I am very excited to welcome back my good friend, Anthony Iannarino. Anthony is a speaker, blogger, extraordinary sales leader, and author of a new book, The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need.
Join us in this episode as Anthony and I discuss a range of topics from his new book including, why you as a salesperson are the primary value proposition, how psychology is more important than technology in sales, how a healthy sense of competitiveness is critical in sales, and how to ignite your competitive spirit.
Is it easier to teach a technical non-salesperson how to sell or teach the salesperson how to sell the value of the product?
I think it’s easier to teach a salesperson to sell the value. I think it’s much more difficult for a technical person, mostly because they’re constrained by their technical knowledge.
If you could change one thing about your business self, what would it be?
I wish that I was more understanding sooner about how important it is to be directive with the people that work for me.
What’s one non-business book that every salesperson should read?
The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom
Are buying decisions based on logic or emotion?
Buying decisions are based on emotion and we rationalize to determine the logic after the fact.
How should that change how you sell?
You need to create a preference for you and for your solution, and you need to understand the driving human needs that are causing somebody to want what they want and why they want it.
Andy Paul: It’s time to accelerate! Hi, I’m your host, Andy Paul. Hello and welcome to accelerate. I’m very excited to welcome back to the show my good friend Anthony Iannarino. And as people know, he is a speaker, blogger, extraordinary sales leader, and now I can add author to that list because Anthony’s new book is coming out and it is called The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, which I think is a great marketing title because now no one will buy our books, just yours!
Anthony Iannarino: We’ll see.
Andy Paul: So welcome back to Accelerate.
Anthony Iannarino: Thanks for having me back, Andy.
Andy Paul: So, you said there will be sequels though? Of course, that’s not the only sales guide but all right, perfect. So yeah, for people that maybe haven’t heard one of your previous episodes or appearances on the show, make just a brief introduction of yourself.
Anthony Iannarino: Sure. I write at thesalesblog.com every day and I send out a newsletter every Sunday. I’ve been writing there since December 28. And I still have an interest in some businesses. So a lot of What I write is practical application. It’s strategic, but it’s also tactical. And it’s because I built a relatively good sized business with very few salespeople. And it’s some of how I know what I know. And I spent a lot of time speaking, and doing workshops and traveling around helping salespeople and sales organizations.
Andy Paul: People should go back and listen to Episode 11. Way back at the beginning of the podcast. That was a long time ago. As we record this, we’re already like, Episode 210. So by the time this airs we’ll be close to 300. So way back at the beginning, Anthony was there at the beginning and talks about his very unique start in the sales business. I’m not going to give it away but people need to go listen, because it is one of the most unique stories about how he got his initial sales experience. But let’s let’s talk about your book. So what was the driver for writing this book other than the fact that you’ve got 6000 blog posts that you’ve done, and you have a lot of material! But what finally got to the point of writing the book?
Anthony Iannarino: I wanted to write this book for a long time. But honestly, I had conversations with publishers, and they would say things about, a very small advance and what they wanted from a book. The first publisher I showed the content to the structure of the book to said, “We don’t get it, And we don’t understand why you would have a sales book that has things like self discipline in it or, or why you would have optimism or caring or resourcefulness or initiative.”
Andy Paul: What do you mean, human emotions?
Anthony Iannarino: Yeah, all of the human attributes that allow you to succeed right there, like you don’t even get to selling skulls until the second half of the book. And I said, Well, that’s because without the first half, you don’t need the second half. I could give you the second half, but you can’t do anything with it. And then I had other publishers who came to me and I basically couldn’t find a value prop in publishing with them. And they said, you know, we can get you attention. And I said, well I get kind of a lot of attention already and they said, Well, we could probably help you get speaking gigs. And I said, Well, I get it. I get speaking gigs. I’m pretty good. But what else can you do? And I didn’t hear much. So I decided at that point, I’m going to write the book myself. And I’m going to hire somebody to be my editor. And I went out and I hired Ted Kinney who started with me, but he got bogged down with Disney work. And I found another person, an editor out in California, Barry Fox. I went to Barry and said, Listen, I write, I need help with the editing, you’re going to be my editor. And I’m going to self publish on Amazon.
