EPISODE 468: Sales Career Success Needs Having Noble Purpose Says Lisa McLeod and Elizabeth Lotardo

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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 December 7. 2021. It featured an awesome interview with Lisa Earle McLeod and Elizabeth Lotardo, authors “Selling with Noble Purpose (Second Edition).”]

Find Lisa on LinkedIn. Find Elizabeth on LinkedIn.

LISA’S TIP: “Noble purpose is both a strategic intent and a methodology. It’s based on the research that says salespeople who focus on improving life for customers outperform salespeople focused on targets and quotas. That’s really easy to see why. If you had a choice of two salespeople coming to call on you and one sitting in your waiting room, or your virtual waiting room, thinking, “I got to close this deal.” The other one’s sitting in the virtual waiting room thinking, “How can I help this customer?” You’re going to like the second one better.”

ELIZABETH’S TIP: “Tell a customer impact story. Those stories do so much for your customers, and the ability to describe how you make a difference to others can win them over. They also do a lot for you personally. Talking about how you’ve made a difference fills you with pride, we release that dopamine, that serotonin, that we know feels so good. People on both sides of the seller relationship are craving that now.”


Fred Diamond: It’s an honor to have back on the show Lisa Earle McLeod and Elizabeth Lotardo. Of course, the revision to the book that I fell in love with, Selling with Noble Purpose came out last year, and it’s been a huge hit and it’s really taken the marketplace by storm. Lisa, we had you live in your hometown of Washington, DC back in 2014. Noble purpose comes up all the time. We’ve done over 480 Sales Game Changers Podcast episodes. As you know, every once in a while, somebody says, “Selling is a noble purpose. Sales is a noble purpose.” Of course, I always say, “Do you know Lisa Earle McLeod?” Hopefully, they do. Get us started here. What exactly is noble purpose when it relates to selling?

Lisa Earle McLeod: Nobel purpose is both a strategic intent and a methodology. It’s based on the research that says salespeople who focus on improving life for customers outperform salespeople focused on targets and quotas. That’s really easy to see why. If you had a choice of two salespeople coming to call on you and one sitting in your waiting room, or your virtual waiting room, thinking, “I got to close this deal.” The other one’s sitting in the virtual waiting room thinking, “How can I help this customer?” You’re going to like the second one better.

The challenge is, and this is where the methodology comes in, in most organizations, hitting the number is the organizational narrative. It’s what sales managers talk to their people about. Any good seller knows it needs to be about the customer. But the difference that we found is there is a distinct way that you can make improving life for customers, customer impact, the center of your business. What we’ve found, and we’ve done this with some of our clients, we’ve had some startups that have become unicorns, billion-dollar market valuation. We’ve had several number two and three players take out big competition, and the sellers who adopt this close more business and they have more fun.

Fred Diamond: We’re going to be talking about what it means today. You mentioned we’re still working from home for the most part. You said, “If you have two sales reps ready to call you, both virtually, how do you interact?” We’re going to be talking about specifically how noble purpose works today as we’re going through this interesting time, as people are searching for meaning. I want to get a little more of a foundation so people understand what we’re talking about. Elizabeth, give us an example of a high-performing sales professional and how they may have that noble purpose. What might have happened to them to bring this forth in their career?

Elizabeth Lotardo: Well, I think the best way to describe this is with a real-life example. I’ll share one of our clients, Atlantic Capital Bank. They’re a commercial bank headquartered in Atlanta and they use the noble purpose methodology to differentiate, to emotionally engage customers, and to grow their business. Here’s how it played out. Their noble purpose, again, a commercial bank, is we fuel prosperity. When their sellers go in to have a conversation with a prospect or an existing customer, their sales team is charged with uncovering, “What does prosperity mean to this person? Are there ways we can fuel it in bigger ways, better ways, bolder ways than our competitors?” It becomes the foundation of the entire relationship. In commercial banking, that is very differentiated. Those deals usually come down to rate, to price, but using this noble purpose concept, they were able to differentiate on a relationship basis, and using that noble purpose of we fuel prosperity, they tethered themselves to something much greater than a single deal.

