I’ve never had anyone answer the question correctly. Of course, unless they’ve read the book. What I’ll do is I’ll ask this question to my sales audiences, and I believe I did this once before at the Institute. Who’s your toughest competitor? And they’ll name three players in their space and I’m sure those are tough ones, and I’ll say, but there’s one even tougher. And they’ll go, “Oh, you mean that old sales trainer one, the status quo, the choice to do nothing.” Also a tough competitor. One even tougher than that, and then they’ll start thinking, “Oh, it’s me.” If I don’t have the right mindset, I’m my toughest competitor. I agree, mindset’s important but there’s one even tougher, more formidable than any of these and no audience members ever guessed it.

I remember at the Institute no one got it and you read the book, Fred, so I’m not going to ask you because you know the answer now. The answer is it’s every salesperson calling the same person you are trying to get a meeting. See, we’re egocentric when we think about the competition but let’s put ourselves on the other side of the desk. Let’s say you call a CIO selling a software product. CIOs are inundated beyond their purview of responsibilities and within, they’re getting prospecting calls and emails for software, hardware, outsourcing, all these different things. All selling the same thing, they’re all wanting the same thing from the CIO which is a meeting. You’re not competing against a few players in your space, you’re competing against hundreds, maybe even thousands of salespeople trying to get a meeting with the same person that you are.

I’ll give you a little insight, Fred. I was a history major, I went to school in upstate New York, SUNY Binghamton now called Binghamton University, and while I studied history I learned several historical business facts. Let me give you one here. In the entire history of business, there has never been an executive hired for the sole purpose, the sole responsibility of meeting with salespeople every hour on the hour. It’s never happened, it’s never going to happen, so we’re an interruption. There’s no executive saying, “Oh, my gosh, I hope my phone rings and it’s a salesperson calling me.” Understanding our toughest competitor highlights the importance of differentiating our outreach approach.

We’ve got to be different right upfront, and you may remember in Sales Differentiation I talk about the sales crime theory. The reason I get into that is this. If there’s no meeting, there’s no proposal. If there’s no proposal, there’s no win. If there’s no win, there’s no commission check. It’s a very logical equation, so we have to differentiate ourselves in that outreach because we’re competing against this universe of salespeople trying to get the attention of the same person that you are.

Fred Diamond: If you think about it too with your customer, not only are you competing against every salesperson who’s trying to get in touch with them, you’re competing with their staff, especially during the last 19 months. We’re dealing with their family, we’re dealing with their kid’s school, we’re dealing with the planet. We have a couple more questions coming in here, we have a question that comes in from Rick. “Can Lee give some examples of differentiation?” We’re talking about how we sell different, maybe you can give an example or two. You talked about your son’s baseball team, but maybe talk about some other customers that you’ve dealt with over the years.

Lee Salz: I’m going to give you one, and this is very recent. I’m working with a client that sells technology to supermarkets and grocers. They don’t manufacture the product, they’re reselling a product that you could buy from a lot of different companies. We started looking at the process and one of the things they showed me, they had a proposal from one of their competitors and I noticed the email address at the top. It was @aol.com. “You’re not selling to technologically savvy people, are you?” They go, “No.” Then they showed me the proposals that are out there and it looks like a menu, it’s a hardware name and a price. These are not savvy buyers, and I said, “What if we developed a proposal that’s in a narrative form that a layman can understand so that they have confidence in what the solution is? If you’re giving me a menu, a price list, don’t tell me you sell solutions. That doesn’t work.”

The first thing we did was we said, “Let’s put together a narrative proposal.” Again, a step of Selling Different. Then we took a step back and we said, “Let’s talk about who we’re meeting with, owners or grocers, they’re selling to the smaller grocers and smaller restaurants and they’re looking at updating, enhancing the technology that they have. One of the fears they have is, what if this technology doesn’t work, particularly during the implementation, the whole thing collapses and I can’t have my restaurant open? I can’t open my supermarket.” We took a step back and we said, “Let’s understand this fear of change, and we have an opportunity here which is to create a client onboarding program.”

What we did was we identified first the phases that someone goes through, and we weren’t looking to change it from an operational perspective. They had a way that worked, we said, “We need to develop this into something that we can proactively bring up when we’re selling and talk through the phases that they’re going to go through during implementation or the client onboarding.” So we took these two pieces and we said, “If we can do a better job of explaining how the transition works to give them that sense of confidence, then when we document the solution, we put it in such a way that they understand what they’re getting for the dollars that they’re going to invest, we’re going to blow the competition out of the water.”

They just put those pieces in place and very quickly are having very different conversations than what they had prior. Those are two examples where we didn’t touch the widget, if you will. We looked at the buying journey. What can we do in a meaningful way that will help us outsmart, outsell the competition?

