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Creating Sales Differentiation to Stand Out in Competitive Markets w/ Leanne Hoagland-Smith [Episode 7]

Leanne Hoagland-Smith, author of How to be the Red Jacket in a Sea of Gray Suits, dishes out the straight talk advice on how to deliberately plan for sales success. She also shares her strategies that sales reps and small business can use to create meaningful sales differentiation.

If you’re selling in a crowded and competitive market, what steps can you take to stand out in the crowd and attract the attention of your dream customers? Listen today to learn how!

About The Show

It’s time to Accelerate! Hi, I’m your host, Andy Paul. Join me as I host conversations with the leading experts in sales, marketing sales automation, sales process, leadership, management, training, coaching, any resource that I believe to help you accelerate the growth of your sales, your business, and most importantly, you

Let Us Introduce You to Our Guest… Leanne Hoagland-Smith!

Welcome to the show today. My guest is Leanne Hoagland-Smith, author, speaker, sales consultant, founder of her own company, Advanced Systems. You can find her online at processspecialist.com. So, Leanne, welcome to the show.

Oh, thank you, Andy. And good morning to you from outside of Chicago, Illinois.

Yes. One of my favorite cities in the world. So rather than have me read some standard introduction by all about you. Why don’t you take them and introduce us, who you are, what you do and who you do it for?

A Quick Summary of Leanne’s 18-year Career in Sales

Well, that makes sense. For the last 18 years, I’ve been working with small and mid-sized businesses. Helping them solve one of two problems, either people or process. And that has led to some very interesting engagements in the areas of sales as well as leadership development. And I have to say, it’s been an incredible fun journey. And I look forward to continuing this journey.

How Leanne Hoagland-Smith Got into Sales?

How did you start your career in sales?

If you accept the fact that I started in sales at the age of 10. Yes, that counts. That counts in my father’s sundry store selling penny candy. Okay. And where was that? That was actually in Hammond, Indiana. He decided to be a small business owner and bought a sundry store, which back then was a combination drugstore and coffee and quick food counter.

Yes. And also, at that point in time, when he needed help, I went to the other side of the store and made milkshakes and sundaes and served coffee and donuts as well as filled the stock shelves.

Then what was your first professional start in sales?  The first professional start that was not employed by my father. I sold popcorn and drinks for theater in downtown Hammond. That’s when I was in high school. Then later I transitioned into as a cashier for a local grocery store, and through college I bartended, waitressed, also did some retail sales.

And finally, after working with Leo Burnett Advertising in their media research as I worked also with a stock brokerage firm, doing research. I then started working for a small business in the field of pipe bells and fittings as clerical, then went into sales and purchasing. And I was the first inside saleswoman in pipe valves and fittings industry in the Chicagoland area. Many years ago.

Who are you selling to?

We were selling to mechanical pipe contractors. We were selling to the steel mills. We were selling two nuclear plants. So, we sold both mostly in the Midwest, the Northwest, Indiana and the south side of Chicago at that time were the hub of steel making outside of Pittsburgh.

And what was your day like as an inside salesperson in that time?

It was interesting because it evolved. It went from just taking the orders from somebody else to actually then not only taking the orders, quoting the orders as well as I was kind of inside, outside, I had to go and negotiate some of the orders that were much larger because we were at that time, we had orders that four to 10 loads of pipe were involved.

Forty thousand pounds of fittings. Forty thousand plus pounds of valves. So, it was a matter of not only understanding the marketplace, understanding the delivery, understanding the constraints of the client, and then understanding the constraints of the small business that we have to make money. So, there was a lot of factors involved which kind of gave a good foundation for starting my own practice.

All right. What was the impetus for starting your sales consulting business?

Well, I retired from that business and I earned my masters. Well, I earned my teaching degree and I taught for five years. And in that process, I also earned my masters. I lost my teaching job and then I decided to do some research because I always enjoyed research. And in that research, 

I found that learning at the corporate level was almost as unsustainable as learning at the K through 16 level. And I thought there had to be a developmental issue that people were not addressing. I did some more research and then opened up. My craft is focusing more on development.  As opposed to just say, increasing sales and bringing in that developmental piece into the sales training.