Fred Diamond: I have a follow-up question. That’s the banks positioning. Does every person who works there, do they have to start with that as well, or can they be taught that? Do some people just not get it and they just don’t fit in with what the bank is trying to get across?

Lisa Earle McLeod: I want to draw your attention to two of the things that Elizabeth said that answer your question. Number one, they had a clear North Star, and it was more than just some tagline like, “We consider the customer in everything we do.” They had a clear North Star, and it wasn’t just, “We want to be customer-oriented.” Lots of people say that, and it’s better than saying, “We don’t want to be customer-oriented,” but they picked a lane. They said, “We fuel prosperity.” They could have said, “We drive efficiency.” They could have said, “We help people manage their money better.” But they said, “No, this is our lane. We fuel prosperity.” The CEO really liked it because it’s benevolent, it applies to everyone, and they’re not going to create prosperity, but they’re going to fuel it. One of the reasons I’m being very open about this, they were on the cover of American Banker. They were one of the top banks in the country as a result of this. But back to your question about the seller.

Yes, every seller is taught this. We did sales training for their whole organization. The difference is the default for a seller is, “I want to come in and close this deal.” It doesn’t mean we’re a bad person, that’s what we’re there for. We believe in what we’re selling, but when we shifted it and said, “Closing, the deal will be the result,” the centerpiece of the conversation is we fuel prosperity. Back to Elizabeth’s point, the seller is trained not to go in and just say, “We’re Atlantic Capital Bank. Here’s how awesome we are. Here’s our noble purpose. Now that I’ve repeated it, do you want a sign?”

Instead, what that seller is trained to do is, “Let’s talk about what prosperity means to you in your business. What does that look like? What are some of your goals?” It’s some of the things that we’ve traditionally taught sellers to do in a consultative sale, but the difference here is there’s a lane that we’re going down. We’ve trained all the sellers in that conversation so the implicit North Star of, “I’m just here to close it,” now changes. The explicit North Star is, “I’m here to fuel prosperity.” Their earnings are up, the case study is on our website. You can just Google Atlantic Capital Bank noble purpose and you’ll see it all over the place.

Your question was, can they learn it? The answer is yes, 90% of people can learn it. Now that this company has become a noble purpose company, they hire for that. They say, “This is what we’re about. Tell me, Mr. Prospective Salesperson, or Ms. Prospective Salesperson, how do you feel about making a difference to customers?” They’re screening for it.

Elizabeth Lotardo: I definitely agree with that. I want to double-click on something you said, which is this is different than a traditional sales approach. Yes, it is a learned set of skills, and a learned mindset, but there’s also an element of unlearning that has to take place. A lot of sellers were raised – and I use that to describe the early part of a career – with a bend towards that traditional closing the deal shareholder value mentality. To unlearn some of those defaults and to focus instead on making a difference to customers is a possible feat, but not an easy one. We’ve worked with a lot of teams to help make that more accessible.

Fred Diamond: I have a question for you. Today on LinkedIn I did a poll, we’re up to 25,000 views and a couple of thousand votes. The poll was, “Do you believe that your job, be it sales, consulting, or anything else, has noble purpose?” 70% of the audience said, “Yes. I’m very fortunate.” 16% said, “Usually. Sometimes no.” 12% said, “I don’t know. Who knows?” 3% said, “No. I’m ashamed by my job.” But I’m not surprised that 70% said yes, because it’s LinkedIn and LinkedIn is generally an aspirational place. But for the great salespeople out there, you talked, Elizabeth, about how we’ve traditionally done sales training. Is it a mindset that you need to start with?

I know we talked about how you could train the bank’s employees to focus on the lane, like Lisa had said, but give us an insight on that. Is it something that you really have to start with to be successful? I know you could train on the process, but give a little more insight into that. Then I want to ask you also, this is the Optimal Sales Mindset, how does the brain get changed? I’m sure that’s something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.

Lisa Earle McLeod: We got some brain hacks for you. Why don’t you take that question?

