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What Stand-up Comedy and Sales Have In Common And How To Use That To Accelerate Your Sales, with Butch Bellah [Episode 84]

In this episode, Butch Bellah, sales trainer, speaker and author of “Sales Management for Dummies,” talked about the unusual career path he followed from being a stand-up comedian to becoming a top sales expert and author. Along the way he learned some unique and insightful lessons about people that he teaches sales reps and sales managers across the country. Listen in as we talk about:

  • What being a stand-up comic taught Butch about selling
  • How to be rehearsed, but not scripted, for more effective sales conversations
  • Why your voice, and how you use it, is your strongest sales tool
  • Why it’s your fault if the prospect gives you their time, and you don’t win their order.
  • And what you can do to eliminate your excuses!
  • The most important lesson you need to learn to become a great sales manager.

Looking for a fresh perspective on sales? Then this episode is a must listen for any CEO, sales leader or sales rep.

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul: Butch, welcome to the show.

Butch Bellah: Andy. Thanks so much for having me. I really do appreciate it.

Andy Paul: So tell us a little bit about yourself.

Butch Bellah: I a 30 plus years experience in sales. I, my first sales job selling grit newspapers at 10 years old. And so I was lucky enough to find that, what I wanted to do and gravitated towards the world of sales.

Andy Paul: So what was a grit newspaper?

Butch Bellah: Oh, you don’t know what grit news written newspaper was? The old newspaper published? I think probably generally in the South, back in the sixties and seventies. And you could order them out of the back of comic books and I can remember that, most of my friends were looking at the decoder rings and the extra glasses and things like that. And that I was going, okay, wait a minute. You mean, I can buy this newspaper for 50 cents a piece, sell it for a dollar. And I get to keep the other 50 cents. And so I learned young age that I loved the idea of being able to write my own paycheck. And-

Andy Paul: And so what was the content in a grit newspaper?

Butch Bellah: It was a, almost a rural type weekly newspaper. That was almost like a farmer’s Almanac, if you will, of a newspaper. And it was, I don’t think they’re still around. it was like a Boy’s Life. If you remember back in that magazine. I-

Andy Paul: Hate to say, and I hate to say it, but I do remember

Butch Bellah: it was a actual weekly newspaper. They would come to my house and I would go stand outside the grocery store and sell them. And that’s how I made my money.

Andy Paul: What was your pitch?

Butch Bellah: “Hey, you need a grit newspaper?”  And everybody did. It’s a buck. Hey, come on. You got a buck on you.

Andy Paul: And people, they recognize what it was then.

Butch Bellah: Oh, sure. All right. It was very well known where I was living in Texas and Louisiana at the time.

Andy Paul: Got it. Got it. Now, at some point in your journey before. But not to jump too far ahead, but you were a standup comedian.

Butch Bellah: I was, I was hired into the wholesale distribution business at 21 years old and I tell everybody I was promoted four times before I could see the bottom rung of the ladder. It was, I was that far down. But during that ascent, in that career, I was out at a comedy club one night and it was one of those things to where the other couple with us and my wife said, you’re as funny as the guys do an open mic night. And so the next Sunday I went up, did five minutes and absolutely killed. And within six months I was traveling the highways and byways every weekend, doing standup at some of the largest clubs and colleges in the nation.

And it was one of those things to where I hit a home run the first time up and just kept going. And I don’t think anybody’s a natural at it, it was one of those things that I think I had been preparing silently my whole life for. I was voted wittiest my senior year of high school. Which to me was like getting, an Emmyy, an Oscar or a Tony, and any other award you can think of rolled into one. I could’ve cared less about most handsome or most athletic, not that I had a shot at either one of them, but, being named wittiest was like, the highlight of my high school career.

Andy Paul: So you’re still working in wholesale distribution, but doing comedy clubs on the weekend?

Butch Bellah: Exactly. And the owner of the company, my mentor to this day, I still talk to him about one time or a couple of weeks. He encouraged it. And we both knew at the time I was getting great public speaking training. you lose all fear of public speaking and the microphones and so forth. And you get very comfortable on stage.

