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Today’s show featured an interview with IES Entrepreneur Sales Award recipient Tien Wong and IES Member of the Year Bob Greene. They will receive these awards at the 13th Annual Lifetime Achievement Award on June 9. Attend here!
TIEN’S TIP: “Come up with a do-not-do list. Everyone has a to-do list. Let’s come up with a list of things that we don’t do and then focus on three things every day, three of your highest impact things every day. Try it for 90 days and see how it works out.”
BOB’S TIP: “Find your genius. Find what separates you, what differentiates you, and then talk about it constantly, and let people know.”
THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE
Fred Diamond: The Institute for Excellence in Sales is going to be hosting our 13th Annual Sales Excellence Awards on June 9th. We have two of our award winners with me today. We have Tien Wong who is going to be the recipient of our first-ever Entrepreneurial Sales Leader Award. This is the first time we’re giving out the award. And our Member of the Year this year, our seventh Member of the Year is the great Robert Greene. We’re excited to have you both here today. You guys have done so much for the Institute for Excellence in Sales that we’re grateful that we’re going to have a chance to acknowledge you. Not just for what you’ve done for us, but what you’ve done for so many companies.
Bob, you’ve been on the show before. Tien, this is your first appearance on the Sales Game Changers Podcast, but you’ve been a friend and a sponsor of the IES for a long time. We’ve been a co-sponsor at the CONNECTpreneur. Tell us a little bit about CONNECTpreneur, why you created that, what it is, why it’s so special, and how it led to you receiving this award.
Tien Wong: First of all, I’d like to thank you so much for being on the podcast. I’m a huge fan and avid listener of your podcast, so it’s an honor to be on. CONNECTpreneur’s been around for 12 years. We started humbly in Tysons Corner with one small event. We have now done almost a hundred events over the last 12 years. We’ve had about 25,000 people attend our events. When COVID hit, we basically went online and built the world’s largest virtual pitch event and we do that every month. We are back to doing eight in-person events per year. We do them in the Baltimore-Washington area, Northern Virginia, and we’ve had over a thousand companies present. About half of them have been successful in raising capital through our platform. It’s just a labor of love. We love it. I think it’s for the community, it’s for our entrepreneurs and for our investors. I’m having a blast with it still.
Fred Diamond: CONNECTpreneur has done so many great things too. You have masterminds for business owners and entrepreneurs. Some of the companies that have gotten funding have been on Shark Tank, for example. We’ve had some of those companies. Also, you’ve built a great ecosystem. It’s not just the entrepreneur, it’s not just the investor who are looking for companies to invest in. You’ve also built this incredible community of bankers, and attorneys, and insurance, and financial advisors who can provide some of the guidance to the entrepreneurs to take their business to the next level. We’ll talk about some of the things they need to know about Sales.
Bob Greene, you’re a very prominent sales trainer, consultant, leader. One of the reasons why we’re so excited to acknowledge you as the Member of the Year is because you do a lot of community service as well. You’re very active in Rotary. I’ve seen you at other social organizations around town as well. Give us a little bit of a taste into what you’re doing right now. For the people listening, you’re one of our go-to sales trainer, sales coach, sales consultant. We get dozens of requests every year from small businesses looking for some advice on how to implement institutional or instantial sales processes, and we always go to you. Just give us a little more about your background.
Robert Greene: Fred, thank you for having me back. It’s always good to be here at the Sales Game Changers podcast. What I’m doing right now is I’m still doing a lot of coaching and sales training. I’m supporting a federal contract. I’m doing a lot of training to the federal government and the US military right now. I have a few contracts where I’m a national sales trainer for different organizations. It’s a lot of fun because it forces me to keep my skills sharp. It’s not just sales training, but leadership training as well, which also begs the introduction of the Women in Sales Leadership Program at the IES. It’s an incredible program that the IES has developed as well for women sales leaders to give them not just sales training, but leadership skills also.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about entrepreneurs in sales. What don’t entrepreneurs or small business owners understand about sales? If you could tell them one thing, what would you tell them?