Fred Diamond: That is such a brilliant point in understanding who your customer is and understanding how you need to communicate with them to show them, first of all, that you understand them. We talk to Lee all the time about the fact that sales has always been about value creation and going to your customer with solutions way ahead of the game, now it’s even more critical because everybody’s customer has been impacted by the effects of the last two years. Everyone’s customer’s customer has been impacted, so that’s a great strategy, a great answer.

Lee Salz: Let me expand on that if I could for just a moment. Everyone loves to get a new computer, it’s going to be faster, but what’s always in the back of our minds? The pain that we’re going to go through in getting our stuff off the old machine onto the new machine, so we put it off as long as we can. As a matter of fact, my wife complained about her laptop and kept complaining about it. Finally, bought her a new laptop. It is still sitting in the box two months later because of that whole change exercise.

That’s an opportunity that you have, there’s a product out there, Carbonite, and I think from a marketing perspective they’re missing the boat. They sell this fear like, if you drop your laptop, you’re saved because you have all your data here. Carbonite, if you’re using this product, allows you to take all the data that you saved on one machine and easily transfer it to your new machine, literally with the click of a button. That’s where we talk about this whole onboarding, it’s such an opportunity that we have that so many organizations miss out on.

Fred Diamond: We’ve got time for one more question. Jeremiah says, “This is great.” Let’s take this question, and I’m going to take this particular question because we talked about it before. Lee, before we started the show we talked about discovery. Ironically, we have a question here that comes in from Jeremy, “Could Lee talk about discovery and probing for pain?” Discovery’s a topic that you and I have discussed in the past, you touch on it a couple different places. If you don’t mind talking for a second or two as we wind down about discovery and probing for pain.

Lee Salz: Every salesperson, and I know we have sales managers watching, we coach our salespeople, “You’ve got to find the pain,” that’s what we tell them to do. We have this discovery meeting and we uncover a pain point, we write it down, found another one, “Let’s write it down, we’re going to get this deal.” It’s a critical step that so many salespeople forget. We write down that pain point but we don’t go a step further and have this introspective question. Is this pain point an inconvenience or a problem? Think about that for a moment. If you think about an inconvenience, it’s an annoyance. We complain about it, we don’t do anything about it. We’ll talk to salespeople and say, “Oh, this is such a pain,” and we’re writing this down. Only when something elevates to the level of problem are we willing to invest time, resources and dollars. So we can’t just take that pain point, write it down and say, “Yippee, I’m getting a deal.” We have to understand if what we’ve just heard is an inconvenience or a problem.

I’ll give you a great example. I’ve got a COVID puppy, she’s actually taking a nap right behind me as we speak. She’s wonderful, she has one little idiosyncrasy which is whenever somebody walks past the house or God forbid, if they’re walking a dog past the house, she goes crazy. We have these wood blinds in our dining room and if we haven’t opened them enough, she starts clawing at them. One of the sets of blinds she broke to a level it’s irreparable. We have three windows with these blinds and two now has blinds and one has no blinds. It actually has a sheet covering it, it’s delightful to see. This happened four months ago, we haven’t done anything about it. It’s an inconvenience. Every time my wife and I walk past the dining room, we go, “Yeah, this is ugly.” We haven’t done anything about it, but we have some family that’s coming to town in a month or so. I guarantee you, there will not be a sheet on the window when family comes to town. It will then have elevated to a level of a problem, we’ve got to do something about it, and we will invest time, resources and dollars to address it.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great perspective into the mindset of the customer. You talked before about the toughest competition and we quickly went past status quo, but that is huge. Every customer is saying, “Do we need to really address this? How does it rate to the other 15, 20 challenges we have? Is it something that’s really slowing us down? Is it going to help us either grow, be more productive or save costs?” Every customer that we’re dealing with is thinking about that. Lee Salz, I want to thank you, I want to congratulate you again on the new book, it’s fantastic.

Lee Salz: They can buy it anywhere they want, but after they buy it, go to selldifferentbook.com and actually even before you buy it, you can download the first chapter to either read or listen to. When you buy it – doesn’t matter where – go back to the selldifferentbook.com and you can sign up for the video series that goes with that. For 52 weeks, you get an email every week with a video to help you implement what you read about.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great thing that you’re doing there. Once again, I want to thank you and acknowledge you for the great work that you’ve done. You’ve helped so many sales professionals, sales leaders, teams across the globe with your insights and your trainings and your speaking, so good for you. We look forward to having you back on the IES Live Stage sometime in the future. Lee, give us one final action step. You’ve given us 15, 20 great ideas here. Give us one specific thing that the sales leaders and sales professionals watching today or listening must do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Lee Salz: We talked before about wanting to be recognized as a professional salesperson. Something you can do right now, and if you’re watching this podcast, you’ve already taken a first step but perhaps you’re in a sales management role. Get your people investing in themselves every single day to be a more effective salesperson tomorrow than they were today.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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