EPISODE 503: Strategies from the Buddha for Sales Excellence and Happiness with Michael Gelb

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Optimal Sales Mindset virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on April 21, 2022. It featured an interview with Michael Gelb, the author of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci and other books. 

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MICHAEL’S TIP: “If the Buddha did give sales presentations, they’d be focused on providing value for people for enriching their lives, for making the world a better place. It’s the first and most profound secret of not just real sales success but a fulfilling and happy life, is to find something to sell that you love, that you believe in, that you genuinely feel will enrich the life of every person who participates in whatever it is you’re selling and indeed the whole world. When you do that, you will be happier, you’ll be more fulfilled, you’ll be much more successful.”


Fred Diamond: Michael, I’m excited talking to you today. We’re talking with Michael Gelb. He’s the author of over 17 books, speaks all over the globe on the business, mindset, sales, topics like that, and longevity. We’re going to get really deep today. It’s an interesting topic. I’m excited to talk to you. Michael, we’re doing the interview in spring of 2022. Mask mandate was just released in many places, on airplanes and boats and trains and things like that, and buses. It’s an interesting time as people hopefully hasten coming back into the outside world to build their networks and do things.

We’re going to be talking today, the topic is if the Buddha gave sales presentations. It’s an interesting concept. Let’s get started here. First of all, it’s great to see you. Thanks again. I want to acknowledge our good friend Doug Bailey who strongly suggested we get you on the show as have about another dozen IES members, Institute for Excellence in Sales. Before we get started, the Buddha. Obviously, I’m going to guess everyone has heard of the Buddha. Give us a little more context about who Buddha was, and then we’ll get detailed about if he gave sales and presentations.

Michael Gelb: The Buddha, of course, is one of the great spiritual teachers in human history. There was actually a very wonderful book called something like If the Buddha Dated. It was a guide for single people to find their partners using the Buddhist principles of enlightenment and non-attachment and inner freedom. The implication is also alignment with fundamental goodness. That’s what I mean when I talk about if the Buddha gave sales presentations.

If the Buddha did give sales presentations, they’d be focused on providing value for people for enriching their lives, for making the world a better place. It’s the first and most profound secret of not just real sales success but a fulfilling and happy life, is to find something to sell that you love, that you believe in, that you genuinely feel will enrich the life of every person who participates in whatever it is you’re selling and indeed the whole world.

When you do that, you will be happier, you’ll be more fulfilled, you’ll be much more successful. Once you know that that’s possible, why would you do anything else? Why would you sell yourself short by thinking, “Okay, well, I’m a salesperson, so I can sell anything and I’ll show just how powerful I am by selling people the stuff that they don’t need”? That’s you’re always good in the classic kind of notion of the salesperson is it’s somebody who can sell you something you don’t need or you don’t want.

The classic thing is coals to Newcastle, snow to the Alaskans or whatever it happens to be. It’s wonderful to contemplate the sheer skill of getting people to buy into whatever it is you’re selling. It just comes with this huge caveat that really do an ethical moral energy check with whatever it is you’re representing because the Buddha also teaches us about the power of karma. Whatever you put out into the world is ultimately going to be reflected in the rewards that you reap on many different levels.

Fred Diamond: The show is hosted by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, we view sales as a noble profession. We’ve had a guest a number of times on named Lisa Earle McLeod, who wrote a great book called Sales is a Noble Profession and Leadership is a Noble Profession. We view it like that. Over the last two years that we’ve been in the stage of the pandemic, authenticity, providing value, empathy are words that continue to come up. How would the Buddha show empathy with its customers?

Michael Gelb: Empathy is empathy. Another name for real empathy is also love. The very best salespeople that I’ve met in the course of my career which now spans five decades, they genuinely love and care about their customers, their clients, whatever you want to call them. Customers, clients, the names change, but the essence of the interaction does not. What that means is that the relationship is more important than the transaction.

Having said that, the other thing you realize is, when you learn how to build really strong, good positive relationships, transactions tend to happen by themselves and they happen over longer periods of time. In my own business, the longest I had clients was, I think, 17 or 18 years. I had a client keep me on retainer. Clients fight for me to keep the budget for me to do consulting with them in economic downturns and when their budgets were cut because I built relationships with these people.

I’m actually in the third full generation of clients. When I started, I had initially my clients, and I worked with them and their organizations. They all retired. My next generation came from the people who were junior people in those organizations, who then engaged me in the second big phase of my career. They’re all retired now, and my clients now are the third generation based on the relationships nurtured over the course of 45 years.

Fred Diamond: What do they want right now? Again, you talk about relationships, and I get it, but what do you think customers want? You’ve maintained some relationships for a number of decades, like you just mentioned, and a lot of customers can get what they need off the internet, they can get it from social networks, if you will. What is the value of the relationship from the customer perspective these days?

