EPISODE 529: Getting Customers to Echo Back Your Sales Messages with Steve Bookbinder

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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 April 13, 2022, featuring Steven Bookbinder. Check out Steven’s new book Echo Selling.]

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STEVEN’S TIP: “Echo selling is rather than hope that the customer can echo the salesperson’s words to their circle of influencers that need to hear it, rather than hope that that happens successfully, let’s make that the campaign. Let’s help the customer echo the salesperson’s message and let’s go one step further. Let’s go to the people who are going to be the influencers.”


Fred Diamond: Steve, it’s great to have you here. The new book, Echo Selling, it’s out there and it’s a really interesting idea. Good to see you. Let’s get started here. What exactly is echo selling?

Steve Bookbinder: Well, first of all, thank you for having me on the show. Echo selling, I almost could have called it echo buying. It’s easiest to explain in comparison to, let’s call it conventional selling. In conventional selling, a salesperson meets with the customer, and everybody famously talks about the right person, meet with the decision maker. Then on the other side, they all realize there really is never really a decision maker. There’s a person who has to talk to their boss, there’s a person that’s going to talk to the team, they got to get a budget authority from somebody else, the board or somebody else, the committee.

The salesperson talks to the customer and the sale cannot happen until the customer talks to what I call their circle of influencers. That conversation happens an hour later, a day later, a week later, a month later if it happens at all. By that point, what does the customer tell this person? Let’s say you’re my boss, and I’m saying, “Hey, a month ago I met with this guy and he had…” Now I’m trying to remember what it was. I’m trying to tell it to you in language you would relate to and I’m also trying to remember, it was a month ago. Also I’m a customer, not a salesperson. I’m not necessarily good at this.

If I tell you about a sales meeting I attended that I was sort of interested in thinking about maybe buying the service and you gave me a look, I’m thinking as an employee, I got to move on to a different thing. You know what? We don’t have to pursue it, I’ll backburner that. All of a sudden, the salesperson is at home or in their office going, “The guy won’t get back to me. There’s no next step. He told me he was going to talk to his boss on,” and meanwhile there’s nothing.

Echo selling says, let’s just recognize that that happens, which by the way has been measured. Gartner did a study a few years ago and said the B2B buyer isn’t even talking to salespeople until they’re 50% to 75% of the way through the sales process. It’s definitely what I just described is what’s happening. Echo selling is rather than hope that the customer can echo the salesperson’s words to their circle of influencers that need to hear it, rather than hope that that happens successfully, let’s make that the campaign. Let’s help the customer echo the salesperson’s message and let’s go one step further. Let’s go to the people who are going to be the influencers.

Some people scratch their head, they go, “Oh, you never know,” and yeah, you never know except you do know, because there’s always three potential influencers. Even if you’re the owner of the company, there’s the staff that you bounce everything past. You got three people that work for you and you’re the owner and you say to them, “Listen, I’m thinking about doing this,” and they go, oh. That’s it, it’s over. There’s the staff. There’s the boss. If you’ve got a boss, there’s some boss. Even if it’s the financial backer via company, that’s the person. There’s also peers.

Every company, if they have one meeting, it’s the operations meeting where they’re going to sit with their peers. Rather than hope that the person gets to the influencers, whoever the heck they are, let’s anticipate they’re going to be peers, they’re going to be staff, they’re going to be bosses. Let’s now create a campaign where we don’t try to turn those people into salesforce.com opportunities. We’re trying to get those people, turn them into brand ambassadors.

When the salesperson’s customer finally talks to their circle and says, “Hey, I just spoke to Fred, and I think that’s a good idea,” the person goes, “Oh, Fred, yeah, I’ve heard of him. I’ve heard of the Excellence in Sales. I’ve heard of that Institute.” The more we can think in terms of what does the buying process really look like on the customer side of the house and how do we insert ourselves into that equation?

The most important thing is, how do we create messaging that is repeatable by this customer and understandable by the circle who may not actually have the technical understanding? We’ve got to have a lay person way of explaining to the financial decision maker and the boss and a different way of talking about to the staff. Echo selling gets the message out to the whole company in a way that you can’t really replicate with conventional selling.

