EPISODE 463: Sales Expert Thomas Ellis Says Become a BUD: Better, Unique, & Desirable

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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 January 19. 2022. It featured an interview with Thomas Ellis, author of BUD: Better, Unique & Desirable: The Sales Process That Gets Results.]

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THOMAS’ TIP: “Do an analysis of yourself, do a self-analysis and say, “Where do I need to improve that to get to the next level?” Sit down, write down what your strengths are. What do you need to improve upon in 2022 to get you to the next level? Then immediately find people that can help you get there. Whether that’s attending the IES workshops every month, whether that’s a podcast, there’s so many ways that you can get better, but you first have to identify what is the one thing? Don’t write down 10 things, but we can focus on no more than three.”


Fred Diamond: Thomas, it’s great to see you. You’re a published author of B.U.D. Better, Unique, Desirable: The Sales Process That Gets Results. Well, congratulations on the book. It’s actually very, very good. It’s very true to you. I’ve known you for a number of years. For people who don’t know, Thomas was the Institute for Excellence in Sales Member Of The Year, I think it was back in 2017. You’ve worked with a lot of our members, they love you. You’ve helped them get their sales processes in place and get their sales methodologies going. I’m excited that you finally put it in a book. I know we’ve been talking about this for years, and thankfully there was a pandemic to give you time to focus on it, but it’s great to see it. Congratulations on being a published author. What prompted you to write this specific book? B.U.D. Better, Unique, Desirable.

Thomas Ellis: Thank you, Fred. Listen, Fred. I am excited to finally be on this show. This has been on my list of things to accomplish, but I said, “I have to write a book so I can get on Fred’s show.” The pandemic really drove this entire process. I say we wake up every day and we think about what we want to do and we procrastinate. Early 2000 I woke up one morning and I said, “Today is the day I could start it.” It took a year to actually write it, and I’m very excited to bring this book to help sales professionals of every level be more successful.

Fred Diamond: Why’d you write the book? I know we just talked about you had all these stories and lessons, and your methodology, and you coach tons of sales professionals, and you’ve led teams in your career. But why is this book needed, is probably a better question?

Thomas Ellis: Well, this book is needed I think because throughout my 35 years in sales, I realized that a lot of people make the sales process complicated and complex. I’ve always been a firm believer in the sales process is some simple things that you must do on a regular basis and they’re repeatable. In working with many clients and salespeople over these years, it finally dawned on me that, “Let’s keep this thing simple so people can be wildly successful if they master the basic tenets of salesmanship.” That’s why I wrote the book.

Fred Diamond: We’ll go through it in detail here, but I just want to follow up with what you just said about keeping it simple. What do you see sales professionals doing wrong time and time again? You’ve coached, you’ve trained thousands of them, you’ve led thousands of them as well. Again, we’re doing today’s show, it’s January of 2022. Thomas, we’re 22 months into the pandemic, which is showing not a whole lot of signs of abating, if you will. But what are you right now seeing a lot of salespeople doing wrong?

Thomas Ellis: Well, one of the first things they’re not doing is they’re not preparing for the calls. The most important part of the whole process is the prospecting. They’re not preparing for the prospecting call. Number two, they’re not prepared for the sales meeting, because you only have 30 minutes in front of a customer to wow them, to make them think, “Wow, I want to meet this person again to move forward.” The third thing I think is that we are targeting the wrong people for our products and services.

Fred Diamond: Those are big. Let’s talk about preparation for a little bit, because again, that comes up a lot. We’ve done over 470 episodes of the Sales Game Changers Podcast and preparation comes up a lot. If you were coaching some sales professionals right now, what would you tell them to do specifically to be more prepared for sales calls?

Thomas Ellis: I mention a lot of these things in the actual book, but the first thing that they should be thinking about is, “Okay, who am I calling tomorrow?” You should do that the night before, “Who am I calling?” You should do some brief research on who you’re actually calling. If you have an appointment, it’s important that you understand the customer that you’re meeting with and you prepare yourself by, number one, looking at their LinkedIn profile, learning about them. Number two, look at their website, the company’s website. Number three is to find any news that’s going on either about the company or the industry so when you walk into that appointment, you’re not asking those questions like, “What do you do?” You’re asking things like, “Wow, I just read that you guys are launching a new product or service. Tell me about how that’s going.”

Fred Diamond: Let’s go through the three words. Again, B.U.D, Better, Unique, Desirable. What is better? What does that mean? Does it mean one more call a day? Does it mean 10% higher quota? What does exactly better mean?

Thomas Ellis: Well, better means that, “I’m going to be better than I was yesterday. I’m going to be better than my competition.” How do you become better? So you become better by being prepared. In the book I talk about the better. The better is your preparation. Fred, it’s not the best product that wins the sale, it’s the best-prepared salesperson that wins the sale. A lot of cases, people are trying to live off of a product and they’re not being better themselves so they can show the customer the value and really help them buy. That’s the better.

