Sealing the Sale - Shari Levitin [Interview]

About Shari Levitin

Shari Levitin is a global sales leader and the CEO of the Levitin group. As a bestselling author, business growth expert, sales trainer, and keynote speaker, her top goal has always been to see personal transformation through learning and development. We are extremely happy and honored to have her on our interview series today.

Sealing the Sales - Shari Levitin [Interview]

Sumitha Mariyam

We have the pleasure of welcoming Shari Levitin today to our interview series. I’m Sumitha Mariyam from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick intro of PeopleHum –  peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.

Sumitha

Welcome Shari, we’re thrilled to have you.

Shari

Welcome, Sumita. And before the call, I was sharing with you how much I love India and would love to come back. I wish we could do it in person. 

Sumitha

Yes, it is. We wish that too. And moving to the interview, Shari.

You know, the first question I had for you was a little bit about yourself. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey that brought you to be a sales coach today? 

Shari

It’s a, you know, interesting question. I think many people like me had no idea they were gonna be in the sales profession when they grew up and I was no different. I grew up way back in the 1960s and in my family, you pretty much had limited options. You would be as a woman. I was to be a doctor, a lawyer, or I was to marry one. So that was sort of my path. You know, I was from a family that really wanted me to be successful. And I didn’t know that sales was an option or a profession, Really?

So after four years of university, I just decided to take a part-time job, and I ended up in sales. I absolutely loved it. But the truth is, Sumita, I wasn’t great at it. at first, you know, a lot of people say, Oh, she’s a born salesperson or he’s a born salesperson and I don’t believe in that. I think we can have some of the skills, perhaps, but they need to be developed. And early on I met a man who would become my mentor, and he changed my life.

He believed in me, he showed me that really being in sales was about becoming a better person and about helping people, not pushing products and services. And as a result, I had a very successful career because of him and then a little bit later, after I had been vice president of sales, vice president of sales and marketing. One day we were all sitting around. I don’t know if they have this in your country, but we have a lottery.

Do you have that in your country? A lottery? So we had a lottery and I was in Colorado and it was worth $38 million. I have no idea how much that is in rupees, but many, many zeros. Yeah, and we’re all talking about what we’d do if we won that lottery, and I remember one of the women named Lisa said that is she’d by a fancy apartment in New York City and go to Paris and get gorgeous clothes.

And one of the gentleman’s Mark Smith said, Oh, not me. I would have started an outdoor company. I’d go to Nepal and I do outdoor adventures, and then everyone looked over at me and they said, What would you do? I said if I won the lottery, I’d start a training company. I’d bring in guest speakers. I’d help people transform and become better people, and I’m going on and on it.

They all looked at me and said, You know, that’s a little nuts but in the end, a gentleman named Peter put his arm around me and he said, You know, you don’t have to win the lottery to do that. You could do that Right now you’re and I think it was such a pivotal point because it’s what I wanted. And it wasn’t that I wanted to make money or I wanted this certain goal. It was just in my heart and soul what I wanted to do. More than anything in the world. So I was very lucky that I found my passion early in my career. 

Sumitha

That’s wonderful. I love that little story that you said, and it’s a wonderful experience, you know, to have the realization, and then just give yourself that. To start off your career with that. That’s wonderful.

So, moving, what advice would you give sales professionals of today, especially given this crisis, who have to keep selling non-essential services?

Shari

Well, I’m going to say three things. First of all, we have to change our mindset. If what you’re selling is non-essentials to the customer. You may not have a product or service that is saving lives right now or producing hand sanitizer, and so the government may call your product or service non-essential.

But if you’re truly in sales to help people, whether your business to consumer, whether your business to business, your product is essential and I would say in fact your product is going to stimulate the economy that needs to be stimulated right now. As sales professionals, we have a very important part.

If you look back since the very beginning of our civilization. It was the peddlers. It was the sellers that exchanged goods and services that made our economy. So we’ve got to change our mindset. And with that mindset shift, I’m going to give you something to think about. We need to shift from a mindset of fear to a mindset of focus.

“We need to shift from a mindset of fear to a mindset of focus.”

You know, it’s very easy to get caught up in the fear of the pandemic and the economy, and there’s a lot of change. But I will tell you, the most successful people I’ve ever met have this one thing in common, and I have a name for it. It’s called constructive delusion, and what I mean by that is we focused on what’s right, not what’s missing.

So we need to focus on what are our opportunities? How can we reinvent ourselves? When are we gonna have this much time to think? How should I be doing things differently? Should I be approaching people differently? Should I be having a different way of doing my business, a different product?