Michael Gelb: Well, it depends what kind of business you’re in because we all have to pay attention to the march of technology, and it is making some older ways of doing business less relevant. All of us just went through a couple of year period, where the one-to-one meet with people live which I followed very profoundly for my whole career, I didn’t see anybody for 10 years live, but I met with them on a regular basis in virtual modalities. I send text messages and notes and resources to people. I think of my clients.

Sometimes I’m lying in bed at night, I’m watching something on YouTube and I think, “Oh, this client of mine will really appreciate that,” and I forward it to them with a little note. That’s a particular instance I’m thinking of. The moment the world was back to doing live events, that particular client hired me to do a live event because I had more top of mind for that particular person. I wasn’t doing it like, “Oh, I want to stay top of mind so he hires me when we start doing live stuff.” I did it because, “Oh, I bet he’d really be interested and it would be helpful to him” and of course, good things flow from that.

Fred Diamond: We got a question here that comes in from Mick. Mick says, “On the description for today’s show, you talk about recall. Can Michael Gelb go into detail on that?” Thanks, Mick, for the question. Let’s talk about the principle of recall. You talked about this a lot in your speaking and your books. How does that apply to sales?

Michael Gelb: If you want people to buy from you, especially buy from you over time, you need to establish the relationship. You have to make whatever it is the value that you’re providing memorable. Because people can like you, and they can think what you have is nice to offer but in the world today especially there’s so much incoming, that it’s easy to forget you, whoever you are. How do you make your message unforgettable?

There are five principles of recall. Recall over time. These principles apply to designing all sales campaigns, they apply to any particular interaction you might have with a prospective client or customer. They also apply to how you manage your day and your week and your month and your year. I’ll give you a practical thing to contemplate. If I gave you a list of 100 words, we won’t do this because it takes too long, but if I read out a list of 100 words now to everybody, and I said, “Don’t write anything down, just remember the ones you can remember.” Which words in the list of 100 do you think you might remember?

Fred Diamond: First and the last.

Michael Gelb: First and the last. We know that it’s called the primacy effect. People remember the first impression and they remember the last few words on the list. It’s called the recency effect. At the beginning of your sales presentation, for example, and at the end, what you say will be most memorable. However, what the research shows is if this is recall and this is time, and let’s say it’s an hour-long presentation, just for example.

What happens at the beginning will be most memorable, the first impression, and what happens at the end will be highly memorable. But there’s a huge trough in the middle where basically people are not paying attention, they’re distracted, they’re going to sleep and they don’t remember, unless you repeat your key points. Repetition greatly enhances recall. Unless you make your message outstanding or memorable or funny in some way, tell a story, tell a relevant joke, something that again jumps the audience out of the trough.

Then the other element that raises them up out of the trough of forgetfulness is personal association. What that means is you make the message connect with them. In that list of words, people remember the first three or four words. Any word that you repeat three or four times out of that 100, they remember. If you put in a proper name with a bunch of other regular words, people remember the proper name. If I put in your name, you definitely remember because it’s especially personally associated.

Primacy effect, repetition, outstandingness, personal association, and recency. I made up an acronym to help you remember that it’s the PROPAR approach. Every sales presentation should be designed to be PROPAR. If there’s one skill you want to really cultivate, it’s the skill of storytelling. My most recent book is called Mastering the Art of Public Speaking. It’s got a whole section in it on the principles of recall, and especially the principles of storytelling, because becoming a great salesperson is effectively becoming a great storyteller.

One of the coolest pieces of research that backs this up is an experiment that was done, they got 200 tchotchkes, just everyday little things like this. I have this crystal ball here, for example. This was a more high-end item, most of them were $2 or $3. They put them for sale on one of the internet auction sites. Then they hired 200 writers and they had each writer write a story of each of the objects. One of the objects was a candle shaped like a bunny rabbit and it sold for something like $2.68.

But then, a writer wrote a story that was put next to it. It was clear that this is not meant to be true. It’s just a story about the bunny rabbit. The story was it was a magic bunny rabbit candle, and when you light the candle as it melts, something special will emerge on the inside and answer all of your questions and fulfill all your dreams. Same bunny rabbit candle, but with the story just right next to it, it sold for about $105. You think it’s a good idea to learn how to be a good storyteller and link it to whatever it is you’re selling?

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about that for a second. Michael, we’ve spoken about storytelling not infrequently of course, and we’ve had the great Mike Bosworth who wrote Solution Selling. He’s now a big speaker on storytelling. He was on the show a couple of weeks ago. Mike Adams wrote a book on the Seven Stories that Salespeople Need to Tell. If you’re in sales selling enterprise software, you’re not going to tell a story about a plastic bunny, but what might the stories look like for salespeople listening to today’s show to have the influence that Buddha has on their customers?