The reason I wrote this book is that I want to serve salespeople. I want to give salespeople something that they can use to improve their results. Most of the publishers wanted me to write something that would say, let us help sales leaders and be super consultative and come in with a big consultants book. There’s a lot of books like that out there, but I wanted to write a book for the rep. That’s what I wanted to write. I took it into my own control to say, let me give them the nine attributes and the eight skills they need. And then we’ll go from there and decide what comes after that. But that’s why I wanted to write it, I wanted to give the salesperson a tool that they could use. Honestly, you’ve seen the book, The 17 chapters, it’s also a good lens for a sales manager to say, Where are my people struggling? And how can I help them with each one of these individual attributes or skills?
Andy Paul: I think a lot of the books that are written nominally with sales managers in mind have a lot of stuff in there for salespeople, and vice versa. Talk about why you wrote it. So one of the questions is just sort of the driving question you talk about in the book is, why do a few highly successful reps consistently outperform their peers? Do you have an answer for that?
Anthony Iannarino: Well, I do, and I’ll tell you what the central premise is. I think that most of us think that it’s situational. It’s “Oh, it’s they have this product or they have this territory, or they have a really hot hand right now because the market likes them.” The truth is, and you know this as well as I do and probably better Andy, is that when you go into a sales organization, it can be a commodity organization with almost no differentiation. And they’ll have salespeople who are killing it. And you can go into another organization that has extremely high differentiation, great value, Prop, terrific quality, it should be really easy to sell. And 80% of the sales force is still lagging. That’s because sales success is personal. It’s individual, and it’s something that you can control. Once you understand that it’s in your control, you can start taking action to say, I can develop myself in areas that will allow me to succeed where other people are struggling.
The reason the book starts with the attributes first, is because I think the first thing is, who do you have to be, to be someone worth buying from in the first place? A lot of these attributes are personal. It’s: how do you show up? And who are you when you show up? And then we can get the skills. You need both sets of these things, but I put the mindset first, because no matter how good you are, if you’re not a person that people want to do business with, and you can’t create a preference for you, and your offering, then selling is going to be very difficult for you. So let’s get the big piece of mindset straight first, and then we can go into the skills.
Andy Paul: I believe this from having written my books – you wrote the foreword to my last book. Yeah, the first line differentiation is YOU! For members of the audience who are listening to this in a competitive sales situation, it’s not what you sell. It’s how you sell. It’s you, you’re the difference.
Anthony Iannarino: I’ve got a big slide that I use in my presentations that says “you do understand that you are the primary value proposition.” I don’t think a lot of salespeople have been told that as directly as I’m telling them and you tell them. I think that they think the product is supposed to do the heavy lifting for them. In a world where we are being more commoditized, and there’s more pressure, I don’t think that that’s going to be true. We have a good product, the competitor has a good product, we have good services, they have good services, we can come up with a good solution, so can they. If you don’t believe that your competitors are a threat, I think that’s a mistake. They’re good. They’re working hard too, they have smart people.
I always hear people say this or I see it on Facebook. It’s a little meme that says something like “the only person I want to be better than is the person I was yesterday.” And I like the sentiment but you better be better than your competitor today. Because you have to go and compete against somebody who’s already pretty good. So you better figure out how to beat that person.
Andy Paul: You need a greater sense of urgency along with that. There’s also a sort of growing sense in certain sectors of the business that it’s the process that’s paramount. This seemingly obviates the need for people to be really good at what I call the “last mile of selling,” you know, between the person and the prospect, the sales rep on the prospect that’s still ultimately where things happen. You can have all the science you want, but at the end of the day, it’s still a person selling to a person.
Anthony Iannarino: I just got back from a sales conference where I was the closing keynote speaker and I sat there for two days actually starting at the speaker’s dinner, and a good part of the conversation. And by good part, I mean, almost all of it – ended up being around predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, things that we can count how we’re gonna disintermediate salespeople in these sections of the sales process early on, what we can automate. When I got on stage, I was able to say, you know, you’ve had a lot of this conversation. But now I’m going to tell you that, from my view, sex is still better than sexting. What we’re dealing with are human relationships. Psychology is more important than technology. We’re trying to win hearts and minds. And that’s a very different game, and one that does not lend itself to automation. I got their attention, and I got em to lean forward and we had a different conversation, one that I think is more beneficial.