The unique, doing things that nobody else is doing. For example, you have an appointment with somebody, you want to send them an agenda before the meeting. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve coached over the years that have a meeting and I ask them, “What’s the agenda?” “Well, we’re just going to sit down and talk.” “Talk about what?” I emphasize being unique, sending out an agenda. When you send the meeting invite, send the agenda. I ask thousands of people, I said, “How many people have you met with that send you an agenda prior to the meeting?” Less than 1%. That’s unique. You want to do things that nobody else is doing.

Following up. The secret sauce of sales is in the follow up, and you follow up with, I call it an attitude, a pleasantly persistent attitude that every time I contact you, I want to bring value to you. I’m not calling you up to say, “Hey, Fred, have you made a decision about my proposal?” On Monday. On Tuesday, “Hey, Fred, have you read my proposal?” I’m calling up and adding value at every step of the way.

Desirable. People want to work with people that add value to them, that help them. When you’re looking at desirable, the desirable is one, doing what you say that you’re going to do. Being on time. If you’re going to a meeting that starts at 10:00, show up at 9:45. If you’re supposed to give somebody a proposal on a certain day and time, meet that requirement. Go above the call of duty, but say, “Hey, Mr. Customer, instead of me sending you that proposal, why don’t we get on a Zoom call or a webinar call and I can walk you through the proposal in detail and answer any questions that you may have?”

Fred Diamond: These things go into being the professional that you need to be as a service provider for your customer, and all of these things add up and they show up at your customer.

Thomas Ellis: Absolutely. I tell people that it’s the little things that are going to help you close that sale. I remember a situation years ago. I was working with another company and we had a meeting with the SBA to talk to them about LinkedIn and sales workshops. We had to go through security and all this stuff, park down D.C. So I show up to the meeting 45 minutes, hey, knowing that I have to go through all these steps. I get there, I’m checked in, I get walked in. The person that was with me showed up a half hour late. Now, the director who was supposed to meet with us was highly upset. She did not even attend the meeting. Needless to say, we didn’t get that business.

Fred Diamond: You know what? That sticks with the customer too. I want to talk about the customers for a little bit. You’ve sold to so many people in your career. You’ve serviced so many customers in a lot of different industries. Talk about, for the sales professionals watching or listening today, what is on the mind of customers? You just mentioned that this one customer from the SBA, which by the way is the Small Business Administration, she left. She left the meeting because you didn’t give her the respect that she deserved, which was to be on time. But not just those little things, give us your understanding of what do customers expect of salespeople right now? Give us some of your thoughts on that, Thomas Ellis.

Thomas Ellis: Number one, they expect you to be honest. They expect you to have integrity. They expect you to add value to their business. They expect you to come to them with helpful solutions to their problems. If they have other issues that your product or services do not help, they would love for you to introduce you to some other people that you may know that could help them solve those problems. Because they want not a salesperson, not a vendor, they want a strategic partner.

Fred Diamond: You mentioned value, and value comes up every single time we do a Sales Game Changers Podcast. Talk a little bit more specifically, define value for the people listening to today’s podcast. Give us some examples, again, of specifically what could the value be. Don’t be comfortable saying things like more productivity or more profits. Let’s get a little bit deep here, Thomas. Give us some real deep thoughts on how the sales professionals listening and how your book would help them bring more value to their customers or prospects.

Thomas Ellis: We need to really understand what the customers think value is before we can talk to them about what we think is value. What does the customer value? What are the things they’re looking for in their customers, in their employees, and with their vendors? You can find a lot of this in their mission statements that they have. Look at their mission statements and determine how they determine value. Then you should match up that value that they have with your product and services that you are bringing to the table.

An example is that they want their employees to stay with them longer. That’s a value. How do they do that? When I’m talking to sales VPs and sales managers, we always talk about coaching the salespeople and helping them get to where they want to get to. Not to where the company says, “You need to sell a million dollars this year,” but find out from the salesperson, what are their goals? What are their values? Mesh their values with the company’s values and you have a real win there.

Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about your distribution plans for the book. Is it available wherever books are sold, or is it something that sales VPs could use as a guide for their teams? What are some of your hopeful uses of the book?

Thomas Ellis: Number one, it’s available on Amazon. Number two, I already have three engagements with sales VPs that are going to buy a book for their team members and I’m going to go in and do like a two or a three-hour workshop on the actual book and highlight what areas that the VPs think their teams need to be working on.