But the thing I really didn’t know, and I talked to salespeople about today, when I speak and train is, and only afterward, I guess that I really realize it, but I was getting some of the best sales training that I had ever gotten. And simply because there were several aspects of being a professional standup comic that turned out to be very useful in building a successful sales career. Obviously prospecting you’re on the phone all the time with comedy clubs, with the old tapes press kits, or you’re going to be home on Saturday night. Because they just don’t come to you. There’s enough other guys out there that will go do a set instead of them having to bring you in. So you’ve got to constantly be selling yourself. But the biggest thing that I learned was sales scripting and voice inflection. And by that, I would do you know that I talked about doing five minutes at open mic, by the time I stopped doing it. And I won’t say I retired because I, as the old Rodney Dangerfield line says, when I retired, I was doing so well that I was the only one that knew I retired, but it was one of those things to where, when I stopped doing it and really was able to look back on it, I had literally handwritten all of these jokes and it made me understand the value of scripting and the value of my voice inflexion. Because the whole trick to stand up comedy is no matter how long you do it, I did it for 10 years, how long do you do it, how many times you deliver that same joke over and over, the Rolling Stone have been singing the same songs for 50 years and they still have to make the crowd get into it and play it with enthusiasm, the same goes for a joke.

And to be able to deliver that joke in a way to where the crowd thinks, man, he is so funny he just thought of that. No, I’ve been doing it 46 nights in a row and I’m doing it in Des Moines tomorrow night. And that was the real, aha moment for me that in sales, when you ask for a sale, you’re doing the same thing.

You don’t want to be so scripted that you sound canned, but you want to be planned. You want to know what you’re going to say, but you’ve got to sell it to the prospect in a way that they’re the only person in the world to ever hear it

Andy Paul: It has to feel fresh, right? That’s the thing to keep it fresh, to keep it fresh. Robotic salespeople drive me nuts. That’s right. We’ve got all this emphasis on scripting these days for salespeople. And I know you’re talking about scripting, but you’re talking about, I believe, without putting words in your mouth, you’re talking about. You have to internalize, it has to become part of you..

Butch Bellah: I call it planned. Not canned. I want to know what I’m going to say. Not necessarily exactly how I’m going to say it. Because, and to give you an example, I would, learn to, search for a word and pause and act like I’ve lost my train of though. Now, I knew exactly what I was going to say right then. But I knew exactly what I was going to say right then, but the use of your voice is so strong. It’s the strongest tool you have, and salespeople, a lot of times when they ask for the sale, they have a tendency to raise their voice up and speed up and hold on to their frame. What I tell them is that it is much more powerful if you’ll drop it down, lower, the pace, drop the cadence and lean in and put some passion in your voice. And that’s what sells.

Andy Paul: I like it. I like it. How do you teach that?

Butch Bellah: It’s practice, and it’s your voice as an instrument and you learn to use it the more you do use it.

Andy Paul: Yeah, no, absolutely. But you have to be conscious of it, right? it’s, as you said, it’s just not repetition and repetition. It gives you a set amount of practice, which you have to be repeating. The right type of behaviors,

Butch Bellah: right? What’s the old saying practice makes perfect. No, perfect practice makes perfect. And, you’re exactly right. You have to know exactly what you’re doing and you have to know some of the nuances. And I tell people if you want to see a great example of it, go watch the movie, A Few Good Men and the scene where Jack Nicholson says you can’t handle the truth. Now, here’s the thing.

And I’ll use the David Letterman, Rush Limbaugh paper that you can hear on, over the interview. When he got that script, it said you can’t handle the truth, but that’s not how he delivered it. So even though you script out your open, your close. Your ask for the sale. Some questions that you want to ask the prospect, whatever you script out, you’ve got to make it believable. And I tell people all the time, the greatest thing about sales and about comedy was I knew what the crowd was going to. Do you think people are going there to have a good time? No, they’re sitting there going okay,  fat boy make me laugh. Yeah. There’s a challenge and prospects have a little bit of that in them to try to sell me something. All right, let me see what you get.