Fred Diamond: Why do salespeople struggle with this? How did you come up with this and what were you seeing from sales professionals in the field that you’ve trained that led you to say, “Aha”? Because I haven’t seen echo selling before. As you’re talking here, one of the greatest things is when you’re with a customer or a prospect and one of their circle of influence people that you refer to, and you hear the customer say your messaging. I love that.

If I have a meeting with somebody, and then she says, I want you to meet my boss, or I want you to meet the rest of the team, and then they do a zoom call with me and the first thing they say is, “This is Fred, he runs the Institute for Excellence in Sales. Fred’s mission is to help sales leaders attract, retain, motivate and elevate top tier talent through world class programs like their Women in Sales program.” I’m like, “Good.” It’s great that they hear it from her as compared to me. What was the aha moment, Steve Bookbinder, that led you to come up with this?

Steve Bookbinder: What you just hit on is a very important point. I’m taking a running start to your question. Very often, the salesperson has like knee jerk reactions to every situation and here’s one. The salesperson qualifies, qualifies, qualifies to death. Are you the right person? Are you sure you’re the right person? Are you the person I’m supposed to be talking? Are you the one I’m supposed to give the proposal to? Of course, they qualify to death.

The customer says, yes, it’s me, until you give the person a proposal. Then the moment you give the person the proposal, they got to go to somebody else. Wait a minute, I was just quizzing you but you told me it was you and now it’s somebody else. Okay. As soon as they say it’s somebody else, the salesperson goes, “Can I go with you? Can I present?” I think it’s a mistake for the reasons you just said. I think a better strategy is to say to the customer, “Will you be recommending us when you talk to the staff, when you talk to your boss?”

You know why? Because it’s way more influential for the customer who already works there and they know that person, they presumably like and respect that person’s opinion, when they say Institute of Excellence in Sales is my recommendation. That works a lot better than me saying it because obviously I’m going to say it, I’m paid to say that. I’ve got to come up with who is the right messenger? Part of the idea of echo selling is who is the one talking? The salesperson can only take the sales so far. Most of the sale is actually happening outside of our control. It’s a different car. But there was a couple of other things that pulled it together for me. That was one.

The second one is this. I noticed that people are already echo selling in this respect. You talk to a customer and you go, “What do you normally do? How do you do it? Why do you do it that way?” The person goes, you know what I believe? Well, wait a minute. If you could quiz him like a litigator you would then say, “How come you believe what you believe? Are you echoing some thought leader that’s in your world? If so, how do I get you to echo my words?” Yeah, how come that person becomes a thought leader? How do I become the thought leader to you?

I notice that people do that. I notice that when they echo their thought leader, they put it in their own words, and then all of a sudden that becomes a much better thing. But literally, my previous book to this was a book called Leverage Your Laziness. It’s on the concept of, how do you play to your strength which is hidden from you? You think of it in the wrong way, you think of it in a negative way when you think of it as lazy. I don’t think of lazy as a moral judgment, I think of it as a degree of work, a degree of effort.

How do I leverage my laziness in sales? Well, you know what I want to do? Here’s what I want. I want to produce inbound leads. Well, really, what I want to produce is easy sales. Everybody in sales talks about the hard sale. Oh, I want to have this sale, took me five years. Let me tell you the whole story. Great story over a couple of beers. But you know what? Nobody talks about the easy sale. I always had a sale where the guy called me and wanted to buy. It’s not a great story, but guess what? The other sale isn’t repeatable, where easy sale is the goal.

I picked a company in my mind that I wanted them to call me. I didn’t want to just reach the person and see if I could use my sales jujitsu to get the sale. Could I get them to call me which right away would improve my odds? And I did. The way I did it was the things that I did, I actually outlined in the book. It worked and it works over and over again when I do this right. What gave me the idea, like a lot of things. My own training class is not ideas I dreamt up in my garage and thought, “Oh, that would be good.” It’s what literally worked for me becomes the program. That was the newest thing that worked for me.

Fred Diamond: You’ve had an interesting background. One thing that we’ve learned a long time ago is that customers like to discover things on their own versus being told. I think it’s called level one versus level two system thinking but whenever the customer deduces something. Even if you might have told him a couple of times, they didn’t realize, but when they had the aha moment and often when it happens, it’s with a co-worker, or a trusted partner as compared to the salesperson. It’s powerful and how this plays with that as well is how that influence goes about.