Tien Wong: I would say that the most important thing would be that it’s not rocket science, and it’s not magic, but it’s very difficult to do, especially B2B sales. What I mean by that is sales should be treated as a process. It is art, but I think it’s also very much a science. If you can blend the art and the science, you’ll be more successful. I think entrepreneurs tend to be more seat-of-the-pants, they’re not as process-driven, and that hurts them when they’re selling, because the best sales entrepreneurs I know are very process-driven. They use Salesforce automation tools. They have point systems. They track their efforts, their sales team’s efforts. They treat it like a business process that needs to be managed on a day-to-day basis. I think that’s what I see a lot with the early stage companies. They think it’s this big magic thing, or this big rocket science project, and it’s difficult to execute, but it’s not difficult to grasp. That’s what I would say.
Fred Diamond: I remember I was meeting with an entrepreneur that I met at CONNECTpreneur actually. We had a meeting and he said, “Yeah, you just make a call and you get a sale.” I’m like, “That ain’t the case, man.” This was probably five, six years ago, and he was serious. He was saying, “You just make a call to the right person at the right time.” Well, you have to understand how the customer budgets, how the customer allocates funds, who’s responsible. Bob, how about you? What would be the one thing that you would say to an entrepreneur about sales?
Robert Greene: Well, first of all, I want to compliment Tien for his answer focused on process, because marketing is what a lot of entrepreneurs focus on, but marketing is not sales. Sales is a process. By a process, what I define a process as is something that’s measurable, repeatable, sustainable, and scalable. To have a sales process, it does take a lot of discipline. Sometimes it’s through trial and error. I like to say there’s a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom is what you experience when you learn something firsthand from your own mistakes, it’s a very expensive learning process. Knowledge is learning from someone else’s mistakes. That’s where sales training and coaching can be of tremendous benefit for an entrepreneur.
One of the things I’ve done with my organization, RCG Workgroup, is we’ve created a network of subject matter experts. We call them Workgroup experts, so that any area within the sales ecosystem, we have a subject matter expert who can work with our entrepreneurs around compensation planning, commission structure. A lot of times entrepreneurs don’t even recognize, once they start hiring salespeople, how do they keep those salespeople engaged? How do they use the CRM system to manage their sales? The CRM system is a powerful tool for forecasting revenue. A lot of entrepreneurs don’t even realize that power’s at their fingertips.
Fred Diamond: Bob, let’s say you get an engagement with a small company that’s entrepreneurial created, and you have your first meeting. What are some of the things that you want to know?
Robert Greene: We always do a discovery call to understand what their capabilities are that they can do for themselves. We typically give free advice for them on how to do things for themselves. Then invariably it comes back to, well, what would it cost for you guys to do that for us? A lot of times it’s a question of bandwidth. It’s not that we can do things better than an entrepreneur, it’s just that they’re so focused on other things that they don’t have the time and focus to do the things they need to do.
The three things that we want to understand is, one, is the entrepreneur in a growth mindset, because it might seem funny that an entrepreneur wouldn’t be, but if they’re not willing to let go of the processes that got them to where they are and take new metrics to go to the next level, then they are not in a growth mindset. They have to be willing to look at things differently to get to the next level. That’s the first question we ask. The second one is, who’s their team that they’re building their business with, to make sure that that team, that they have surrounded themselves with the right talent. Then the third thing, and this is probably the most important, is what’s their bandwidth for growth? What’s their runway? Are they using revenue? Are they using investment? Are they bootstrapped? We want to understand where their financial support is coming from while they build their revenue.
Fred Diamond: Tien, an interesting thing you mentioned before, magic. We know a lot of salespeople who are great at sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, but sales, it’s an active activity. You were an entrepreneur as well, which is another reason why you’re the recipient of this award. Not just what you do with CONNECTpreneur. You had a couple of great successes. Talk about the growth mindset that Bob just talked about. Do all entrepreneurs come with that? What kind of advice would you give them about growth?
Tien Wong: They’re not always thinking growth. You might have an entrepreneur who’s an engineer or an inventor who’s not really a people person, not a sales-oriented person, but they love the product. Or you might have a sales-oriented entrepreneur, you might have some financial-oriented entrepreneurs that really don’t understand how to get revenue either. But I think what they do have in common, if you’re going to strike out by yourself or with a group of co-founders and create something, you must by definition have a growth mindset. I think as I advise companies, and I see a lot of this with our CONNECTpreneur alumni, it’s great to have a growth mindset. It’s not great to have an unbridled growth mindset. Especially a company that is trying to find product market fit or service market fit, it’s critical to be able to say no. It’s critical to know your true north, to know your problem you’re solving and the solution or product that you have to solve the problem and stay in that lane. Yes, you’re going to have customers that come to you very enticingly, “Hey, can you do this? Can you do that?” You have to be very, very careful before you say yes. Because, to Bob’s point about process, you want to have something that’s repeatable, and you can’t repeat a lot of custom offerings.