Fred Diamond: You’ve had all these ideas in your head, and you finally put them down into paper, and now you’re going to be a published author. I’m just kind of curious, what are some things you learned as you were writing the book? You’ve been a successful sales leader, successful sales professional for, I think you said X number of decades, if you will. You’ve worked with some great companies. I’m just curious, what did you learn about yourself, or what are some things that you learned about the sales process that you might not have known before?

Thomas Ellis: One thing that I learned is that I’ve been talking this way for 30 years. The same jargon, lingo, the concepts, for 30 years. I was talking to one of my sales managers from 20 years ago recently, and we were having a conversation and he says, “The stuff that you put on LinkedIn, I remember in sales meetings you talking about that.” It registered with me. The way that I got the B.U.D. from, Fred, it was interesting. I had done a lot of workshops years ago, and I was at a holiday party and people were walking up to me and said, “I remember you. You’re the B.U.D. man. I sat in a workshop of yours. Remember, better, unique, what’s the third one? Desirable.” I heard that like four or five times that evening. That registered to me as to say, “Wow, those are my words. That’s my tagline.” People were really resonating with that.

The things that I learned in the book are things that I’ve heard people say to me over and over again. I just had one of my newer clients, a repeat client who wrote a review of my book. He called me up and he said, “I just wanted to tell you your book is fabulous and you are the John Wooden of sales.” I said, “What?” He said, “Yes.” John Wooden, for those people that don’t know, was a famous UCLA coach with I don’t know how many championships in the NCAA tournament. John Wooden’s big thing was practice the fundamentals. Work on the fundamentals, because he says if you work on the fundamentals, we’re going to win championships. That’s what they did.

Fred Diamond: I have another follow-up question there. You work with sales leaders and then you work with their teams. What are you coaching sales leaders on right now? In order to get a gig, you got to get to a sales VP, and he or she has a team that they want you to impart this wisdom on. They want them to read the book and learn and get better. Because if the sales team gets better, the sales leader of course will also progress in his career. What are some things that you work with those people on? Because a bunch of them listen to the Sales Game Changers Podcast.

Thomas Ellis: The number one thing, and I’ve been preaching this when I was a sales leader myself. To my sales managers, your number one priority is to coach and develop your people. Number one priority. Because if you coach and develop your people and you understand what their personal goals are, and you partner with them to achieve those goals, then as a sales manager, you’re going to blow your number out the water. Period. Because each person of your team is going to respect you, they’re going to love you, and they will run through a brick wall for you. I know this from personal experience. When I was a sales leader, I worked with my managers. I got to know them, understand them, understand their goals. We had honest conversations about how I can help them improve. I empowered them and they became very successful, which made me look like a real genius.

Fred Diamond: I saw an interesting meme that’s gone around the internet recently, which says that, “We don’t realize this when we’re kids, but we’re watching our parents grow up.” We think of as parents watching our kids grow up, they get older, they get bigger, they get smarter, they have experiences. But also kids, we’re watching our parents grow up, which was a fascinating discovery. What can you tell the sales professionals listening today about the challenges that their leaders are going through? A lot of times we talk about, “You’re the sales leader. Here’s what you need to do to get your team going.” We just talked about that.

I tell people this as well, a lot of times I’ll get young sales professionals, or junior sales professionals, who will call me and they’ll complain. It’s like, “They’re pushing me too hard to make phone calls,” whatever it might be. I said, “Look,” I said, “If they tell you to make 30 phone calls a day and he has 10 people, he’s responsible for 300 phone calls, right?” Give us some of your insights for the younger people or junior people watching today, or people who are relatively new to sales. What are some of the pressures, what’s going on in the minds of sales leaders, so they have that insight?

Thomas Ellis: Sales leaders, they’re measured by the numbers, the revenue that they bring into the organization. They sign up every year for a number. They are responsible for making that number. They’re also challenged with making sure that they have enough people on staff and hiring people and working with their salespeople. They also have a lot of internal meetings that they attend to. Some companies have too many administrative tasks for the sales managers, which don’t allow them to do their number one job, and that’s to grow and develop people. Then when they’re working with their salespeople, they’re working with multiple personalities, multiple people who learn different ways.

They’re constantly trying to figure out, “How can I reach Johnny to help Johnny perform better? How do I reach Susan so I can help her perform better? I can’t have the same conversation with Susan as I have with Johnny, because I may demotivate Johnny. I can’t have a universal message. Each message has to be catered to the person that I’m talking to.” That’s a difficult challenge and it’s psychology.

The number one thing I used to tell sales managers that work under me is that we’re in the psychology business. We’re not in the sales business, we’re in a psychology business. We have to understand people. We have to understand, “What motivates Johnny? Why does Johnny get up in the morning and show up for work? Why does Susan come to work every day?” Now, these people wake up every day wanting to do a great job, but we screw them up.