Andy Paul: The guards automatically up.

Butch Bellah: Exactly. And so you have to bring that down and you have get that long to win them over. And it’s a challenge, but you have to seek that out. And your voice is the great equalizer in doing that, to get them over to your side.

Andy Paul: Yeah, I think your reference to A Few Good Men is fantastic because I actually liked the part right before he gets to, you can’t handle the truth where he’s talking about you need people like me and he starts talking about there’s almost like a sing song, quality in his voice that’s so compelling. I tell people to watch that because that is to me as much as you can handle the truth, that is, that draws you in. The voice draws you in. And that’s what you want to be able to do with your prospects.

Butch Bellah: And the thing about it is I always say that if a prospect gives me their time and listens and they don’t buy, it is always my fault. Any salesperson I coach or train or work with or any time I speak, I tell everybody if the prospect gives you their time and they listen. And you don’t end up with a sale. It is your fault. Stop blaming the prospect. And I know everybody that’s listing, what if they can afford it? you didn’t do a good job qualified. If you went through the whole process with somebody that can’t afford it, somebody needs to work on their qualifying skills. And so at any point that you asked for the sale and end up with a no it’s your fault. And if, once you get to the point where you’re comfortable enough in your own skin to recap that and say, okay, what did I do? How could I have done better here? That’s when you start becoming a superstar.

Andy Paul: Yeah. I phrase it a little bit differently, but along the same lines, which does the customer invests their time in you and so they need a return on that investment.

Butch Bellah: Absolutely.

Andy Paul: So if you’re not able to deliver the value that gives them a return, then. A, you’re not paying any more time. And B you’re certainly not going to get

Butch Bellah: the order, everybody. they, I tell you what, it’s all, I’ll tell you what the people are, this, that the government, this, that the economy, they said, no, it’s you. Somebody selling something that you sell today? I promise you.

Andy Paul: Oh yeah.

How often are you all by yourself? Out in the marketplace, right?

Butch Bellah: Exactly.

Andy Paul: Yeah. Very rarely. Especially looking at the business. You and I are in, there’s.

Butch Bellah: There’s hundreds

Andy Paul: of thousands, every unemployed sales manager as a sales expert, right. Sales consultant.

Butch Bellah: Exactly.

Andy Paul: Yeah. So yeah, no, it’s right. Customer invests some of their time. You have to give them an ROI on that time.

Butch Bellah: The thing about it, Andy, is that the prospect knows what they’re going to say. I promise you, so you gotta know what you’re going to say. You should, no sales person should ever be going into a presentation owner on their way to a presentation or about to ask for the sale and in their mind, they’re thinking, man, I sure hope they don’t say this, or I hope they don’t say whatever. If they’re going to say it, you better know how to overcome.

Andy Paul: Yeah, if you haven’t gamed out what you think by, we’ll say. Yeah. Shame

Butch Bellah: it’s just like the lines of a play. They have this line, then you have to respond with thisline. And you’ve got to know their lines as well as they do, because they know them. Everybody talks about a born salesman. I don’t believe in that. I think there’s born buyers and their first words are no, can’t afford, don’t want it, but once you know what they’re going to say, you better be prepared with a way to overcome that.

Andy Paul: No, absolutely. Absolutely. So let’s see, I’m talking a little bit about sales management here for a few minutes before we take a break, and what is your overall in this new book written the sales management for dummies, which is, people get out of your head, it’s not for idiots or tell me is, it’s just, it’s really a beginner’s guide in many respects. So what is your overall sort of overarching sales management philosophy?

Butch Bellah: I’ll tell you that the one thing that I came away from this project with was obviously it was very flattering to be asked to write it. And it’s, it was, 14 weeks of really hard work. But I tell you the thing that struck me to be honest with you, Andy, there’s a lot of books for salespeople. There’s a ton of them. There are very few for sales managers, and I think that for some reason, there is this assumption that when you get to be a sales manager, Oh, he’s got it all figured out or she’s wrong. She’s got it down now. She sales manager, that was when my biggest learning curve took place because I had nobody necessarily I could run to ask that question and-

Andy Paul: You’re still learning sales yourself.