Elizabeth Lotardo: Sure. Do you have to start with this noble purpose mindset? Not with that level of clarity, but you do want to start from a place of wanting to improve other people, wanting to make a difference in this world. That basic foundation of empathy, of wanting to make an impact, is essential. What we do at Selling with Noble Purpose is get more specific, more clear, and more actionable with that intent. But I do think intent, that baseline intent of a salesperson, is really important. We’re starting to see that even more in the marketplace now. Intent comes out virtually in ways that are sometimes even more obvious than in-person conversations.

Lisa Earle McLeod: I think that’s worth addressing when you say, do you have to start with it? What we found, Selling with Noble Purpose is based on what we unearthed about top performers, that this noble purpose mindset was innate to top performers, no matter what was happening in their company. If their company went too far away from it, they would leave and find another company. But what we observed is the mindset was not innate to the middle of the bell curve, but it was something that they wanted. Everyone wants to know that our work makes a difference. What we observed was that middle of the bell curve, most sellers, and I would even include myself on this, I can go one way or the other, depending on the day.

If my leader is telling me, “You got to close this deal. You got to make money.” Or if my bank account is telling me, “You got to close this deal. You got to make some money.” It’s really easy for me to focus on myself, and it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. But what we found is there’s a series of things, we have a punch list of 25 things, and they’re not hard to do. One of them is super simple, which is telling customer impact stories in meetings.

But when you start to shift the brain and you start to focus the brain on how you’re making a difference to customers inside the organization, then you get this continuous loop where that’s where your sight line is. I’m not surprised that people answered that on LinkedIn, because in sales, you wouldn’t be in the job for very long if you didn’t care about customers. Our most successful clients are people where this is already implicit, and we help them make it more explicit and scale it in a big way.

Fred Diamond: I just want to say one quick thing. We were talking about meaning and my big quote right now that I share all over the place is an Einstein quote, “Only a life lived in service to others is worth living.” We talk about that all the time, and it goes back to your purpose, but here we are again. We’re in November, and we’re in the middle of the so-called Great Resignation. You know what? It’s real. We talked to leaders who are members of the Institute for Excellence in Sales, I talk to the VPs all the time, and they all say the same thing. They say it’s real. What’s even more impactful isn’t that it’s so real at your company, but it’s real at your customer’s company, and it’s real at your customer’s customer’s company. Lisa or Elizabeth, whoever wants to start the conversation here, talk about what companies need to do to combat the great resignation, or to keep their people in line to show them that they’re a company that is noble-purpose-based?

Lisa Earle McLeod: There’s a couple of things that I want to get off the table. You got to treat people well and you got to pay them fairly. If you’re not doing that, we can’t help you.

Elizabeth Lotardo: Not a lot of noble purpose kind of thing.

Lisa Earle McLeod: No. [Laughs] Amy Evenson did an article, why noble purpose won’t save your company. If you don’t treat people fairly, if you don’t have a decent product, or at least working on a decent product, and you don’t pay people fairly, forget it. That’s the baseline. The sad thing is in a lot of companies, there is a higher purpose of the work, but the day-to-day interactions, the day-to-day cadence gets away from it. I’ll give you an example.

We worked with a company that did IT services for small business. When people think of noble purpose, they think of, “I’m going to cure cancer. I’m going to save the world.” This company’s noble purpose was very simple, “We help make small businesses more successful.” That’s it. It’s not super poetic, it’s just super clear. What we found over the course of a couple of years was people who thought, “My job is this tech thing.” When we looped them in and they saw, “Oh, no, this contributes to helping that dry cleaner be more successful, to helping that law firm be more successful, and those are real live human beings.” When we were able to get those backstage people to see that, and when the sellers themselves weren’t just looking at a list of 10 prospects, but they were looking at this law firm that this woman founded and it’s her pride and joy, “Man, I’m all in for that.”