You have an interesting background. Originally we met you because you had done improv. The concept of improv has really struck me as something that can be very valuable for sales professionals. We did a show about two months ago with a guy named Bob Kulhan who did the Chicago based improv, who did over 10,000 shows, was on the stage with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. When people recommended that I reach out to you, and I saw that you had done the improv, I thought that would be interesting.

Talk a little bit about if you don’t mind, two things. One is, again, you were an improv. How did you learn? How did that help you and how can it help the people listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast? And also, you swam the English Channel. I’m going to probably guess you’re the first person that I’ve ever talked to who has swum the English Channel. Talk about improv first and then what lessons that you learned from swimming the English Channel?

Steve Bookbinder: By the way, in the book Echo Selling, I actually draw up lessons I learned from improv that helped me as a salesperson and from the English Channel, training for the English Channel. In improv, what happened was this. I graduated school and the only thing I felt good about was standing up on stage. I started off as a standup comic. Then somebody said to me, there’s a thing called improv. Upon quizzing them, what I learned is you don’t have to write any material. Right away, it was like, wait, you get to be on stage and you don’t have to write any material? Because that’s the hardest part about stand up. Okay, I’m in.

With that there was a club in New York called the First Amendment, big club. I had a chance to perform, I had hundreds of performances. We had a lot of famous people who knew us. I got a chance to work with Robin Williams when he was in town and Saturday Night Live writers were there. They would be there like on a Thursday and all of a sudden, a bit that we did on a Thursday would be on the show on a Saturday, so we’d see all that kind of stuff. That’s why I got into it.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay that well unless you could find a way to make it pay well. At the time, there wasn’t as many options. I said, “How can I find a job where I could be on stage, but not on the weekends and not on the holidays?” I started to think about sales training. Improv led to sales training. I didn’t know anything except how to make things up and how to be an actor. Literally, that’s why my sales training is different. I didn’t learn sales training from a book, I learned it from watching other salespeople and then going, what did you do? Then if they did something that was great, I tried it myself.

But what’s most interesting about professional improv, because people say, “Oh, you were a professional improv, do some improv. I didn’t even know it was a profession.” I go, “Yeah, I got it but no, no, it’s professional, you got to pay me. When you pay me, it’s a lot funnier.” That’s the joke that I use. But the reality is, professional improv has to be funny every night. You can’t say to the group, “I know tonight was a clinker, but Thursday of last week, oh, that was such a funny show, but not so much tonight. Sorry about that.” It’s got to be funny every night.

How do you get it funny every night? Well, on an advanced level, if you will, on a professional level, you do it not only by being creative and open, but you avoid the things that lead to not funny. You have to reverse engineer a scene. I’ll just give you one example. If you and I are in a scene and the audience has a suggestion, fishing, okay. The most amateur way to do it would be, “So, younger brother Fred, let me show you how to fish for shark.” I would invent the scene and you’d be the brother and I’d be teaching you how to fish.

In improv they call that a teaching scene. In professional improv they say, teaching scenes lead to not funny. Don’t make it a teaching scene. I found all these rules. Rules, even though you’re making it up as you go along the rules. Later on in sales, I learned the same thing. It’s just a conversation. What is sales? Having a conversation. But there are rules and there are guidelines. Although you can’t follow a script, there are certain things you could do and certain things you can’t do that improve your odds of having success.

I’ve found very often leaning back, especially if you’ve got enough stuff in your pipeline and you could relax, you could breathe, you could take a chance with somebody, you could try a line you never tried before and all of a sudden, that’s how you discover what works because you one time tried a line, a word, a thing and you never did it before but you felt brave enough to do it and it worked. You went, you know what? I think I found a way. Improv is a great way to keep yourself fresh and alive and not sounding robotic.

Fred Diamond: How about the English Channel? What lessons did you learn from swimming the English Channel?

Steve Bookbinder: Here’s what I learned. In 2008, I swam the English Channel and I learned that in order to accomplish this, you have to overcome cold water. The water is like 50 degrees and you’re not allowed to wear a wetsuit. That makes it extra cold. Rough water, because you’re not swimming with the current, you’re swimming across the current, and jellyfish. It happened that not only are these hard things, but they were personally difficult for me. But if you could overcome the cold water, rough water, and jellyfish, you might be able to get across the channel.