Andy Paul: Sex is better than sexting. Absolutely.
Anthony Iannarino: I have yet to find the counter argument so far. I can’t find any takers.
Andy Paul: So let’s talk about three things: mindset, skillset, toolkit. So we’ve so covered mindset, and skillset. So toolkit. What are the elements of your toolkit?
Anthony Iannarino: The toolkit is the things like your sales process, your playbook, the tools that you use. And I think there’s a great case to be made to give people tools. Sure, but I think it does come at the end, because I see sales organizations do different things, some focus just on skills or predominantly product, and some focus just on giving them the tools. But without the mindset and the skill set, the tools don’t work. And so the magic combination seems to be mindset, skillset, toolkit. And to try to accommodate some of that we have a workbook that goes along with the book when you order it or when you come out to theonlysalesguide.com to try to replicate some of what a toolkit is, but we put exercises or questions that you can go through at the end of each chapter to try to say, “How do I turn this into something that I can use right now?” That’s the most important thing to me in writing this book. I wanted an actionable book, and I’ve read books where people give advice like you know, if you’re not motivated, you should kick your own ass. I’m not really sure how to do that. But I know that if you’re not disciplined, making a list of two or three disciplines that you keep every day can transform your life radically. And you know, so we talked about how to do those kinds of things. Or if you have a bad attitude, I know that simply being grateful, you know, and taking time to capture those thoughts can help change your mindset. And so there’s a lot of action oriented sections of the book, which the publisher liked as well, we think it’s going to be really helpful for people. It’s almost a field guide, in some ways.
Andy Paul: Let’s talk about some of the elements that you had of the 10 elements that you have in the book. Competitiveness, I thought that was an interesting one to talk about. You have to have this burning desire to be the best in sales. I mean, if it should, doesn’t mean that you’re ruthless doesn’t mean that you’re not empathetic. You don’t have the people skills that you need, but you have a desire to be the best, as you talked about before.
Anthony Iannarino: I think there’s different types, you know, there’s healthy competition, and there’s unhealthy competition. And so there are different ways that we look at competitiveness. And I think that the reason that competition is so important, and there’s a lot of a lot of talk out about, you know, we should be collaborative, we shouldn’t worry about our competitors, but selling is still a zero sum game. I mean, I win or you win, I get the sale, I get the business, or you get the business. I do think that it’s important that we play to win, and we have to be what I would call a strong competitor where I’m trying to be my best and I’m trying to create greater value than anyone else. I’m trying to create a strong preference. Instead of being somebody who I would call a weak competitor, and this is someone who says, I’m going to try to find a way to cheat the system. I’m going to try to find a way to take down my competitor by saying bad things about them, rather than trying to build up my credibility with them, or creating a preference for me and my offering. In some markets, there are laws to prevent that kind of competition in financial markets. But in the area where most of us compete. You know, we just need a better plan for how we analyze that competition. How do we make sure we’re playing our game, and that we’re competing where we’re strong and where they’re weak? And how do we make sure that we use all of the weapons at our disposal, so that we can bring everything to bear and win like every contest matters, which in my view it does. I think it’s important that we create a preference and we win, but especially the deals that are with what I call dream clients, the people we could really truly create the greatest value for.
Andy Paul: What I think is a great perspective on competition, that I believe aligns with what you talked about is something I always remember from Vince Lombardi. I grew up in Wisconsin at the time when the Packers were in their heyday. And Lombardi was criticized, you know, a great football coach, the Green Bay Packers were criticized for having too few plays in his playbook. You know, sweep, sweep left, etc. His point of view was, “yeah, we’ve worked this to perfection, we practice it till it’s perfect. Let them try to stop us.” So he didn’t really care, right? Because we’re gonna go do what we need to do. We’re gonna do it to the best of our ability.
Anthony Iannarino: He might have been the one that said, when asked: “you keep running the same plays, when are you going to run something different?” He said, “when this stops working!”
Andy Paul: Well, all right.