What we found, one of the examples I often use is another topic that can be a real grind and a long haul, is parenting. I can wake up every day as a parent and go, “I got to get the meals. I got to get them up.” Or I can wake up every day and think, “I’m creating future leaders.” To your point, it’s a mindset. But if I have a spouse, and in-laws, and other people go, “How’s that future leader project going?” It’s going to help me a lot. The same thing is true with sales.

Elizabeth Lotardo: I think a lot of that work used to be done from the environment. We’d have pictures of customers on the wall. You’d talk to one of your fellow sales reps at the water cooler about their customers, and everything around you helped orient, even if you were pulled to the transactional, to your own pipeline deals, orient you towards this make a difference spirit. But in a virtual environment, we’re seeing that sales leaders in particular have to be a lot more intentional to bring that spirit to life.

Fred Diamond: A lot of the junior sales professionals are working from home. They haven’t been in the office in 18 some odd months. Everyone’s still struggling with a lot of this, especially as some of our members had planned to go back to the office in September and they decided not to, and they were going to go in January. Some are doing this experimental type of a thing. The communication is via the square for the most part, or via the rectangle. What are some things that you would want to tell junior salespeople, maybe people four or five years in their career or less, about how to be thinking about the value they can be bringing to the customers?

Elizabeth Lotardo: Well, I’ll present to the game-changing question, and this is the crux of selling with noble Purpose. The question is this, how is this customer going to be different as a result of doing business with you? In that question, you can use it for a specific customer to help describe the value you’re bringing to that person, to that organization. You use it to emotionally tether to your own work, thinking about how you’re making a difference, how you’re making an impact on other people. Asking and answering that question, the game-changing question, even if you’re just asking it of yourself and answering it to yourself, really puts your brain in that noble purpose headspace.

Lisa Earle McLeod: It does. I would go down on that, and this is something, in the spirit drinking our own Kool-Aid, you in a virtual environment, everybody looks the same. I’m calling on a CEO, dealing with one of my peers. There’s no visual cues to tell you, “Get your head on straight. This one really matters,” because they all feel the same. One of the things that we started doing, because we had this game-changing question was, before we jump on a call, if I’m going to talk to a CEO, you’ve got that minute. If you’re the consultant or the seller, you’re probably early, I hope, and you’re waiting for them. Get a visual picture in your mind of that person, because what’s going through your mind right now? All the stuff you want to say and all the stuff you want to do. Hopefully, you got that written down somewhere, you got it on the screen. Take a breath and picture that person as a real live human being, and say, “How might they be different?” Go a little bit further, not, “Well, they’ll have our products.” What will that do for them? What will happen?”

You may never articulate this in this meeting, but what that will do is you will be so dialed in to that person as a human being, you will ignite your own frontal lobes, which will calm you down. You will get serotonin and dopamine going through your bloodstream. You will be focused. You will literally show up as the best version of yourself.

Elizabeth Lotardo: They’ll feel it.

Lisa Earle McLeod: They will absolutely feel it. This is so important in a virtual environment because you don’t have the benefit of being walked back to their office. Seeing, as Elizabeth said, all the cues. Take the breath, “I’m about to have a meeting with Fred.” I’ll say, “How will Fred be better as a result of doing business with us?” That’s when I would picture your smiling face, I’m going to pull up your LinkedIn profile, look at it in advance, and they will feel that personal connection. The great thing is not only will you be more effective, you’ll be more authentic and you’ll enjoy it more.

Fred Diamond: As I’m listening to you, your customer has hopefully the noble purpose for what they’re trying to do, right?

Lisa Earle McLeod: Right.

Fred Diamond: You have yours, which is to help prosperity, or help whatever it might be that you believe in. Your customer, they may not be a reader of your books or whatever, but they also have something that they’re driving towards. You have to take yourself out of your shoes and put yourself into their shoes. Just curiously, what are some of the things that you teach when you come in to speak, or do some consulting or some training? Give us the two or three things that would be taught. What type of processes or what type of things do you put into play to help your customers? You have hundreds, if not thousands of them who have adopted the noble purpose selling mindset and approach and process. Give us three of the highlights that you teach them to make this work.