Butch Bellah: Exactly. And you have to understand that, and I break it down this way. As sales manager, you have sales in your title so you’ve got to keep the floor happy or the field happy, or the team happy and understand and be empathetic to their needs, but you’ve also got manager in your title. So you better keep the corner office happier, the shareholders happy and balanced budgets and meet numbers and all this kind of stuff. So you’re really between and between you are on an Island by yourself and in writing this 300, whatever it is, page book, I really tried to create the book that I always wished that I could have turned around and had on my credenza, when I needed it on a Monday morning or a Friday afternoon. And I was sitting there going, what the heck am I supposed to be doing? Everybody goes through it, but the sad part is they always think, I’m the only one. And I can’t tell anybody that I don’t know, or I’m going to look stupid.

Andy Paul: Cause they hired me to be a manager.

Butch Bellah: Exactly. Guess what, if you had known all that stuff going in, you would have already been a manager.

Andy Paul: Exactly. Alright. We’re going to take a short break now, before we do, though, I’m going to pose a hypothetical scenario too. This is a question I ask every one of my guests. And I’ll give you a minute to think about it while we go to the break. You’re right. All right. So here’s the scenario you’ve just been hired as a new sales manager at a company that desperately needs to turn their sales around.

And senior management is really anxious for this to happen. And so the pressure’s kind of on, so what would you do in the first week? What two things would you do in the first week that could have the biggest impact?

Butch Bellah: First thing I would do is meet with the, probably the half dozen largest customers and one-on-one and asked them, what do you need from us that you’re not getting, what do we need to do more of? What do we need to do less of? What do we do that you like, what do we do with it that you don’t like, what are we doing that bugs you? How can we be better service to you?

The second one thing I would do is meet with my top salespeople, if not all of them, depending on the size of the force. And I asked them the exact same questions, because those are the people in the trenches.

They’re where the rubber meets the road. And too many times I have seen organizations that management wants to sit in an ivory tower in a corner office and make the decisions and expect other people to carry them out. And yet they, they have no idea what the customer wants or what the salespeople in the sales team needs.

And. With that being said, and I don’t want to take up too much time on this particular answer, but I see companies all the time, making decisions on what they think their customer wants without even asking the customer what they want. I’ve seen companies design entire programs, thinking, okay, this is what they want.

This is what they need. And they have not even asked the customer if that’s what they need. And we you’ve had ever, probably ever one of your guests talks about the law of reciprocity and. I think it is as simple as that of asking the customers, what do you need from us to be a good supplier and to be a great partner to you or for us to fulfill your needs and then ask your sales team, what is it you need from us as a management team to provide you so that you can be really good at what you do.

Andy Paul: Great answer. Good. Love it. So back to your book A little bit, so you got a chapter, talk about the title, the 10 Traits of a Successful Sales Manager. So what are some of those traits?

Butch Bellah: The 10 traits of a successful sales manager. First of all, I think that any list of 10 things that you’ve put together is as useful as the person doing it. I think there anybody listening could put together a list of ten traits.

The first thing that I start off there with is having the heart of a teacher and I think it is important, for a sales manager. Because too many times, I see people take their best sales person and promote them to a sales manager and think it’s going to work well. That’s not necessarily the case. And the example I use and have used for the last couple of years. If you look at the NFL, the Harbaugh brothers turned out to be great head coaches in the NFL, neither were great players. So your best salespeople don’t make the best managers. And it’s not the same skill set. You need someone that has the heart of a teacher, has the patience to work with someone to really get to the root of what that particular sales person’s, issue is without going-

Andy Paul: Let’s delve in on that one a little bit, okay. Cause that speaks to a topic that I’m really passionate about, which is. Let’s start with a couple of topics. Actually, first one is managing versus coaching, right? So it seems to be this real dilemma among certain maybe younger sales managers these days, where they seem to be so under pressure to make the number that they start bury their head in the CRM system and forecast and the data and so on, but they don’t get out and coach their people to be better. And to me, that’s the number one responsibility of a sales manager is to coach the people that work for them.