Michael Gelb: Well, you want to make it up related to something that will engage your audience. It’s based on who the audience is, and what they might find amusing or interesting or engaging. Because if you get PROPAR, get all of it, then you can make your message memorable but you have to figure out, what is my message? What are my unique selling principles? What makes this a greater value than anything else that you can get? What is the service that I will deliver? What is the benefit that you will experience? PROPAR makes it memorable.

My guess is, if you haven’t had Cialdini on, everybody’s familiar with Cialdini’s principles of influence. But if I ask everybody in the audience, can you tell me all of Cialdini’s principles of influence? Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. I made up another acronym, because what I want people to get is what you need to remember be really excellent at sales and anything else you want to do in the realm of communication. We got PROPAR, primacy effect, tell them what you’re going to tell them or repetition, repeat your key message, Winston Churchill. Never give up. Never give up. Never, ever give up. You just can’t forget it.

Make it outstanding by telling a story or something humorous that relates to the message. Get people engaged and involved, use their names, stories that they can relate to. It can’t just be a canned story that you tell for everybody. This is where it’s important to learn how to think creatively. You can say, “Okay, what does this person need and want? How can I empathize with them? What’s most important to them?” For example, before you and I got started, we were talking about baseball, and about the 3,000-hit record that’s about to be touched again.

There’s Pete Rose, was he the last who did it? But the point is, if we were in a sales conversation, I’d probably tell you a story about baseball because you’ve told me it’s something you’re interested in and I would relate what I’m sharing with you to something about getting that hit and perseverance and how important that is to be great in sales because of course, no doesn’t exist for us. It’s just another opportunity for us to be creative. So PROPAR, the O is outstanding, PA, personal association, R, recency effect, and we all know this, ask for the sale, follow all the way through. But then you need to know the principles of influence.

I’m going to give you another acronym. It’s RESALE. RESALE is the acronym I made up for Cialdini’s principles of influence. Cialdini, he gets full props here for figuring this all out and doing the research and popularize it. He is utterly brilliant, but nobody remembers it. I want to try to help out by helping to sell his ideas better to everybody. RESALE is the acronym, and the R stands for reciprocity. It’s one of the core principles wired into the human brain, that if somebody gives us something or does something for us, we want to do something back for them.

It’s why free samples really work. It’s why little tastings of stuff in the grocery store or the Hari Krishna giving you a flower has always worked and will always work. It’s why we got to give away tons of free stuff if we want to sell stuff on the internet. Because past a certain point, people do feel like, “Oh, I’m receiving, I have to give back.” It is actually wired into the limbic system of our brain.

The E in RESALE stands for engagement, which is obvious, we got to get people engaged by doing what, for example? Well, maybe doing what I just did with you rhetorically, ask them a question. Use examples that they can relate to. The S stands for scarcity and we all know this, limited time only. When people hear that, it sets off something in their limbic system that says, “Oh my God, FOMO, fear of missing out and I got to get it.”

Everybody’s familiar with all these, but it’s just fun to think of them in this RESALE acronym. That A is authority. If someone important endorses it, we want it. The classic thing is that we come from authority, unfortunately it just become celebrity. It used to be you actually had somebody with some real knowledge or understanding say, “Yes, I recommend this” and now it’s just somebody who’s famous with their image next to the thing and the human brain goes, “Oh, yeah, me want me see fame and celebrity, me want.” But it is the way the brain is wired and you can use it.

If you go on my website, I have three recommendations for my work from Nobel Prize winners. Three personal recommendations from Nobel Prize winners, because you know what? Nobody else has that. They might have one, they might have two, they might have three. I’m working on the fourth [laughs]. I got the real authority principle. Here’s an actual Nobel Prize. Oh, yeah, talk to Michael Gelb, he’s the guy you want to talk to if you want to know about creativity and so on.

The L stands for liking and it’s just what we all know, if they like you, they want to buy from you. People buy on emotion, they justify with fact. If they like you, they want to buy from you, if they don’t like you, they’ll find a reason not to buy from you. The final E stands for everyone. If everyone’s doing it, if everyone has it, if you have all those likes, and that’s why the likes and the whatever. People say, “Oh, I don’t want to miss out, I got to be part of it.” If you take PROPAR and you combine it with RESALE, and you have something that really will enrich people’s lives, and you really are fully aligned with that, and really believe you’ll make their world better, then you have something very powerful to go with.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here. It’s kind of a half serious, but it’s a half joking question too. This question comes in from Maria. Maria says, “Would the Buddha use PowerPoint?” Again, thank you, she’s being funny, but at the same time, let’s talk about that for context. When you get in front of the customer, Michael, it’s serious. That’s what you’re trying for.