Lisa Earle McLeod: A key one is where to use this question that we just asked. I’ll tell you, this is so crucial when you are doing a pipeline review. Do a pipeline review, what do you ask? “When are you going to close it? How much is it going to be? Do you have all the decision-makers? Who’s the competition?” All really important questions. But we do a lot of programs with sales leaders, and if the leaders will ask the seller, “How will this customer be different as a result of doing business with us?” A couple of things happen. It points the seller’s mind in the right direction. If the seller can’t answer, the seller is not ready to close. Then what you do when you ask this question is say, “Well, show me where that is in the presentation. Show me where that is in the proposal.” That reorients everything. That’s one of the skills. Why don’t you talk about customer impact stories?

Elizabeth Lotardo: You took the words right out of my mouth. They go so well together. The game-changing question, “How will this customer be different as a result of doing business with us?” is great to apply to individual customers. Another foundational pillar of selling with noble purpose is what we call customer impact stories, true stories about how you did, in the past, make a difference to customers. These are different than the traditional use cases or case studies, which have a more product-oriented lens. Instead, what we’re doing with customer impact stories is we are answering the game-changing question, “How was this customer different as a result of doing business with us?” Those two things together, the game-changing question, always asking it about what’s in the pipeline, and customer impact stories, telling those to prove and build our case of what we have done in the past, work really well to create an impact-focused narrative for our sales team.

Lisa Earle McLeod: If you think about telling these stories, one of the things we do is we teach sellers how to tell those stories, and we also teach leaders how to start their meetings with those stories, because that seeds the culture. We get on the Zoom meeting, we’re going to talk about stuff, if everyone at Atlantic Capital Bank that we mentioned earlier did this, they start every sales meeting with a two-minute customer impact story, what happens when you start telling these is you start to drive innovation. Not only do you build a culture around improving life for customers, but you start to drive innovation because you point people’s mind in another place. You asked for a couple of things. Those are two of the techniques we use.

Oftentimes we are working with senior leaders to do two things. One, sometimes it’s to find their purpose, which does not have to be a lengthy process. But oftentimes, like with Atlantic Capital Bank and with the, “We improve small businesses,” we help them name and claim that. Then we work with senior leaders on the way they speak, and the way they talk, and the way they interact with their board and with other senior leaders, to really shift that culture. That’s a lot of the work that we do.

Fred Diamond: We have two questions here. One’s from Rich, “What if things are going poorly and we forget our noble purpose?” Things have been challenging for a lot of people. We do our Women in Sales Webcast, which Elizabeth was a guest on a while ago, every Tuesday, and things are still tough for women in sales. They’re still having to do a lot of things in the family and all those things. What if you lose track? I’m going to shift the question a little bit. How do you as a sales leader bring the sales professional back in? Or as a sales professional, how do you recognize if maybe you’ve gone off track with your noble purpose?

Lisa Earle McLeod: First of all is grant yourself some grace. You’re not alone. Even the best among us [laughs].

Elizabeth Lotardo: We wrote the book, we still have off days.

Lisa Earle McLeod: You are human. You are absolutely human, particularly in this environment. There’s a couple of things you can do. One is, and why don’t you describe this? The impact map. If you take two minutes to do an impact map, this will reset you. I kid you not.

Elizabeth Lotardo: Sure. An impact map is a visual exercise that we do with sellers. It’s similar to mind mapping. What you do is you take what you do in the center. Maybe I sell software, or I’ll take myself, I’m a sales consultant. You ask yourself, what happens as a result of doing that? Well, sales teams become more effective. They’re more emotionally engaged. They differentiate with customers better. Then you ask yourself, “And then what happens?” Through exploring the ripple effect, constantly asking, “And then what happens?” You see how these tactical, sometimes tedious things you’re doing on a daily basis, like salesforce management, or cold calling, you see how those things radiate out and have a profound impact despite how they may have felt in the moment.