In fact, the definition of get in shape, people say, you got to get in shape. What does that mean? If I was a big hulking guy, the fact is, only one out of six people make it across the channel, only one out of four relay teams make it across. More people have gotten to the top of Mount Everest and have crossed the channel. A year after I did that, I launched my own company, which is now this company. You know what I learned? Cold water, rough water, jellyfish.

That although I was literally against the literal cold water, rough water, jellyfish, there’s always a metaphoric cold water that you don’t want to jump into. Rough water that you feel like you’re drowning, and jellyfish. That thing you hate and you’re afraid of and you literally will go on a wide circle to avoid. I learned that once I understood that every challenge incorporates cold water, rough water, and jellyfish, I could apply the same strategies I use to train for the channel to that challenge. That’s how I was able to launch a company in 2009, which by the way, was the middle of the last recession.

Fred Diamond: Let’s get detailed here on how the sales professionals listening to today’s Sales Game Changers podcast can employ some of the echo selling skills. Steve, you’re a sales professional, give us some advice. What are some things that they can do right now to begin to implement some of the lessons that you teach from Echo Selling?

Steve Bookbinder: Okay. Well, in the book, I outlined the concept and the mistakes and the misconceptions and all the way lead to an action plan, which I call a campaign. But here’s the main thing. Every customer, whether they voice these questions or not, have five questions in their head they literally ask or they’re at least wondering. Here’s what they’re wondering. What are you selling that would help me? What makes your offering different than everybody else’s? What makes your offering better?

By the way, people confuse those two questions. What makes it different is not what makes it better. You could have five differences. The problem is in today’s world, everything has become a commodity, so it’s easy for everything to look the same. What do you sell? What makes it different? What makes you better? What makes you worth the money? If I’m the customer asking this question, I would say to the salesperson, I want to know from the salesperson why they think their product or service is right for me. If they have a great answer, that’s the answer I’m going to use when I talk to my internal circle of influencers.

In fact, my improv is this exercise. I start the improv when I do an improv with salespeople and I say, pretend you’re in a scene and the customer has just said to you, I’m in love with this, love the concept, I’m on board. What do I tell the others? Now the salesperson has got to go, you know what? I have trained more salespeople than most trainers. I’ve literally trained 50,000 people all over the world across every industry, every vertical, every go to market strategy, every kind of product and service. I work with really smart people and new salespeople. Hardly anybody can answer that question well.

You think it’d be the easiest question in the world. They can’t even make up an answer. They’re so used to wording it a certain way, reading a script. “But I’ve got this elevator pitch that I’ve memorized.” I got to now message it. It’s all about the messaging to the answer to what do we sell? What makes us different? What makes us better? What makes us worth the money and what’s my point of view? I call it the point of view. What’s my point of view of why that customer should consider my service? How do we create the messaging which is a whole process to get that right? How do I articulate it and how do I tailor it to the so-called customer, the so-called decision maker and their influencers? I have to adjust the way I message it to the different people.

Among the many things that are in the book, if you just focused on improving those answers, you’re better off. In fact, I’ll go one step further. If you’re a manager and you hired a new salesperson, the first thing you want to say to them is, give me the answer to what do you sell? What makes you different? What makes you better? What makes you worth the money? Why should I buy from you? The salesperson will make it up as they go along. They are like cartoon characters running.

Cartoon characters move their legs, they don’t go anywhere, then smoke occurs then a funny sound effect. Salespeople go, “Great question.” What you hear is, boy, I’m glad we’re having this conversation in the office because I wouldn’t want to be in the field, that one answer to that one question, you just screwed the whole sale. You just lost the whole opportunity. But if you had a great answer to that question, you just dramatically improved the odds of making that sale. Let’s make sure we get the messaging right.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great point. Actually this plays into the improv. We did a show a couple days ago with a guy named Dr. Brian Lambert, who is an expert on sales enablement. We were talking about why sales enablement is growing as a profession and as a discipline. The basic reason was that salespeople are still too focused on the features and benefits. Even today, when you’re talking about things like this, about how will this benefit me and customers like you mentioned before, they don’t need to know the features, benefits, because they can get it on the internet or they’ve heard it before.