Anthony Iannarino: Yeah. And that’s it. You do what works for you. So if you’re a boutique company, that’s super high-caring, high-value, high-trust, high-intimacy, be that. When you’re competing against somebody who’s global with a massive footprint, don’t pretend like you have that. Just be what you are, and compete that way. And in where you find people who want high value, high caring, high trust, high intimacy, you’re going to win and where you’re not supposed to win, because you’re not really what they need, then you’re not going to win those, but you need to compete where you’re strong. And that means you need to target and make sure you’re spending time where you can win.
Andy Paul: Yeah. And that’s really that’s why I started my company in the first place years ago back in 2000. I had great success being a small company selling in that sort of high-touch, high-caring against huge competitors. But it only worked in certain circumstances. You need to identify those circumstances you could win quite handily. That’s another thing about competition, I see a lot especially some of the sales technologies, and on some of the apps and so on, everybody wants to put in the gamification aspects to it. To me, that is sort of like applying external motivation to a rep, when a rep really needs to be internally motivated as opposed to externally motivated. What’s your thought on that?
Anthony Iannarino: I’m ambivalent on gamification right now. I would like to believe in it more. But to your point, I haven’t seen it replace intrinsic motivation. I think what we’re trying to do because we have technology, is we’re trying to automate things that shouldn’t and can’t be automated. We think that gamification is fun. And we think it’s interesting, but I just wonder, and it seems to me like a very shallow substitute for purpose and meaning, and giving people a real mission to work towards.
Anthony Iannarino: It seems to me that people really want more meaning in their work. I think they want more mission. I think they want to know that what they’re doing is important, and that they’re making a difference in people’s lives. And I think that that counts for more than gamification. I think that because we have technology, we’re using it. And we’re trying to automate things to find a way to apply technology to some of the human problems that we have.
Andy Paul: So in the book, you talk about competitiveness driving value creation in sales. So how does that work?
Anthony Iannarino: If I have to beat you in an opportunity, the customer has to get more value from what I’m selling, than he or she does from what you’re selling. And so basically, the contest that we have is I have to find a way to create greater value and get a greater outcome and then you have to find a way to create greater value and a greater outcome. The reason competition is so healthy for society, from my view, (collaboration is healthy too, I mean, there’s two sides to this) is because we all continually raise our game, we’re all continually getting better. We’re continually putting together new ideas and new solutions and innovating. And that only happens when there’s competition.
Andy Paul: So, you have three facets to competitors, desire, persistence, or what you call heart and action. So break those down for us.
Anthony Iannarino: Some people just have an innate need to win, and they want to win so bad that it allows them to take action where other people won’t take action. That desire, that burning desire to feel like it’s a fight that you’re supposed to be in, and you’re supposed to be trying to win, is important. The second thing with heart, you know it’s tough to hang in there in sales especially when you’re competing and it’s difficult. You’re behind the curve already. And you lose sometimes. And so a competitor, the way I think of selling is more like UFC or MMA than it is boxing. I mean, in selling you’re not going to be 10-0. That’s not going to happen. You’re going to be six and four, or seven and three and you’re going to be killing it.
Andy Paul: You could be four and six and be killing it.
Anthony Iannarino: You could be four and six and killing it, there’s no doubt. But you do lose. And you have to have the heart to just stay in there and continue to compete and compete and compete. The action part of this is the thing about people who are strong competitors, is they do what’s necessary to position themselves to win. You’ve probably seen this, I’ve seen it a lot. A salesperson says they want to win, but then they don’t make the follow up call, or they need to go in and have more meetings to create greater preference and spend time with stakeholders. “That sounds like a lot of work. They’ve already told us that they like us and they’ve asked us to give a presentation, so I think we’re okay.” Somebody who’s competitive will say, “I’m going to pull every lever because I want to make sure that there’s no doubt. I want a knockout, I don’t want this to go to the scorecards, I don’t want the judges to decide who wins this contest. I want it to be unequivocally me who wins.” I think all of those factors are critical for somebody to be a strong competitor.
Andy Paul: So at the end of the chapter, talking about your action plan, so you have three ways to ignite competitive spirit. The first one you have is to play your game. So what do you mean by that?