So, professional development focus.

Yes. And understanding why people don’t change behaviors. That’s a developmental issue. It’s not necessarily a skill issue. Right.

I’ll ask questions because this is certainly one of the primary topics and challenges confronting salespeople in generals or managers in generals. How do they motivate change? And consistent ongoing change in salespeople?

There are several factors, I believe, that “need” to be present and I use the word need very carefully. Obviously, we know about the word attitude. Attitude is important. I think a lot of people go into sales kind of like they went into education because they couldn’t do anything else.

But maybe me, as a matter of fact, as a history major. What else was I going to do?

Yes. But if you have the right attitude, understanding that sales. As said, is a transference of feelings and you respect and understand how you can nurture feelings and others to build those relationships. That’s essential. And I think sometimes people attempt to shortchange the process. They’re looking for the quick fix and relationship selling and consultative selling, whatever you want to call it.

The quick fix doesn’t work. You may get that one hit wonder, but it’s not going to be sustainable. I think the other thing is there is a lot of talk about goals. From my experience, most people do not know how to consistently set and achieve their own goals. And if you can’t achieve your own goals, I ask the question, how can you achieve the corporate goals?

What’s the problem people having in setting up goals that they can’t achieve, that you’ve seen in your practice?

Oh, first, they don’t write them down. Yes. You took something that basic or something that we had all learned and adapted by now?

Well, I think it goes back to the theory of osmosis. There is a lot of assumptions out there that people learn through osmosis. I’ll stand next to Andy and become the super salesperson, and it doesn’t really work that way. What’s really interesting is, years ago, I was doing a presentation and you get these blinding thoughts when you’re talking sometimes spontaneously.

And I just ask the question about the written grocery list and went through the scenario. What happens when you don’t take the written grocery list? And everyone agreed at the end that a written grocery list has significant value because of the lost time, the lost money, the lost emotions. I then asked the question, so how many of you have a written plan for the rest of your life? And nobody raised their hand.

I think there is a presumption we have a written plan, but we don’t. We place more value in the written grocery list and planning a vacation than we actually do in planning our lives, which may also explain why so many people are in debt. Why a lot of people are not happy with what they’re doing because they live day by day, moment by moment, and they’re not really thinking about the future and how they can make that future better for themselves and for others. I think the final thing is numbers, sales in small businesses. 

I mean, the larger corporations are very good about tracking numbers, small businesses, even midsize businesses. The sales people really don’t track their numbers. They don’t know how many contacts it takes to get an appointment. How many of those appointments turn into actual sales?

Right. They’re not tracking metrics for themselves. No. And in sales, success in anything, whether it’s losing weight, whether it’s saving money, whether it’s increasing income numbers are our friends. They’re not our enemy.

I agree. And especially as we get into this world of big data, I mean, it becomes increasingly important when you write a lot about and work on process like in the name of your URL, domain name. Yes. I have surveyed just around 300 companies sales process. And actually, what we found is that, in this, 72% of those companies that we surveyed actually don’t have a written sales process, to your point about not having written down a plan.

They basically have the numbers about 42% just said they basically make it up as they go along. So, what’s the danger there for a company, trying to grow, trying to establish itself in a marketplace of just making it up as they go along?

Years ago, a couple of colleagues of mine wrote a book called Fail-Safe Leadership, and they identified misalignment, which I think answers that question. When we make it up as we go along. We must align our actions to the actions of other people or the overall goals of the organization. They gave an example about a CEO who wanted to grow the company.

The finance person cut the budget. The training person decided to put together some training for the new equipment. The capital person decided, well, we’re going to work with our old equipment. Right. And so, they all started writing goals, becoming engaged based upon how they interpreted, I want to increase sales because the CEO didn’t give them any solid goal, specific goal, and they were all doing their own thing.

Another colleague of mine created this story called Captain Wing It and the essence of it is there are so many people out there and Captain Wing It, they spray their actions all over the place and then they pray something’s going to stick.

Your advice then for the leader of a small mid-sized enterprise? This goes down to a process, in this case, the process of planning. What is that ideal process that they should be implementing at a minimum?