Now, if you’re in the services business, that’s a different matter. Yes, you can say yes to things that are not in your sweet spot, but I’ve seen a lot of companies get shiny object syndrome and start chasing every opportunity, no focus. What happens? They run out of capital, they run out of people, they go out of business. I think the great entrepreneurs that I know, and even Warren Buffett, and Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates, those three would say, the secret to their success is saying no. I think that’s a secret to a small company or any company success, is saying no to opportunity so you can generate your resources into that sweet spot that you’re built for.
Fred Diamond: You used the word shiny object, and that was going through my mind, and probably Bob’s as well. But in the beginning, you’re trying to get cash. You need to get sales. Whenever you watch the Shark Tank, there’s always a question, tell me about your sales. Bob, I want to follow up on something that Tien just said. A lot of entrepreneurs, especially in the tech and services area, they’re engineers. They come from the programmer side or from the engineering side, and they say, “I can do this better,” or, “I have an idea for a product.” Can you train somebody who doesn’t label themselves as a sales professional, like an engineer? “I’m not in sales,” that guy or something. Bob, can you train them to be salespeople? If you can’t, what do you do? If you can, how do you grow?
Robert Greene: First of all, I want to compliment Tien on his description of a growth mindset. I would call it a disciplined growth mindset of not being distracted by those shiny objects. When I have a conversation with an entrepreneur, I have to ask them, are you interested in running a business or are you interested in creating your product or your service? Because a lot of times, if they don’t have the business mindset, we have to bring in people who can do those skills. If they do have the business mindset and they are sales oriented, one of the things we also have to do is get them out of working day-to-day in their business so they can be strategic in working on their business. Yes, we can coach them, but a lot of times it’s helping them understand where their passion is, where their strength is, and pursuing that and building bridges over their weaknesses to get them to the point where their business is successful.
Fred Diamond: Tien, same question. You’ve worked with a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of techies who said, “You know what? I can do this better than working at wherever I’ve been working at.” Can you train them to be sales professionals, as the CEO, as the entrepreneur? Or do you sometimes say, “Hey, you got to get someone here who’s going to do this, because you got to bring in the sales.”
Tien Wong: I think most entrepreneurs can be trained to be salespeople, but it’s going to take too long. It might take them 2 years, 5 years, 10 years. They don’t have that kind of time, especially if they have funding. What I would rather see an entrepreneur do is talk to the customers, talk to as many customers as possible, just a discovery call, a marketing call, understand what the needs are, how does your product work with their pain point? How big is the pain point? Understand their workflow and their process so that you make sure that your product injects beautifully into their process and gives them a 10X return. Then hire an expert sales manager or a sales process person to do the sales part of it. But everything flows to the CEO. The CEO, the founder has responsibility for it. But I’d rather have the CEO be the chief listening person and understand the customer’s need, and maybe they don’t need to understand how to do sales per se, because there’s a lot of skills and nuance in selling, especially on the communication side, and some of these founders don’t have that.
They can learn it. Of course they can learn it, but it’ll take too long. Again, if they’re not funded and they want to play this game for 50 years, then yeah, they can go ahead and learn. They’re going to have slow growth. But I’d much rather bring in a professional, a consultant like Bob or a professional organization, that would then do the sales and then I would manage that sales. It’s like, can a CEO learn to code? Yeah, they can learn to code. Sure. It might take a long time. Do they really need to learn to code to build a unicorn? No, they don’t. It’s the same idea with sales. That’s just my opinion.
Fred Diamond: I want to ask you guys about sales culture. We’ve talked a lot at the Sales Game Changers Podcast and the IES, Institute for Excellence in Sales about the concept that everybody’s in sales. It’s not just the sales team, or it’s not just the entrepreneur. One of the great lessons that some of the sales leaders I interviewed for the podcast have told me is that because of the last couple of years, everybody having to be virtual, a lot of people in the organization got to meet the salespeople and got to understand what the sales process looks like. Talk a little bit about sales culture. What is your advice for entrepreneurs or small business owners, should they be creating a sales culture? If so, what does that mean? Or do you argue against that? Tien, why don’t you go first and then Bob, the concept of sales culture and that everybody’s in sales.