What they want to hear from you is what you just talked about. How’s this going to benefit me? How’s this going to make my job easier? How’s this going to help my company grow? Salespeople, even those who are really good still get stuck on repeating the elevator pitch and, okay, I got to make sure I get this right and I know I only have two minutes to do it. Even me, I was describing this morning what the Institute for Excellence in Sales does to a very large pharmaceutical company.

As I was listening to myself talk, and I’ve spoken about it 1,000 times at least, I heard myself feature-benefit. We do this program, we do this program. I was saying to myself, Fred, shift it towards how this is going to benefit them. Steve, we have time for one more question here. Where do you think sales is going? Where do you think the profession is going?

As we’re coming out of the pandemic, we’ve all been having to communicate in this mode typically. Some people were kind of back, but everything’s been virtual. You’ve lost a lot of touch with customers, you’ve lost a lot of touch with your teams, even companies that are bringing people back, they’re bringing them back once a week, maybe, not mandatory. People have moved away from HQ, if you will. Customers are still not 100% ready to meet salespeople in offices across the board. It’s shifting but it’s still across the board. Where do you think sales is going? Tie it back succinctly into where echo selling plays in that, and then we’ll come up to your final action step.

Steve Bookbinder: The way Gartner measured it, customers are speaking to a salesperson very late in the game. Because of that, I don’t think there’s going to be a need for salespeople except for the salesperson who brings value. Like you mentioned, the feature benefit. If I get pick that up, if that’s the only thing you got to bring to the game, and I could pick it up from your website, then you would be unnecessary.

The salesperson has got to find a way to bring value to the buying equation or they’re unnecessary. I think this notion of there is no one buyer, there are many buyers, maybe only one of them meets with the salesperson. The notion of customers are trying to do something. The salesperson brings value when they ask better questions, get into a different conversation, anticipate the fact that the customer is going to need to be reassured not only from the salesperson, but from their circle of influence, and therefore needs something else.

If you’re at the top of the funnel, you need a logical reason why you want to buy. If you’re in the middle of the funnel, this is the way marketers look at the world, you need a different reason, you need an emotional reason why you’re going to buy. If you’re at the bottom of the funnel and you’re ready to buy, then give me a reason I should take an action right now, behavioral. It’s the ability to incorporate psychology, messaging, what we know about social rules, what we know about people’s memory and what influences them.

You mentioned that system one and system two in terms of the way people process their information. This is part of the psychology. I think the salesperson, the future is going to bring value when they’re a lot smarter. I’ll tell you, people ask me, do you read any books on sales? Yeah, but they don’t sound like sales books. They are books on how people make decisions. They are books about game theory. They are books about emotional intelligence. That’s how you learn more about sales.

Fred Diamond: Absolutely. Again, today’s show is sponsored by Cox Media. Steve, I want to acknowledge you for the new book. It’s excellent. It’s a new, crisp idea and it’s definitely things that sales professionals need to be thinking about because it’s getting harder. There are so many aspects of the world that’s getting harder, but so many aspects of sales that continues to get harder, especially as we’re coming out of the last two years.

I want to applaud you and acknowledge you for the tens of thousands of sales professionals. You mentioned 50,000 before that you’ve helped take their sales and their life to the next level. Steve, why don’t you bring it home here? Give us one final action step. You’ve given us about 15, 20 great ideas. Give us one specific action step that the salespeople listening to today’s Sales Game Changers podcast should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Steve Bookbinder: I want you to pick a conversion ratio and it’s usually about one. Like, how many prospects equal one sale or how many proposals equal one close? Pick one conversion ratio and then get creative. Because as soon as you look at any conversion ratio, you realize there’s 20 different things I could possibly do to change that ratio. If you focused on the ratio, and the creativity, that’s the best way to get out of the habit of doing everything the way you’ve always done it.

If you have trouble echo selling is because you’ve never really done it. What you practice a lot is what you’re good at. You’re not good at doing echo selling because you haven’t practiced it. Well, we’ve got to get good at doing new things and I think focusing on a new ratio every week and letting yourself be creative is the key way and that’s how I came up with echo selling.

Fred Diamond: Steve, congratulations to you. Thank you everybody for listening to today’s Sales Game Changers podcast.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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