Fred Diamond: I’m thinking back to the beginning of the pandemic, when we would get young people or junior people, and actually people who were a little more medium or senior in their career. They would say, “They’re expecting me to make 60 phone calls today, but all my customers are focused on how do they respond to the pandemic.” It was a very, very interesting time. Very, very challenging time. I want to follow up with what you just said about you.

Thomas, one thing that you’re famous for is your passion. You’ve maintained such passion, which is one reason why you keep getting called in by sales VPs to motivate their team, and the book, once people get their hands on it, they’ll understand how motivating it is and how energizing it is. Why do you have such a passion for this? What is it about the sales profession that has kept you going, that has driven you all these years to this point in your career? You’ve had so much success that you actually put it down on paper. Why are you so excited and juiced about the sales profession?

Thomas Ellis: Fred, everybody has a purpose in life. Everybody has one thing that drives them, God’s gift to them. My passion early on has been to help people, help develop people. I’ve been lucky enough to work in some great organizations to get some great training and just be around some great people. I’ve always wanted to help. I’m on a mission right now, I’m working with a lot of small businesses, a lot of small business owners who have been thrown into, “I need to sell and I need to help my people sell.” I had an old boss that told me a long time ago, and I hope I get this saying right, “For much is given, much is expected.” Maybe I said it wrong, but I have this gift and the fire. I could be dead tired and if a client calls me, I get excited. I just can’t help myself, it’s just in me. I want to see people that want to be serious about sales be successful, and I want to help them get there.

Fred Diamond: Thomas, before I ask you for your final action step, and you’ve given us so many great ideas today, is there anything else that you brought up in the book that you want to definitely call out here on today’s Sales Game Changers Podcast that I might not have asked you about?

Thomas Ellis: Well, the one thing that I really wanted to just talk about a little bit is making sure that you have a mentor, somebody that can help you, guide you. Your sales manager may not be the best person for that, but find somebody that you know that can be a mentor or somebody that can keep you motivated, that you can motivate each other. Some people call those sales buddies, but that would be something I would highly recommend.

Fred Diamond: Do you still have a mentor or mentors that you rely upon?

Thomas Ellis: You know what? I listen to a lot of people I follow, and yes, I do have one. We talk quite a bit and it’s helped keep me on the right path.

Fred Diamond: I just did a LinkedIn poll last week. The question was, how often do you verbally speak to your mentor? The options were daily, monthly or weekly, annually or every couple of months, or I don’t have a mentor. Thomas, 50% of the people said they did not have a mentor. I was shocked. I expected 10%. Interestingly, I’ve asked the same question, when I saw the results, to other people. A lot of people said, “I don’t know, 90%, 80% don’t have a mentor.” I’ll tell you, man, there’s a lot of people out there who want to help, who have that same service mentality that you do. If you’re a junior sales professional, or even if you’re someone who’s deep into your career, you can’t stop getting the advice from people who can help you stay focused. If you read the book, you’ll get a lot of those ideas as well.

Thomas Ellis, once again, you’ve helped so many sales professionals, tons of them that have come through the Institute for Excellence in Sales. You’re one of our ambassadors now that we’re back to doing live programs. It’s great to have you back with us live. You’ve done such a tremendous job for your customers, for your salespeople that you’ve coached. I want to thank you for all the wonderful work that you’ve done for the Institute for Excellence in Sales and helping us get to where we are. You’ve given us so many great ideas, Thomas. Give us one final action step, something specific people watching today’s webcast or listening to the podcast can do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Thomas Ellis: The one thing I would say is do an analysis of yourself, do a self-analysis and say, “Where do I need to improve that to get to the next level?” Sit down, write down what your strengths are. What do you need to improve upon in 2022 to get you to the next level? Then immediately find people that can help you get there. Whether that’s attending the IES workshops every month, whether that’s a podcast, there’s so many ways that you can get better, but you first have to identify what is the one thing? Don’t write down 10 things, but we can focus on one thing. Actually, you should make a list of probably three things and focus one at a time and say, “This is what I’m going to be working on for the next month or two until I feel comfortable. Then I’m going to move to my next area of improvement, because I want to be better than I was last year and I want to be significantly better. Not just marginally, but I want to have a blowout 2022. What do I have to do to do that?” Those would be my final words.

Fred Diamond: That’s great advice. Actually, I like what you said, and I also tell people too, write it down. Don’t use your phone, don’t use your computer. Take a piece of paper, write it down by hand, it makes your brain trigger even more. Once again, we had the great Thomas Ellis today, the author of B.U.D. Go get the book. It’s available wherever good books are sold. I heard the foreword is exceptionally well-written [laughs]. Once again, I want to thank Thomas Ellis. My name is Fred Diamond, saying thank you for joining us today.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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