The ideal process starts with assessing. You have to assess where you are, also where you’ve been. Where do you see the market going? Strategic planning is essential. I can’t say enough about it because it looks at your market forces. It looks at how you can respond to those forces. It looks at your talents of your people within the organization, just not your salespeople, but everybody. It looks at you compared advantage.

Where can you outshine your competitors? It also looks at to where you have potential on limitations, limitations in marketing. Are you on social media? How well are you doing social media as an example? Dwight Eisenhower said, plans are worthless, planning is everything. And I firmly believe that because you can change plans.

But planning is all about applying critical thinking skills and taking and investing the time to think instead of doing it as you go along, making it up. It has to be deliberate.

Yes, it has to be deliberate. It has to be intentional, and there has to be absolute crystal clarity. So, everyone’s going after the same target. One of the questions I asked small business owners and very few can tell me the answer is… If I went up to everybody in your company and asked them this one question, how does this company make and keep money?

What? I get the same response from everybody and they shake their head. And I said, so what? How many missed opportunities are you losing? Because everybody in the organization should know how the company makes money and how the company keeps money.

Would you recommend, like an annual planning process, quarterly planning process when you’re first starting off with a company and then maybe you haven’t had a plan. They start with an assessment of where they are, their capabilities, their strengths, the market forces they’re dealing with. It’s a fairly formal, formal process. They have to go through if they haven’t done it before. How do you recommend they really start, go hire a consultant to help them, or how do they structure it internally?

There are a lot of different ways they can hire consultants. They can hire a small business coach. They can go on the Internet. There are some real simple planning sessions out there. Years ago, I create something called Treehouse Business Planning, which reduces its bare bones planning just to get them to start thinking because they think they don’t have enough time to do it. Whatever planning process someone engaged in, they should have a formalized goal setting process to accomplish that so that we have this goal.

Okay. How are we going to execute the goal? And after we assess, we get clarity and clarity. We can get execution. And that’s where what’s missing in a lot of the small businesses. Going back to goal setting, it can be just as simple as just sit down and write a couple of goals down that you want your organization to achieve. And as you start seeing success in achieving those goals, now’s the time, oh, okay, how much more success could I have if I did a little bit more?

Strategic planning does take time. It’s an investment. If you do a really detailed process, it’s probably 40 hours. And that does include all the time you’re working, gathering and all together and thinking it through. Right. That is time well invested. I mean, most people meant to wasting 12 minutes a day. That’s an hour a week.

Yes. And if you think then put in the context or something said, look, I want to grow my business five percent on, let’s say a 2 million dollars your business.

You could with a little bit of planning if you give yourself a greater chance of hearing that five percent and let’s say you do hit five percent versus just hitting four percent or three percent over the course of 5, 10 years. I’ve done math on that before and works out to you almost missing the chance to maybe double your company’s revenues. Just missing your targets by small percentages every year over 10 years really adds up. So, it’s the planning becomes critical, as you said, to find those areas of focus and really pay attention to them.


And then prioritize because what I have found and maybe you found the same it’s sometimes it’s the smaller things that create the greater value. However, you can’t find out what those smaller things are until you sit down and prioritize what needs to be done. I separate either it’s a people issue or a process issue. Where can you get the biggest bang for your buck for this amount of time when you prioritize what really needs to happen first? Many instances it’s something very small.

Right. Yes. I agree on small things can make the difference and let’s talk about that a little bit after the break. We’re going to take a short break here. Stay with us. We’ll be back with Leanne Hoagland-Smith. Talk more about her tips for improving your sales process within your company.

Be the Red Jacket in a Sea of Gray Suits

Welcome back. My guest today is Leanne Hoagland-Smith, author of a great book titled, Be the Red Jacket in a Sea of Gray Suits. So, tell us about that book. I love the title. I actually read a few years ago after we’d first met in Chicago. So, tell the audience what the book is about.

The book was constructed specifically for small business owners under 20 employees. For them to understand differentiation, to be successful in today’s marketplace, with over 70% of all small businesses being not employed, meaning a solo entrepreneur as the owner and salesperson or service person and financial officer.