Tien Wong: 100%. I personally subscribe to that culture. Everybody’s in sales. Even someone who’s a technologist or a CTO, they’re in sales. What I mean is maybe they’re not making 100 cold calls a day, but they are in sales, they are supporting the growth of the company. I boil that down to what does a company need to become in business? Do they need great people? Do they need great coding? Do they need great office furniture? The one thing they need more than anything is a customer. I always tell my guys, the customer is signing our paychecks, so whatever they want, and I think that comes from my upbringing in the restaurant business, which is a business that, hospitality, you have to do a great job. Because that’s how they come back, or they’ll badmouth you and then you’ll go out of business. That’s my personal mentality.
I’ve seen entrepreneurs succeed that have a product culture. They focus on the product itself. They build this beautiful, amazing product, and they do attraction marketing, and the damn thing sells itself. It happens. But if I were going to play the odds and I were investing, I would invest in a company that has a sales culture from top to bottom than a company that doesn’t have a sales culture. That kind of company has the best chance of survival. They will pivot their way to success. They’ll figure out a way because they know that customers are paying their paychecks. Without a customer you have nothing, basically.
Fred Diamond: Yeah, without a customer, there’s nobody in accounting, there’s nobody in finance, there’s nobody in the docs. Until that dollar comes in, everybody else is not necessary. Bob, how about you? Sales culture. Then after this question, I’m going to ask you guys for two things that you would tell entrepreneurs they must do. We talked about process, we talked about culture. If someone came to you, a CEO, an entrepreneur, said to you, “I need help, sales just ain’t happening,” give two bits of advice, and then we’ll get your final thoughts. Bob, sales culture, what does that mean to you and how do you impact that with some of your clients?
Robert Greene: First of all, the term sales is a little bit intimidating and off-putting to people who don’t have sales in their job title. I would look at it more as communication, knowing what your company does, so you can talk to people about it. If you’re going to 7-Eleven or Wawa and you’re standing in line and you’re wearing company-logoed shirt, and then somebody says, “Hey, Fred, what is it that you do?” You can speak articulately to what the company does. That in and of itself is a sales culture because you are concerned about being able to communicate what my business does and how the person I’m speaking to could possibly benefit from it. The two points of communication that I think create a sales culture is understanding what you do and understanding how it benefits the target audience that you’re looking to reach.
Fred Diamond: With a lot of small companies, they’re local, wherever they are. All three of us are based in the DC Area, the DMV, but most small companies, they’re local. They’re 10, 15, 20 people, five who work there, they’re probably going to be local, maybe there’s a couple of remote people. Obviously now it’s easier to be remote, but most likely they’re going to be local. They’re out and about. I remember once I had a client and he got a sale because we told them what to be telling people at his daughter’s softball game, or he didn’t get the sale, but he met somebody. He told me this story, he said, “I knew this other father for about a year. One day we just talked about what we do. Because of the work that you did, Fred, in helping us understand and communicate, I was able to quickly answer his questions about here’s what we do, and there was a need and led to a deal.”
Sales isn’t just the sales process. We talked about the sales process, but sales is being out there. It’s talking, it’s learning, it’s listening, it’s researching, it’s looking through Facebook for people that you might be connected to. I want people to understand out there that, and this isn’t winging it, but it’s about understanding where you touch customers through your process, business, and personal as well.
Bob, I’m going to give you guys a scenario, then we’re going to ask for your final thoughts. CEO calls you, it’s 10:00 at night. He or she knows you, Tien Wong and Bob Greene, as experts in helping entrepreneurs grow their business. He says, “We hit a wall. Revenue ain’t coming in. Tell me two things that I should do tomorrow morning.” Bob Greene, what are two things? Let’s say it’s a two million company, something related to tech, some kind of a product and services. Two things.