Lisa Earle McLeod: A short way to think about this is, this is your It’s a Wonderful Life moment, where you have no idea the impact you’re having. Often people don’t do this because they’ll say, “Well, yeah, I helped that small business be more successful, and that made a big difference to that owner. But I wasn’t alone in doing that.” No you weren’t, but you played a part. We’re so reluctant to claim it because we can’t say, “As a result of me and my product, this happened.” But when you claim a part of it, again, it just reshapes the way you think about your job. By the way, you can do that with anything. You can do it in your role as a parent, you can do it in your role as a sister, as a neighbor. Thinking about that reminds you who you are on your best day.

Fred Diamond: We have one more question before we get to your final action step. This question comes from Jean, “Do I keep my noble purpose a secret from my customer?” That’s interesting. Do I go into the sales call and say, “Hey, it’s great to see you, Customer. I am committed to your prosperity because that’s my noble purpose.” Or is this something that you just have in your back pocket, you know because you go through the training, you read the book, Lisa and Elizabeth come in and train us on that? It’s like when someone goes through a course on life transformation, “Don’t you see that I’m different now?” It’s like, “Don’t you see I’m a better person for you?” Is this something that you keep to yourself, or do you tell your reps to say, “Hey, by the way, Mr. Customer, our noble purpose is helping you be more prosperous”?

Lisa Earle McLeod: It depends. You may say it, but that is the least effective way. Repeating it is the least effective way to win hearts and minds. The most effective way is behaviorally. For example, in our company, our noble purpose is we help leaders drive revenue and do work that makes you proud. We are about creating more revenue and creating more meaning in companies. I wouldn’t come in and say, “Hey, Fred. Our noble purpose is drive revenue and do work that makes you proud.” I would say, “Fred, I want to talk to you about two things, money and meaning. How are you doing in both those areas, and what might we be able to do to amp those up?” It determines the space I’m going to talk about, but repeating it isn’t the thing that differentiates you.

Elizabeth Lotardo: I agree with that. I think to go even further, when you embody it on a behavioral level, your customer would not be surprised if they heard you say it after interacting with you. They’d go, “Yeah, that is true. That is what they did for me.” In that sense, your noble purpose becomes the punchline, the ultimate goal, instead of the tagline, just something you’re repeating about.

Lisa Earle McLeod: That’s important. You don’t lead with it, you validate everything you’ve done with it.

Fred Diamond: Then at some point, maybe you want them to say, “Gee, you guys are really committed to my prosperity. You just didn’t sell us a bank.” They may not realize it until somewhere down the road. I want to acknowledge you both. Again, Lisa, I mentioned we had met you first in 2014. I think the book came out in 2013, and we brought you to DC. You were one of our first speakers, you did a tremendous job. I love talking about the concept behind the book. As you know, I’ve spoken about it to many of the members of the IES, some who have also become customers of yours, which I’m absolutely thrilled about.

Lisa Earle McLeod: As am I.

Fred Diamond: We all are thrilled when we get introduced to people. Elizabeth, congratulations to you on helping get the message out there. It’s really a unique message. It really is. There’s no one else who really speaks to this in the sales profession. Of course, you also have the book on leadership as well. You’re going across the entire organization. Applaud to the both of you. Actually, Marla says, “Yes, thank you. I read the book and I love it.” Let’s wrap it up here. Let’s give us our final action step, again, as we like to end every Sales Game Changers Podcast. You’ve given us 15, 20 great ideas. Give us something specific to help our listeners take their sales career to the next level.

Elizabeth Lotardo: Tell a customer impact story. We’ve talked about it here, but those stories do so much for your customers, and the ability to describe how you make a difference to others can win them over. They also do a lot for you personally. Talking about how you’ve made a difference fills you with pride, we release that dopamine, that serotonin, that we know feels so good. People on both sides of the seller relationship are craving that now.

Fred Diamond: Lisa, how about you? Why don’t you bring us home, final action step?

Lisa Earle McLeod: If you take nothing else away from this conversation, every time you are thinking about a customer, creating a proposal, about to interact with a customer, or even looking at your pipeline, ask, “How will this customer be different as a result of doing business with us?” If you’re a sales leader, ask that of your team.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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