Butch Bellah: Absolutely. And again, to use a sports analogy, you cannot- I’ll tell you this in a former life, I was, I got to one of the fun things I got to do after I left the wholesale distribution business. I had a five-year non-compete and one of the fun things I got to do, I was general manager of an arena football team. And the football coach used to tell me, Butch, if we see it on film, we’re either coaching it to happen or we’re allowing it to happen. And wow. I thought what a great sales lesson that is. He’s got film to watch of a football game and his comment was if we see it on film, we’re either coaching it to happen or we’re allowing it to happen now. Turn that around and ask yourself that as a manager, if your people are performing in a way, are you teaching them that, are you allowing them to get away with it? Because one of the two happens and I think you’re exactly right.

You cannot bury your head in the sand and just pray that they get better at it, or cross your fingers and hope that they find a four leaf Clover. You’ve got to get out there amongst them. And, we’ll talk about in the book, don’t ever ask him to do something you haven’t done or wouldn’t do yourself. But along with that heart of a teacher, I think comes another trait. And that’s having the curiosity in the mind of a student. Because I’m very upfront anytime I coach someone train someone or go to speak for an organization, I will tell them first rattle out of the box. Hey, guess what? I’m going to learn more than anybody else here today.

And the reason is I go into those situations prepared to learn. And I think once you have your antenna up for those opportunities to learn and to grab on to something that you don’t know, you can learn something from everybody. And I think that sometimes sales managers get that. Management ideas and think that, I’ve got the job now. My learning days are over well that’s a very closed mindset. That’s going to have you sitting in that same chair for a long time, if you let it.

Andy Paul: Yeah, I was gonna say, you’re not going to last that long. Yeah.

Butch Bellah: And the thing is that you should constantly be learning and growing. And I’ve learned from I’ve learned more from the salespeople I’ve managed than probably that I’ve taught them.

Andy Paul: Oh, I feel the same about the clients I work with. I always learn more from them. I sometimes feel bad if I learn more from them than they learn from me.

Butch Bellah: But here’s the thing you go into it with the curiosity of a student though, and you go in wanting to learn and people have to let that guard down that it’s okay. Okay. Not to know. It’s okay to not, understand everything there is to know about your job description, that it is a living breathing document and you have, years, decades to grow into it. And it will change by the time you do, but try to make progress every single day.

Andy Paul: I think that’s absolutely. What am I gonna learn today? That’s gonna make me better at my job.

Butch Bellah: Absolutely.

Andy Paul: And it seems like we have this issue in sales is that, certainly sales reps and to a certain degree sales managers is they think that unless the training or the education is bestowed on them by their employer, but they don’t seem to invest a lot of their own selves and their own time into perfecting the craft and learning more about their job. How do you address that?

Butch Bellah: First of all, I think that it is up to everyone to take control of their own knowledge. Jim Roam was famous for saying that, successful people have big libraries and little TVs, unsuccessful people have big TVs and little libraries. There is, there’s no excuse today in 2015 to not know anything you want to know. No excuse.

Andy Paul: It’s the curiosity, that’s this, you though?

Butch Bellah: Thirty years ago, 40 years ago. Even 20 years ago. Yeah. Okay. Maybe but with the advent of the internet and with podcasts like this and the audio books and everything that is available to you, what Zig Ziglar used to call automobile university. If you are not learning something constantly, I promise you’re going backwards.

And I don’t want to get off on a tangent, but you’ve struck a nerve because this is very important to me because I want people to at least leave this conversation with a desire to learn. And when I speak, I just spoke recently to about 300 real estate agents. And I’ll do this. When I ask how many people have a smartphone and about 299 hands go up. And then I said, okay, how many people have a Blackberry? And literally everybody in the room looks and countless starts chuckling and laughing. And one guy, one guy out of probably 300 people had a Blackberry. And so I said, okay, all right, that’s fine. Now, how many of you used to have a Blackberry? And every hand goes back up. The day Steve Jobs stood in front of the world and said, let me introduce you to the iPhone, Blackberry had a 59% market share today. It’s less than 2%. Because they were fat and happy and thought they didn’t need to learn anything. They had this crackberry that people were addicted to, and it was the greatest thing and they didn’t have to innovate and they didn’t have to learn. They didn’t have to push the envelope. They didn’t have to move forward. And the ground crumbled out from under them.  And I’ve got news for your listeners, whether you feel it cracking or not, it’s happening in your business today. So you better be moving forward or you’re moving backwards.