Welcome to my world. Yes. How do you stand out? Was everybody hanging out their shields, whether they’re a small business coach or sales consultant, a realtor, a CPA, an attorney, an M.D.? And what I learned from my experience when I took the entrepreneurial plunge 18 years ago, that within five years I learned I really knew nothing about marketing.

I thought I did, but I thought marketing was going out meeting and greeting people, kind of like what people say, join the chamber, join this group, join that group. And I was really clueless. So, I started a voyage. And I’m still on that voyage of learning how to better position myself,  how to differentiate myself than those around me.

Having that cohesive message and so red is a very emotional color. You’ll see that with people when they’re dressed out, they’ll put a touch of red on because red is attracts the eye. And the reason I said gray suits is there is so much similarity among people, small businesses when they say what they do. They all look like a gray suit.

Key to Differentiation

What is the key to differentiation? If you’re a small business, or a solopreneur because I think this is really an essential issue. Increasingly, as marketplaces become more crowded in the eyes of customers in a crowded market, we’ve got 10 choices to choose from. Basically, it looks like. So how do you stand out?

I think it will. It starts with having a powerful story, being able to have a compelling, emotionally centered message that has people coming up to you and asking you, tell me more. What I find is many small business owners confused the “how” of what they do, with the “what” of what they do. How is it that the CPA, that the real estate person, that’s the “how.”  The “what” are the results they deliver. The “what” is what makes them different from everybody else. And this is a journey.

I was at a networking event and I had an epiphany when someone said, we’re talking and he said, well, how long have you been doing this? And I said, well, 18 years. He says, oh, so you’re not one of those up and coming. Everybody is a business coach. And I realized what I was saying was possibly letting people think I was just a new person to this industry as opposed to someone who’s been around for a while.

Or worse, you’re just there while you’re looking for a real job.

Yes. Now, I preface my little statement with, for the last 18 years. Now, for people know I just didn’t enter this market in the last six months of the last couple of years. It also implies that I’ve been fairly successful to be able to be a business owner for 18 years in this industry.

What’s the lesson for small business owner in terms of how they position themselves?

Look for the results you deliver for your customers and align those results to your own passion. So, give me an example. An example would be I have on a financial client and she’s attempting to differentiate itself. And we were talking about it and she says, I just love to fire up people, to love money. And I said so, why can’t you say that? I fire up people to love money.

That’s a lot more emotionally beneficial to someone who’s listening than saying, oh, I’m a financial adviser with yada, yada, yada company. And it’s because your passion comes through when you say I fire up people to love money. Great example. And so that it’s just finding out aligning again what you’re passionate about. I’m passionate about problem solving and process and then creating crafting a message that you that unites your passion with your results.

And don’t be afraid to touch your own horn. Yes, in a very respectful, very professional way, because people hire people to get results. They don’t hire people because in real estate, I’ve been writing a series of blog postings about real estate since you and I were talking a little earlier. We’re relocating and I have to say, not all, but part of the majority and I’m going to say majority being 75% of those in real estate really are clueless about marketing.

They have no sales skills. They don’t know the difference between a benefit and a result. Which I just find amazing, there was a report out there that was commissioned through the National Association of Realtors called the Danger Report, and it broke it down to different aspects in the real estate industry, including agents, brokers and whatnot. And the very first danger for real estate agents is the incompetency of real estate agents, which I thought was kind of interesting.

Well, part of the issue in the real estate is that it’s an industry that tends to attract people during boom times. My impression is that there’s a core, maybe it’s 25% you’re talking about, maybe it’s a little higher than that. Their career, their life is in the business and they become the real pros. And then we see a lot of people coming sort of in and out the market somewhere to help sales consultants and business coaches.

And again, people gravitate to what they think is going to make them a quick buck. Yes. I mean, how many business coaches have I observed and sales coaches and when you got to call leadership development people that they are terminated from one job. And so, they decide I’m going to be a coach without any formal training, with limited experience, maybe never been in a management position. And they’re out there instructing other people and you just kind of shake your head.

Well, it gets back to your point before. That if you’re going to engage those type of resources, find the people that like yourself that have been out there doing it for  18 years, or at least check their check the references and make sure that the track record that says they can provide the outcomes to you that that you want.