It’s like you mentioned, we haven’t seen people. We’re beginning to see people now, of course, but most people were still working from home at least in the business to business and the world where most of us are. A lot of people have started going back maybe a couple days a week, even in government, they’re still not back 100% of the time. Every opportunity in front of the customer, especially now people are so wanting to be so risk adverse, so that they don’t make mistakes. What’s some of your advice when you do get that opportunity, how do you ensure that even if you did all the things that you just talked about, that you don’t blow it?

Michael Gelb: Here’s the deal, you can’t be sure. What the Buddha would counsel you is to put your whole heart and soul into what you do and then let it go because the result is not under your control. It just isn’t. You try to grasp and force things, you push them away. You only can control what you can control, what is within your sphere of influence. By the way, yes, I think the Buddha would use PowerPoint. The closest I’ve come to meeting the Buddha besides meditating with the Buddha’s image around, is I actually spoke at a conference in Australia called the World Conference on the causes of happiness. The speaker before me was His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. I think he used PowerPoint [laughs].

Fred Diamond: That’s funny. The Dalai Lama is highly referenced on the Sales Game Changers podcast. The Dalai Lama once said that he loves everything in the world, except for one thing, ticks. So FYI, nice reference to the Dalai Lama, has little personal tie to what I’m doing as well. Last word here, beneficence. Bring that into context. That’s going to be the last question today with Michael Gelb. How does that fit in and why did you ask us to bring up that word?

Michael Gelb: Beneficence, as in fundamental goodness. Because that’s the place to begin and end it. Integrity, fundamental goodness. We see so many stories of people who appeared to be externally successful by taking advantage of others, by exploiting others, by cheating, by fraud. Don’t do it. It’s bad karma and you don’t need to do it. It’s so sad, it’s so tragic. People grow up with a sense of ignorance. It’s an outdated model, it’s a model that says there is scarcity, there’s not enough abundance, there’s not enough opportunity. We’re in a war, in a battle. A lot of business still has metaphors of battle and capturing territory and crushing the competition.

That model is not only out of date, it’s really destructive and the world can’t afford it anymore. The new evolving model is the model which we now know is research validated. That if you provide a valuable service or valuable good to the world, and you treat all your stakeholders with fairness and respect and caring, your business will, if it’s well operated as a business, outperform the business that doesn’t do that financially. That’s from the work of my co-author, professor Raj Sisodia, who is the co-founder of Conscious Capitalism. We wrote a book together called The Healing Organization. The notion that if your organization really focuses really, really, really, no kidding, on making the world better, you will do better and you’ll sleep better.

Fred Diamond: We talked about just simple things like being kind. You get exposed. The reality too is that with social and social media and everything, that you will get exposed if you’re not going that route. You know what, people, if you’re listening to this, and thousands of you are, just don’t be that way. If you’re listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast, you’re probably not going to be that way. You’re taking time to invest in yourself. You’re listening to the great Michael Gelb, author of 17 books. You’re listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast. We’ve done over 500 episodes. We’ve had over a million interactions with our podcast, so good for you, if you’re listening to this. If you’re listening to me, Fred Diamond and Michael Gelb, good for you for spending 30 minutes trying to make yourself better, which is going to help your family, which is going to help your company and your career.

I want to thank Cox Business once again. Hey, Michael Gelb, I want to just acknowledge you again. Doug Bailey is a good friend of ours. He said, you got to get Michael Gelb on and then when I announced that you were going to be on the show, I must have gotten at least two dozen people who reached out and said, big fan, or I saw him speak a couple of years ago, whatever it was, and we got a lot of people who acknowledged and definitely listened and learned today.

Congratulations on the great work that you’ve done and all the success that you’ve had influencing millions of people around the globe with your work, and hopefully you’ll get back out there on the road like we’re looking to do as well. We’ve already started doing live programs again.

Michael, we like to end every show with a specific action step. You’ve given us a couple dozen great ideas on how the sales professionals listening to today can take their sales career to the next level. Give us one more specific action step, something people listening to today’s podcast should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Michael Gelb: Contemplate this motto which is the essential motto for salespeople and for everybody who wants to live a beautiful life. I put it in Latin because mottos are better in Latin, Conjungere ad solvendum. What it means is connect before solving or maybe for salespeople, connect before selling. Connect before the transaction. Connect first with your own soul, with the soul of the people you’re interacting with, and once you make that connection – by the way, it doesn’t have to be a half an hour, it could be 30 seconds, really tuning in to people, really listening, and then things tend to sell themselves. Transactions happen by themselves because you’ve built the rapport, you built the simpatico, the connection, the sense of alignment and that is the key to everything.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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