Anthony Iannarino: What we talked about if you’re a small, nimble player, be that. If you’re a big player with a global footprint and you’re deeply process oriented, be that. So figure out what your business strategy is, know how your competitors compete, and then play the hand that you have. So if that’s your hand, play it, and play it strong. Because ultimately that is how you win. When you try to be something you’re not, it is very difficult to win.
Andy Paul: A saying I always remember is from one CEO I worked with that grew a self funded startup to a multi billion dollar company. It was in the early stages. How do we survive? He said, Well, we’re just a mouse. We don’t dance with elephants. All right. Next one. Study your wins and losses.
Anthony Iannarino: Yeah, I love this section. And I’ll tell you why. Because I love football.
Andy Paul: Wait, you live in Columbus? You love football?
Anthony Iannarino: It’s a religion here. This is like the Vatican for Catholicism. If you play a football game on Sunday, after the game on Saturday, in college football, everybody goes into a room and they watch the films. They ask what worked, what didn’t work? What did we think was going to work? And what did our competition do that prevented that from working? And what happened? There’s a lot of analysis. They go through, play after play, play by play, and ask “what did we do? what worked?”
We don’t do that. In the military, they do. That’s called an after action review. Whenever there’s any kind of a conflict, everybody sits down to get a view from everyone about what changed. We don’t do that enough. We work on “Okay, what’s closing this quarter? So let’s talk about how we win that deal.”
We never talk about “how are we going to lose that deal?” or “What should we have done earlier in the process?” When you go through studying your wins and losses, and not just your losses, but your wins, too, you get some idea about “if I could start over again, what would I do and now how do I apply these things to the future opportunities that I’m working on?” It’s painful to go back over losses, especially when you think you did everything right and you deserve to win. But if you go through and you start asking the questions: Why did this occur? What should I have done different? You can at least start to say, “I’m going to run that play different, or I’m going to look at the different choices I have in future scenarios.”
Andy Paul: Well, I think this is a good exercise to do with someone else, though, too. Get somebody else’s perspective on it as you walk through your wins and losses analysis.
Anthony Iannarino: I think that’s right. If you can even do it in team meetings, it’s even better because you do get different perspectives and different views. You also get different situational knowledge. It’s very helpful to do that, like a team.
Andy Paul: Increasingly, there are some technologies that are now coming on to the scene that enable you to record calls, not just telephone calls. It’s just beginning but that’s another way that becomes actual game film that you can look at and listen to.
Anthony Iannarino: Little painful but worth it.
Andy Paul: It’s like watching yourself on film, right? So the last one then was to leave no weapon unfired.
Anthony Iannarino: The thing about competition in this desire to win is that sometimes we stop short of doing what we’re doing because it can be inconvenient, or it could be difficult, or because we’re following a process and we’re not thinking outside of the box. And then afterwards, we come up with this moment where we say, “you know what I think I could have done?” The time to do that is before you lose. The time to think about what else is available to you is earlier in the process. When you think about weapons being unfired, could you have brought a customer in to tour their facility or brought your prospect to a customer site to see what you’re doing? Could you have brought in somebody from your leadership team to demonstrate your company’s commitment? Could you have changed your proposal? After you got feedback in a presentation, say, “you know what, we want to wipe the slate clean, we found two new ideas when we think this is better.” Whatever it is, pull out all the stops, and do it now. When you lose, it’s too late to do anything about it. It’s really hard when your client awards your competitor the business to say, “Wait, we have another thing to show you!” Because they don’t want to pull that award away from a competitor. If you think widely about all of the choices, what have we done in other cases, and if you just continue to rework your offering and think “I can do more, I can change this!” I think that you can make a difference. I know you can make a difference. You can go back and have a better opportunity because you’re doing everything in your power, and I mean literally everything in your power, whatever that takes to make sure that you win.
Andy Paul: Yeah, two things came to mind when I was reading the book and thinking about that. One is, too often reps feel constrained by the process that exists, their “sales process.” Your book is more geared toward outside reps, field reps. The more complex sales process you have, the more complex products are selling, the longer the sales process, the longer the buying process, you can’t really have defined steps because you don’t know what those defined steps are going to be as the deal continues. So you can’t be afraid to, as you said, really innovate. You know, think outside the box with think really being the operative word. Continuing to ruminate about what are the opportunities that exist for you, to do something different, to demonstrate the value that you’re gonna bring to the prospect.