And isn’t it ironic that people will research so many things. But when it comes to hiring a marketing person or hiring a business coach or even an attorney, they won’t ask for references. I tell all my clients, ask for three references and be able to call those people and ask. Okay. Were you happy with the results this company delivered for you? Right. So, it takes you half an hour or more, but you’re going to be much happier when you really find out. Yes. This is the right company for you.

Well, again, that’s that should be. We’re talking our process. That should be part of your process that you have. You’re trying to grow your business as you have limited amount of time, limited amount of resources. So, make sure that you spend your time and your resources wisely by getting the right people do the right jobs for you.

You’re absolutely right there, Andy.

Rapid-fire Questions

Yes. Well, good. We’ll move into the last segment of our talk here today. Rapid-fire sales corner. We’ve got some rapid-fire questions. You can give me one-word answers or you can elaborate if you wish.

First question. What’s the most powerful sales tool in your arsenal?


Name the one tool you use today for sales or sales management that you can’t live without.

Probably my Excel spreadsheet.

Who is your sales role model?

My father. He was in sales, professional sales his entire life. I learned a lot from him, from working in the sundries store to later on in life when we would talk about what motivates people to buy you as a salesperson.

So, you said that’s the most important thing you’ve learned from him about sales. Yes. His two buying rules were the most important things I learned. I added a third one. And they are? People buy from people they know and trust, did not use the word like because he explained like could take them home for dinner. 

He says, I know a lot of people I buy from, but I wouldn’t take them home for dinner. Yes. The second one is, people buy on emotion first, justified by logic. And then my third one I added, which I get some contention from my fellow sales experts, is people buy on value unique to them. Meaning sales people cannot create value. All they can do is connect to the value drivers of the buyer. Okay. Those are the three. I like it.

What’s the one book that every salesperson should read?

Right now, the one book I would recommend is, To Sell Is Human by Dan Pink.

What’s your favorite music to listen to? To psych yourself up for a sales call.

Oh, Okay. I. Classical music probably is always in the background. All right. And then the theme to one of the Star Trek series.

What’s the first sales activity you do every day?

I do my marketing metrics. Meaning? I capture all the data from the previous day interim into an Excel spreadsheet and Okay, determine what is happening with my marketing.

So, in terms of visitors to your website and engagement on social media and so on. How many books have been sold on Amazon? LinkedIn visitors. What are they looking on as far as postings at LinkedIn?  Tweets? Bitly clicks? How many that click on the bitly? All that metrics.

Good process to have, by the way, that people should pay attention is make sure, you’re investing in these and your marketing you got to track to make sure it works. And what’s working, what’s not. And changed that. And do more that is.

What’s your favorite social media tool?


One question you got asked most frequently by salespeople?

 How can I close more deals?

What do you do every day to improve, to get better, whether it’s in work or in life?

 I’m an avid reader, so I probably read at least one hour a day and I split that between business and non-business.

What non-business book are you reading now?

I am reading a series of short stories by H.G. Wells.

Oh, jeez, great classics. That I have never seen. So, it was a freebie and I’ve been reading that. So, I grab maybe one short story a night. It’s just been fascinating. One was about a globe and it’s just mind. I find his mind to be fascinating and how we thought about all this stuff in the late eighteen hundred. The science fiction writers of years ago or just incredible forward thinkers.

Wrapping Up the Episode

Yes, yes. Well, in general. So great, Leanne. Thank you very much. It’s great to have you on the show. And how can people find you?

Well, they can find me on LinkedIn. I’m the only Leanne Hoagland-Smith. I’m on Twitter at Coach Lee. I’m also on Facebook, Advanced Systems or Be The Red Jacket. Or you could just pick up the phone, call 219-5082859, Central Time. I’m in the Chicago land time zone.

Yes, at least for now, right? At least for now. Then we’re going to be moving west to the mountain.

There you go. Good. Well, thank you so much for joining us. And for our listeners, remember. Make it a part of your day every day to learn something new, something to help you amp up your business. And until next time, this is Andy Paul. Good selling.

Thanks for listening to the show. If you like what you heard and want to make sure you don’t miss any upcoming episodes, please subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.com. For more information about today’s guests, visit my website at Andypaul.com.