Andy Paul: Exactly. Exactly. Which is really one of the topics of this whole show is that there’s no such thing as standing still, as soon as you try to protect what you have, you’re in trouble.

Butch Bellah: Absolutely.

Andy Paul: So it’s either grow or perish. You have two choices. Excellent. Okay. We’re gonna move into the last segment of the show. I’ve got some rapid fire questions to ask you, right? You can give me one word answers or you can elaborate if you wish you’re ready.

Butch Bellah: I’m sure. Sure. I’m ready.

Andy Paul: First one. What’s the most powerful sales tool in your arsenal?

Butch Bellah: My voice

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

Butch Bellah: I’m gonna say Workboard it’s my work chat, my system that I use to schedule tasks.

Andy Paul: Is that an app.

Butch Bellah: It is. it’s a Gmail plugin or add on to Chrome. it’s called Workboard that I really

Andy Paul: I’ll have to check that out. I hadn’t heard that. Workboard okay. Who’s your sales role?

Butch Bellah: Oh, wow. Zig Ziglar, was blessed to see him speak, three times before he passed away. I know the family and I’ve gotten to speak at the Ziglar corporation a couple of times. And Tom actually wrote the co wrote a real nice testimonial on the cover on my first book. And I probably own everything Zig ever wrote. And just, I don’t know that Tom, the family and certainly, I don’t think Zig knew the impact that he had on billions of lives.

Andy Paul: Oh yeah. I saw him speak and have a couple of his books at home. Absolutely. So what’s the one book. Every sales person should read?

Butch Bellah: It’s called How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling my Front Bedroom

Andy Paul: yeah. One person I think has brought it up so far. Yeah. Okay. Classic book.

Butch Bellah: Oh, it’s great. Let me warn your listeners. It is written and I don’t know that it’s ever been well. Now let me say this. The copies I have never been updated and revised. It’s written in the vernacular and the voice of the forties or fifties whenever it was written, but it is an extremely powerful motivating book and I would highly recommend it.

Andy Paul: Okay. What’s your favorite music to listen to pump yourself up, to get psyched up for a sales call.

Butch Bellah: Eighties rock. I’m a child of the eighties I would walk from here to your office in New York to here to hear Journey.

Andy Paul: So what’s the first sales activity you do every day?

Butch Bellah: Check email.

Andy Paul: Last question. The one question you get asked most frequently by salespeople is?

Butch Bellah: How do I ace a sales job  interview.

Andy Paul: Interesting. Okay. What’s your answer?

Butch Bellah: Go in, number one, be honest. Don’t overstate your qualifications, but let the interviewer know that you have what I call game. Goals, attitude, motivation, and education. That you may not have the product knowledge that they’re looking for. There may be someone better suited in that particular industry for product knowledge, but you have the intangibles that they cannot train or teach someone. That is that your goal oriented. You have a great attitude. You’re motivated than that. You’ll continually educate yourself.

Andy Paul: I like it. Alright, people listening to the show. Do you have game? As defined by Butch. I love it. Great answer. All right. I want to thank you for joining me today. My guest has been Butch Bella.

Butch Bellah: Andy, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute, what is your,

Andy Paul: so how can people find out more about you?

Butch Bellah: My website, Butchbella.com . If your listeners will go to Butchbella.com/accelerate they can download a free copy of my first book, the 10 essential habits of sales superstars as my gift to them. I am starting a sales mastermind group in January. We’re taking applications. Now they can find that at the website, if it’s something they would love to be a part of, and it’s going to be just a lot of fun and as we said, you learn something from everybody and I’m really looking forward to facilitating that.