Anthony Iannarino: Selling is a complex, dynamic, human interaction with unlimited variables, right? We can build a process and we can say there are certain outcomes, but outside of that framework, there’s thousands of possibilities to do something different and thousands and limitless, really scenarios that we might have to deal with. And I think that that’s right. We have many occasions where we’re selling, and we have a process that says the next step is to do X. And when that works, that’s great. But sometimes it’s not a map as much as it is a GPS. And we get to an area where the GPS says, “I’m sorry, Andy, but turn by turn directions are no longer available in this area.” And we spend a lot of time where directions are no longer available in this area, which is why in the book, we have attributes like resourcefulness, you have to figure it out. And it’s your job to figure out what’s next and not to feel constrained. Just to know that you have a piece of the map but not the entire map. And remember a lot of what we have going on, the real map, the real terrain, is inside somebody else’s skull. And we’re trying to figure out what that terrain looks like and how we make a difference there.
Andy Paul: Yeah, and coming back to what you were talking about before and leaving the weapon on fire. When we think about design thinking or innovation thinking is, experimenting! When you’re in a situation, in a sales situation and there is no precedent and no one can tell you exactly what to do, don’t swing for the fences, experiment with something smaller.
Anthony Iannarino: I think I have something like that in the chapter. I think I have something about iterating. Jjust iterate. Keep trying different things. You may not get it right the first time. That’s okay.
Andy Paul: Yeah, but if you don’t try, the big thing with too many reps is, especially when you’re selling more complex products, it’s not a nine to five job. There has to be a part of you, some 10% of your brain, that’s always processing, thinking about those things, because it requires a lot of thought and deliberate thought and horsepower to come up with ideas.
Anthony Iannarino: It’s the hardest work we do, thinking.
Andy Paul: So this last segment of the show, I’ve got some standard questions I ask all my guests. Since you’ve been on the show before, I had to come up with new questions. The first one is, in your mind, is it easier to teach a technical non-salesperson how to sell or teach a salesperson how to really sell the value of a product or service?
Anthony Iannarino: I think that it’s easier to teach a salesperson to sell the value. I think it’s much more difficult for a technical person. And mostly because they are constrained by their technical knowledge which ends up being really really useful and interesting, but only to people who care about technology. Outside of that group of people, in a major sale anyway, no one really cares. They care most about the outcome.
Andy Paul: Okay. If you could change one thing about your business self, what would it be?
Anthony Iannarino: If I could change one thing about my business self, I wish that I was more understanding sooner about how important it is to be directive with the people that work for me and in organizations. What I believed for a long time was that, you give people really good ideas and you help them grow, and they want to grow, and they’re going to read and they’re going to study and they’re going to work really hard to apply these things themselves. That has been nothing but a world of disappointment and pain for me. They want help and they want to be directed and they want you to help give them answers and not only be non directive and making them think of their own answers, but they need help growing and I’ve for most of my life underestimated how much help.
Andy Paul: Great answer. All right, what’s one non-business book that every salesperson should read?
Anthony Iannarino: The Lucifer Principle, a Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History by Howard Bloom.
Andy Paul: Okay, gosh, people are gonna think that I gave you that question ahead of time and I actually didn’t. The Lucifer Principle?
Anthony Iannarino: The Lucifer Principle, and the subtitle is a Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History. And it’s by Howard Bloom, who is a scientist, but who has a very interesting life. He was the the owner of the Bloom Agency, so he was the PR person for Prince, John Cougar Mellencamp, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Michael Jackson, and dozens of other names like that, that you would recognize.
Andy Paul: All right. Last question for you, is: are buying decisions based on logic or emotion?
Anthony Iannarino: Buying decisions are based on emotion, and we rationalize to determine the logic after the fact.
Andy Paul: So how should that change how you sell?
Anthony Iannarino: You need to create a preference for you and for your solution. And you need to understand the driving human needs that are causing somebody to want what they want and why they want it. Then, you focus on making sure that they get those human needs met so that you can create a preference for you. And no matter what you’re offering looks like, you have much greater odds because they want what they want, and you’re the one that’s giving it to them.