Robert Greene: First thing I would say is don’t panic. If you have a process, trust your process. If you don’t have a process, then we have to work on developing one. The important thing to do is to really, as we were talking about before, to be disciplined in who you’re approaching, to know who your ideal customer profile is, to do the work on the front end. Before you start building your business, know who your business is going to serve, and look at your business from the perspective of the customer who you can help. Too many times in sales, we’re focused on what we want to sell, and we’re saying, this can do all these wonderful things, whether it’s a service or a product. We don’t look at it from the perspective of the customer of what the customer wants to buy, and everybody wants to buy. Nobody wants to be sold to. You have to orient and you have to pivot.
The advice that I would give is, again, don’t panic, but looking at your business, where’s your low-hanging fruit? Where can you reach out to people today and get in front of them for a conversation? That’s what you want to do. You want to start with a conversation, not with a sales pitch. But one of the things I do, and this is my little secret that gets me, when I’m going in front of a client, one of the things I do is I’ll do my research and I’ll go to my client with a SWOT analysis that I’ve prepared, talking to them about their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, showing them where they have vulnerability and explaining how my service can help bolster their ability to be successful in the marketplace. The fact that I’ve taken the time to make that investment in them usually wins a day in terms of a client conversation.
Fred Diamond: Tien, same question. Someone calls you up 10:00 at night, hit a wall, sales ain’t happening, what will be the two bits of advice you would give?
Tien Wong: The exact same answer as Bob, and two things to add to it. But first of all, relax. You look at the great performers, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, the one thing they are, even when the chips are down, they’re relaxed. If you panic, you can’t be logical, you can’t make good decisions, and you can’t motivate your team because they will smell your panic. First thing you do is relax. Second thing you do is listen. That was Bob’s number two, it’s my number two. Listen to your customers because they’re the ones that will guide you to success. Too many people talk and they don’t listen. You’re going to listen carefully and be humble enough to take that feedback and figure out how you can win.
My two points to that would be, I would also take stock of all my customers and see which ones are my best customers, who are the most loyal? Where do I get the most lifetime value? Where am I getting my highest margins? You have to fire some customers, the ones that are unproductive, unprofitable, that are headaches. Focus on where you’re winning and triple down on that. Just have faith that by tripling down on what you’re doing very well for a certain segment of customers, you’re going to do great. The second thing I would do is, take stock of what your skillsets are, your team skills and the success you’ve had, and what are you doing world-class? What are you doing better than anybody else in the world? It could be a tiny little niche, which is great, because there’s riches and niches. Figure out, what do you do better than anyone in the world? Again, make sure that flays with what you’re doing for your top customers and then go for it. It might take a while to dig yourself out of a hole, but if you’re doing something better than anyone in the world, at some point people will recognize it and you’re going to win.
Fred Diamond: Once again, I want to acknowledge Tien Wong, he is the 2023 Institute for Excellence in Sales Entrepreneurial Sales Leader of the Year, the very first time we’re giving out this award. We’re very excited. I want to acknowledge Bob Greene, he’s the IES 2023 Member of the Year. It’s interesting, this wasn’t a lightly chosen designation to pick you both to receive this. Both of you have helped so many people, so many companies, not just in the business world, but personally. I know you both are very philanthropic. You’re both very, very active in the community. You both are very, very generous with your time, your advice, your counsel, and your resources. I just want to acknowledge you for not just what we’re giving you for an award, but for what you play with customers and companies in the marketplace.
It’s time for your final action step. You both have given us so many great ideas. Give us one thing people should do right now after listening to today’s podcast, to take their sales and their business to the next level, something nice, concise, and brief.
Tien Wong: Because of the theme of focus earlier, I would say come up with a do-not-do list. Everyone has a to-do list. Let’s come up with a list of things that we don’t do and then focus on three things every day, three of your highest impact things every day. Try it for 90 days and see how it works out.
Fred Diamond: Bob Greene, bring us home.
Robert Greene: Well, I love what Tien said about finding your area of expertise, finding your area of genius. I’m a sales trainer. Every mother’s son can call themselves a sales trainer. What makes my sales training different? I do three things that most people don’t do. My content is customized. It’s augmented to the individual learner so that it’s taught within everybody’s learning style. Then there’s a measure of accountability afterwards to make sure that what was taught was implemented. Those three things are not rocket science, but the fact that I take the time to do them is what I think differentiates my business. What Tien said makes mine different and special because it’s agnostic. I can work with anybody’s sales methodology. My advice is find your genius. Find what separates you, what differentiates you, and then talk about it constantly, and let people know.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo