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Conversations That Sell: How To Collaborate with Prospects So You Both Win, with Nancy Bleeke [Episode 93]

In this episode, Nancy Bleeke, President of Sales Pro Insider, and author of Conversations That Sell, discusses why it’s essential for sales reps to embrace a collaborative approach to selling. In this episode we discuss how to make that happen and other topics including:

  • Why all sales calls are not conversations; but should be.
  • How collaborative selling is different from, and more effective than, consultative selling
  • The expertise you require to become a collaborative seller
  • How to use collaboration to create proposals that win
  • How to use sales conversations to uncover the true buying motivations that influence your customer’s decisions.

If you’re a sales leader, sales manager, or sales rep, this episode is definitely worth the investment of your time to listen.

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul: Nancy, welcome to the show.

Nancy Bleeke: Thank you for having me.

Andy Paul: That’s my pleasure. So always enjoy talking to you. Wisconsin natives, both of us here, you still reside there. I get back occasionally for visits and it’s funny the last time we were there, I may have told you this story once before last number there, my wife had never been there and we visited Madison, which is a gorgeous town where I’m from, and she’s a New York city native and she was just taken by Madison. Yeah, she got a big Midwestern fan there. So we’ll take a minute, introduce yourself, tell people what you do.

Nancy Bleeke: I help companies grow. And we do that by making sure we have the right people doing the right things at the right time and centered around having the three conversations that when they’re happening productively within a company grows/ and that’s the sales conversation that brings in the business, the service conversation that keeps the business and customers happy. And the coaching conversation that keeps all the employees engaged in performing at top level. I call it the trifecta of conversations that growing companies have in place and doing well.

Andy Paul: Okay. So you had to learn the somehow, so how’d you get your start in sales? Where did you start learning all of this?

Nancy Bleeke: I started learning all of this really back when I was young, and, selling door to door, potatoes.

Andy Paul: I love this potatoes door to door. That’s the first.

Nancy Bleeke: So I lived in a rural, Wisconsin and we weren’t farmers, but all of our neighbors were, and at the end of the seasons, there were what we called the leftovers in the fields.

Sure. So I was from a larger family and kids. We’re always looking for ways to make money because there was this rural country store. And, and so we realized that in, in our neighborhood, There were lots of moms at home without vehicles all day, and they liked door to door, produce sellers. And so we picked up leftover potatoes and cabbage and sold door to door and with, and then going forward, school contests and all of that.

And then something happened in college. I got turned off of sales. a lot of different reasons, but I realized so much of it was from, my family saying, you’re, you don’t go to college and go to sales. anybody, it’s a sales man and it was this negative connotation.

Andy Paul: That’s the thing, that’s the thing you do. If you have nothing else to do,

Nancy Bleeke: right. if you’re not smart enough and you can’t get another job, then you go into sales. Yeah. And so I wouldn’t even look at a sales job, and instead of, I went into personnel, which is now HR, and you talk about a sales job. Oh my goodness. You’re selling the company to hire people.

You’re selling policies, you’re selling compliance. it was totally sailed, but about six or seven years into my career. I had the opportunity to be mentored by somebody. and even in the HR training field at that time, he got me very interested in selling. And within two years I was, hiring the national sales force, setting compensation, field writing, and then I moved into sales, which nobody could believe I would do.

But I was like, this is an awesome career that I have. Way more control over my compensation than I do doing anything.

Andy Paul: Yes. But you went to the dark side of the force.

Nancy Bleeke: I, Oh, did I go to the dark side and you know what? I’ve loved it ever since. and with hiring people and managing people and sales, for 19 years now, I’ve actually then helped other companies to improve their sales performance. I called myself the initial reluctance salesperson, which a lot of people,

Andy Paul: Oh, I think most people are there. Very few people. I think that really take to it naturally. obviously there’s some people do, but yeah, most people, I know I had experiences like mine where my first sales job, I was. I don’t know, sitting at a car, staring at planes, take off and land at a major airport and about halfway through the day going, why am I doing this? I’m out there making 20-30 cold calls on people that don’t want to talk to me.

Nancy Bleeke: What were you selling?

Andy Paul: My first job was desktop adding machines.

Nancy Bleeke: Oh Jeez.

Andy Paul: It’s a tough job at a time when you could buy a small calculator for about a third, a fifth of the price match or your local office supply store. So yeah, it was the dying embers of this company that was a big computer company, burrows that you earned your stripes by selling small little stuff before they trained you to go sell the big stuff. But we were out walking the streets, business parks. Go park my car and make dozens of cold calls in a day. I don’t think anyone really likes that.

Nancy Bleeke: No. and I think that so many people are discouraged from going into sales like I was and just this week I’m at a meeting that I was holding. I asked people, how many of you chose a career in sales and two out of 30 raised their hands. People usually end up in sales. They don’t choose it. And I’m actually working with two universities in Wisconsin to try to help change that in the college and so many I think over 80 universities now have sales programs and that’s way different just in the last five years.

Andy Paul: It’s exploded. Yeah. lots of universities out there offering curriculum for people to get a certification or something in sales, which is great because it changes the perspective. I think of people coming out of school. That, like looking at it from a positive standpoint, as opposed to the court of last resort

Nancy Bleeke: And they can get trained in it to do it well, and then maybe not have those rough couple of years. Most of us have had well, yeah.

Andy Paul: Yeah. I think that, I guess to me, the value is where the academic programs are. They at least expose people to what they’re gonna be exposed to when they are in sales, but it’s like all the things, you get. Kids train. We got a major in something in school, but when it come out of school, we really don’t know anything practical. Right.

Nancy Bleeke: That’s true. So a lot of the universities are trying to change that with internships, at least to give them a little bit more of what’s the reality. and, I know, I’m glad I did an internship in college because I changed my career because

Andy Paul: Yeah, no, I know. Yeah. My daughter went to Northeastern university, which is famous for their extended internships they do with their undergraduates and yeah, absolutely. People can do that in sales. It makes a big difference. You really know what you’re getting into to . and back to your book conversations, you’re right. Big proponent of this collaborative selling and it sounds pretty straight forward on one hand you think, But if it were so easy, everyone would be doing it and you wouldn’t be talking about it. Explain what you mean with the collaborative sell, because I think there’s more to it than what people think and really how you start changing a culture to serve. Think that way within a sales team.

Nancy Bleeke: I do think it sounds easy, but it takes it’s real expertise to be a collaborative sales person and the difference, the nuance that I discovered in watching, hundreds and thousands of things, salespeople over 25 years, is that the best one? The best sales per people really were engaged with their buyers in a way that was different. And they took consultative selling to a new level when people think of consultative selling, it’s really good. And I taught it for years, that we need to connect with the person we need to identify their needs. Then we need to tell them how we can fix that and then we need to ask for the decision, but that we lead with questions. Okay. That’s the big thing, but that also we are the expert. And they need us, we. We need to bring in our expertise to help them and that through the internets, a overload of information that everyone has now, I think buyers are more discerning now. they know more than buyers did 20 years ago about anything they want to. And so salespeople still need to be the expert, but they have to use their expertise expertly.

And what I mean by that is I can’t just go in and assume I know a lot more than them. I have to go in and find out what they already know, and I need to not waste their time with what they already know and need to be able to, in that moment, adjust and give them what they need and to then collaborate and work with them too. To get to, how we can help them with whatever their problem opportunity want or need is. So you talked about that, it’s a skill,

Andy Paul: It does take a skill, but it takes expertise. You talked about as well. that’s, your T’s is more than questioning expertise. You know what you might consider the sales skills expertise, but in my mind for somebody to be truly a consultant, as they need to have expertise in the subject matter as well. And that subject matter could be, Hey, this specific industry that I sell to that my customers are primarily in, or it could be around the technology product service category that I’m selling, but they need to bring something more

Nancy Bleeke: I agree. It’s but they have to go not go in as the know it all, you mean you need to know more, but you need to be able to work with that buyer where they’re at and honor the information, the expertise, the experience they have, the information they have.

Andy Paul: Yeah. So I think that one may one things that we don’t do when we talk about collaborative selling and consultative selling is take that sort of last logical step to say that gee, mr. Sales rep, given this baseline of knowledge that you have, that you can help the prospect with is.

I think of yourself actually as a consultant, because then your mindset becomes starts becoming a little bit different, right? Because then a little more consultant as much more of a service than selling per se. So how’s that, what’s that next logical step you can take testimony, think about themselves really as a consultant to their prospects.

Nancy Bleeke: I think it’s being that consultant that knows their stuff. And the key is being able to rightsize how you use it in each conversation and opportunity. So to me, that’s being a collaborative consultant because you’re, you are an expert, but you don’t need to lead with your expertise. Instead, you need to, use it along with what their expertise is. And it’s a nuance. it’s a little nuance that I observed over and over again. and to equip them to do that, we need to be skilled enough. We need to be knowledgeable enough so that we can flex in each conversation for the back and forth. That happens in a conversation versus going in and being really prepared to pitch. we need to make it interact. Yes.

Andy Paul: Yeah. I think one of the things that I see and another guest I spoke to recently triggered this, though it did trigger thought, but made it more clear. And when he and I were discussing this is that you can’t go in with a predetermined outcome in mind.

If you’re a seller, if you’re a sales person, if you’re a business owner, a sales leader, and you’re hearing this conversations yep. Key thought for your salespeople is you can’t go in with the outcome in mind. if you’re truly being collaborative, then you don’t know what that out and the outcome meaning really the solution for the customer.

Not necessarily outcome, I’m getting an order enough, but the outcome in terms of what the best solution is going to be for the customer. You can’t go in with that in mind. You really have to be open because that is that’s the basis for collaboration. That’s this other guest I spoke with, talked about the term, which I think applies really neatly with what you talk about.

He talked about co-creation well, what they talk about with his together. We’re creating the solution.

Nancy Bleeke: It’s interesting because I’ll do that with, with buyers and I’ll say, let’s, spec out some of the options on how this would be addressed. I don’t, go off and create the, proposal recommendation and pass it back.

It’s always a discussion. and I have to be again, knowledgeable and skilled to be able to know what the potential options are, but when we sit and, and do that either virtually or literally side by side, the buy in is so much stronger me at first, when you said the outcome, because I believe very much in being prepared for the objective of your meetings, and knowing where you want to go.

But when you say outcome, as far as what is going to be the right solution for that. Person company’s situation. Absolutely. We need to have some things in mind, but we need to be open through what we learn to co-create. I like that term.

Andy Paul: Yeah. fortunately that guest was in Europe. I think we’re going to start using the term more and more. Cause it’s really good. in the way it describes the process that you’d want to try to undertake. So it seems to me that one of the real barriers to. This consultative, true, consultative, selling sense that we’ve been talking about, the collaborative selling with this expertise is that it seems like there’s, just that surf thin strata of sales reps that can really step up to that bar. And so what do you do to be able to scale this? If you’re an organization you’re trying to adopt the sales model, which makes huge sense for so many marketplaces, how do you scale?

Nancy Bleeke: With the people that you have, you need to train them. Yeah. And then going forward, you need to, select people that can take that approach. So we need to, in the training, I had a huge debate with another consultant last week about this. I don’t believe in word for word scripting. I think that word for word scripting can be, very limiting and not let that person flex because if we don’t teach them how to think and problem solve. And we just teach them how to present this or ask these questions that they’re not going to be able to be a collaborative salesperson.

Andy Paul: And is that something that is, that, can that be taught though? Really for, people are more mature in life as opposed to, kids in school learning critical thinking skills is, do you have success training sales reps to be able to be more open minded. Think as you said, be more deliberate.

Nancy Bleeke: Yeah, we do at one of my big successes in the last month is a man that’s 62 years old. He’s a couple years from retirement. And earlier this year when we were getting started with his company, he let me know very clearly.

That he was a few years away from retirement and he didn’t really think there was anything he needed to do different know, et cetera. And I suggested that. there’s been other people that think that, and that I think gave him an example of someone who, told me that, you know what, I don’t need to be connected each time with somebody and asking them questions.

I show up every month, they know the business we’re doing, they give me their order and I’m out of there. and that’s, another person similar to him years earlier had found, he said, you know what, though? I will try this. I will try some things different. And that he, three weeks later, came to the group, a weekly group session and just said, I’m totally humbled by what I learned by slowing down and connecting with my ongoing customers more.

And he had found out that one of his customer’s wives had died 15 months earlier, meaning that he saw the guy 15 times since then. I never knew no idea. And so this other guy this year, his name is Gary, he’s heard the story. And then he called me weeks later to tell me that, aye.

I thought, you know what, I’m going to get, give her a shot. this is before we even started, I’m going to give her a shot and see and he had some very similar results and he even found out that one of his customers was thinking of moving their location to another state. But when he was so focused and just getting the business done and not doing ongoing collaboration with and consultation with his existing customers, he was in danger of losing business and not even knowing it.

So he’s 63 years old. So my point is once they’re open, Can they learn it? Absolutely. And I think that one of the key ways of doing this is to give people frameworks, to operate within and help them make it their own. because we need, we can, we need to all be looking for how, others best practices to shorten our learning curve.

so we need to adopt best practices, but then we have to adapt them and make them ours. Because, Andy, you’re a great salesperson, but I couldn’t use the exact words you do and come off a trustworthy.

Andy Paul: Yeah, no, it has to be authentic right. To yourself, for sure.

Nancy Bleeke: So I think that by getting people, frameworks through what a good sales conversation is and the preparation for it. It allows them to know why certain parts of the conversation need to be a certain way. And then when in a conversation, if based on the response I get from the prospect or buyer, my brain knows three or four different avenues to go versus if I’m scripted and they go off script, then I’m not sure maybe the why beneath why I’m doing this.

Andy Paul: Yeah, no, absolutely. Because it’s really the important thing for people to understand. It’s not the first question you ask. It’s the question you ask in response to their answer. That’s the important question. yeah. So if you’re so fixated on being scripted, as you talk about, if you get an answer that’s different than the one you expect, you will be lost.

So you have to be present in the moment. You have to be paying attention after listening. And you just have to really be looking at from a collaborative standpoint and we’re gonna take a short break. We’ll be right back my guest today, Nancy Blakey.

one thing I want to get into is I really liked your four point investigation. This is where we started classic gap analysis use for the discovery call. And talk about that a little bit, because you talked about frameworks. To me, that was a really interesting framework for engaging the customer in terms of identifying what their issues are, what their objectives are and so on.

Nancy Bleeke: It is, it’s a framework for, asking your questions. So it’s making sure that we know what, where they want to go. What’s going on, hang on today. And then the key is to getting into the emotional aspects will help make the decision is the risk and reward questions, finding out what are they concerned, the risk that they foresee, if they do something different.

And also what are the risks if they don’t do it? And I don’t think that we explore that enough as salespeople because they’ll, you, I’m sure you’ve heard Andy that our biggest competition is. Yes. Yes. getting them to verbalize, what’s going to happen if they stay at the same.

And then also the reward. the reward, I think that those are the questions. People think are the dumb questions. everyone knows what the benefits are going to be, but we can’t assume that our buyers have given that much thought and that the more we can get those rewards down to the most personal level we can.

The more, we’re going to understand the buying triggers and the emotions that are going to move them forward. And so that’s what the four point is today and tomorrow risk and reward. and I laughed depending on the person, in your conversation, some people will jump right away to what they want to have happen.

And other people are really stuck on what’s going on right now. and we, by having a framework. We know, then once we address one piece of information, what else do we need to learn and ask about and make sure that those four points are covered before we start talking about a solution?

Andy Paul: Yeah, because I think the one things that you see with customers and people they’re just humans like everybody else right? Is that they can set a goal. Look, this is where we want to be in the business 12 months from now or 18 months from now. And this is where are today? But they don’t really have the plan from today to tomorrow. And that is the opportunity right there.

Nancy Bleeke: And the risk and reward and understanding there too, because if the risks in their mind outweigh the reward, we’re not going to get them to move.

So we have to help that be compelling enough or identify whether it is compelling enough in qualifying them. And knowing where to spend our time and energy.

Andy Paul: I think helping them identify the risks because they’re going to have a intuitive or gut reaction just based on our own set of experiences, what the risk is, but it’s as important to help people understand the risks as the value, because it’s to your point, right? They won’t make the decision because their perception of the risks involved. So you have to try to minimize their perception of what the risk is. And part of that is through education. That’s part of your sales job. It’s not to avoid discussion of the risk. It’s actually being proactive, discussing the risks

Nancy Bleeke: well and topped off with also then discussing in their viewpoint, the potential rewards. What are the benefits, not an education, but it’s so discovery and helping them discover the real rewards that they’re going to get. people always are walk on whether you’re going to get an ROI or you’re going to have a savings in this, or you’re going to increase this and decrease that.

And it’s often much deeper than that for certain people. they’re, they want to save their job. They want to look good. it’s all of those emotional components that really come into play when it’s time to make a decision. And if we don’t learn those, then we can’t help them stack those risks and rewards against each other.

Andy Paul: Okay. So here’s a loaded question for you because I agree with you on the emotional element. Is and part of when you were, and I think you’re involved with the women’s sales pros organization. So on is, questions. I think Jill Konrath asked the question or you want to sell like a girl, are women better natural salespeople then than men? And I just think that men are less in tune too, other people’s emotions than women are in general. And Is that a case where women are better salespeople than men?

Nancy Bleeke: I think it depends on the woman. Okay. I don’t like to have broad stereotypes like that because I think it’s really individual. I know some men that are way more emotionally tuned in than some women I know. So in generalities, I think, different people are more in tune and that’s why a framework. Like today, tomorrow risk reward is so helpful in teaching people because they don’t have to think about emotions. They’re thinking about risks and rewards, and they can do that in a business environment and not get stuck on. Oh, that’s too touchy feeling. I go in there.

Andy Paul: And I asked that question because. I think what too many sales reps forget, and it’s not, this is not based on gender. It’s just sales reps in general is that they’re talking to people.

Nancy Bleeke: Thank you. Yes.

Andy Paul: And that’s, I’ve been writing a blog post. I haven’t published it yet, but, I said, what do you do when your number turns into a person? And, people are so fixated on the numbers these days. And it’s part of the trend we’re seeing in sales is. It is certainly with the growth of inside sales. It’s, very metrics driven as it should be. But for some people, I think they take it too far and they lose sight of the fact they’re actually selling to a person on the other end. Yes.

Nancy Bleeke: Yeah. Just had this discussion with Ashley Becker from, ISP the other night, we had our first chapter meeting for Wisconsin and I said to her, sometimes I wonder, if this focus on having productive sales conversations, Is, lost to the inside sales worlds that are so now just about the technology to get this, and it’s about the metrics and is it, and that are we losing the human component that, Hey, once all of that technology works and you get up someone on the phone, it’s a person. Yeah. It’s still a person that you got to talk to.

Andy Paul: Yeah. at some point in some markets that’s changing, but Hey, Yeah, it’s a, I know Gartner group, when others are doing research from, what happens when things become customers because of, through of automation, but that’s a whole different sales process and that’d be a different show we can talk about at some point.

Nancy Bleeke: Sounds good.

Andy Paul: All right. So I’ve got some reps. I would fire questions for you that I always wrap up the show with, and I know you’re looking forward to these. Oh yeah. She says, so you can have one word answers. You can elaborate as much as you want. Totally up to you. Are you ready?

Nancy Bleeke: I’m ready.

Andy Paul: Okay. So what’s the most powerful sales tool in your arsenal

Nancy Bleeke: right now? It is the Charlie app. It gives me a briefing every morning on who I have appointments with.

Andy Paul: Okay. So is there one tool you use for sales, your own personal sales management, in addition to that you just can’t live without

Nancy Bleeke: Infusionsoft.

Andy Paul: Okay. And who’s your sales role model?

Nancy Bleeke: That changes, as you go along in your career or so right now, my sales role model is Trish for Tuesday of the bridge group.

Andy Paul: Okay. And why?

Nancy Bleeke: Because she is a very disciplined sales person and she runs a company just like I do. but she is very disciplined in her sales time and she says nothing gets in the way. And her business has just grown so much these last couple of years, because of that discipline.

Andy Paul: What’s the one book, every sales person should read?

Conversations That Sell.

Of course, in addition to that one? In addition to that one- Doesn’t even have to be a sales book

Nancy Bleeke: Yeah, I’m thinking, I’m looking at my bookshelf to make sure I have the name. I think it’s is it just called drive? I don’t want to say everybody should read no more called calling by Joanne black.

Andy Paul: Okay. That’s good. I liked Jordan’s book and for people that haven’t heard of it, those listening to it, that’s really about how you use referrals to build up your base of new prospects, as opposed to cold calling. Very important.

Nancy Bleeke: Yeah. And the process that it, that she walks you through to do it is so powerful, I think, for understanding the value that you bring, and being able to, articulate that and have conviction in it yourself. So I think the process of it is really good.

Andy Paul: Yes. I think one of the key things in that process without digressing too much is that. When you’re asked for referrals because you can’t assume that people know what it is that you’re doing, be what you’re asking for a referral for. So you need to be very clear. It’s just that articulate that quite clearly for them. So what’s your favorite music to listen to when you’re psyching yourself up for an important meeting?

Nancy Bleeke: I still love the eighties. I actually listened to the BeeGees.,

Andy Paul: There we go. That’s good.

Nancy Bleeke: I have them on my iPod or my phone and I listened to the BG is it’s fast music,

Andy Paul: Nothing wrong with that. Staying alive. What’s the first sales activity you do every day.

Nancy Bleeke: I plan my day. I look at my Charlie app debriefs.

Andy Paul: Okay, last question. The one thing you get asked most frequently by salespeople is?

Nancy Bleeke: It’s a lot of how do you do this?  how do I pick up the phone, how I’m thinking of just this week, today, this morning it was, how do I ask for that decision? they wanted confirmation, in how do I ask? So it’s a lot of specific how to is how this, how that’s what I hear most often.

Andy Paul: And to the questions I asked, how do they ask for the order? What did you say?

Nancy Bleeke: I said, it all depends on how the compensation, when, and then you need to ask for a specific commitment or decision. So you don’t say, do you want to buy, say, are we ready to get this scheduled in their case and their case as well it would be. when do you want delivery? It’s a different question than do you want to buy, right?

Andy Paul: Yeah. It’s an assumptive close. I like it. Very cool. good. Nancy, thank you so much for your time. It’s been great talking to you. I want to thank today’s  guests, Nancy Beleeke, author of Conversations that Tell. And as a consultant, coach, Nancy tell people how they can learn more about you.

Nancy Bleeke: You can visit our website@salesproinsider.com. You can call me (414) 235-3064. Or email me@nancyatsalesproinsider.com and sign up for our sign up for our newsletter.