And then looking for the little acts of kindness is in your communities, doing acts of kindness and turn off that news that is negative 24/7 and focus on your heart and the good. So that would I would say, Number one is really a shift in mindset. I would say Number two, we really need to connect based on empathy.

A lot of salespeople right now are thinking, Oh my goodness, I need to make money. What do I need to do? How can I make money? Wrong question. The better question is, how can I give value? Because if we start with empathy, if we start with the customer in mind, they’ll feel that energy and everything will shift.

“Because if we start with empathy, if we start with the customer in mind, they’ll feel that energy and everything will shift.”

Harvard Business Review came out with a great article a while back and they said that the two most important traits for leaders and salespeople are empathy, knowing your customer and competency, knowing your product and service and together empathy and competency create 90% of all influence.

But here’s the thing, the order matters, and too many salespeople when we’re feeling fearful or were feeling desperate, we’ll start with competency and you’ve had it happened. Sumitha. You get a connection on LinkedIn and before you’ve even had a chance to breathe. They say, ‘Let me tell you about my state of the art technology that’s gonna revolutionize…’ and you’re like I don’t even know who you are. And now you’re pitching to me right or, you know, you meet somebody for 30 seconds and they’re showing you a demo.

So particularly today, change your mindset and then lead with empathy. You really got to see how they are, where they’re coming from, how they’re doing, having honest intent. And then the third thing is we have to make a business case today. So we start with empathy. Then we have to have the competency to understand their market, understand their product, ask the right questions.

People are tightening their budgets right now, right? So people don’t want to spend money unless it’s going to increase productivity, cut costs. So sellers have to be more strategic. We have to ask questions and show how this is going to either make their life better, cheaper, more productive, more hassle-free through this pandemic. So those are the three things. 

Sumitha

That’s wonderful and I think you need to add a lot of heart to whatever you do, and especially at this time and you can get it successful.

So, what has some of the techniques that a sales professional can adopt to build a robust leads pipeline? 

Shari

Well, I am a huge fan of social selling, and I know that it’s a mix, So we need both.  I’m going to tell you a little old joke that goes way back to my childhood, so you’ve probably never heard it. But there’s a joke about a man who’s had too much to drink and he is drunk, and he’s on a street corner looking for his keys under a light, and the police officer comes by and says, Can I help you?

And the drunk says, Well, I’ve lost my keys. So the police officer gets down on his hands and knees and he’s looking for, like, 5-10 minutes, and he says to the drunk, are you sure you’re lost your keys here? And the drunk says No, I lost them across the street. Well, the police officer is very frustrated, he says.

Well, then what are we looking here for? And the drunk says, while the lights better over here. So I tell you this story because too many sellers today are there in the dark, right there looking for leads where they no longer are. The world has changed statistics in our country. I don’t know what they are in your country, but only 3% of the people are returning cold calls. Does that mean you shouldn’t pick up the phone?

Absolutely not. But we need a multi-channeled approach. We need to look at many, many places because our customers are in many places, our customers are using LinkedIn. Depending on what you’re selling, they may be using Instagram. They may be more people are on the phone right now, So you also want to pick up the phone and call people.

But you need to have the correct techniques. I will tell you if you’re business to business if you can establish a presence on LinkedIn, learn the rules of LinkedIn, learn how to engage correctly on LinkedIn. As a company, I think I met you on LinkedIn. But we get 80% of all our leads on LinkedIn, not by asking for business, but by connecting first, putting out relevant content, and then the leads come to us.

Sumitha

Well, that’s great and you know a little about your experience, but what is the most difficult sales proposition that you have handled? And how did you close it? 

Shari

Oh, the most difficult deal, do you mean the most difficult product I’ve sold or the most difficult customer to get a hold of or whatever I choose? 

Sumitha

I think the customer would be the best better experience for us. 

Shari

Well, this actually is pretty relevant today now that I think of it. But I remember back then, about  10-12 years ago, and I had started my company as a live training company and we had trainers all over the world. And that’s as I mentioned what brought me to India for a whole month, working with, hotel companies like Mahindra and some other businesses, and we pivoted from a live training company to, also offering virtual training.

And we did a lot of research and decided who our best target market customers were, and I remember one particular customer and the CEO’s name was Simon and I knew him. I had met him at conferences, But I knew he and maybe 25 other target customers would be ideal. Entrepreneurs need to define their target market who is the best suited for your product or service.

But I couldn’t get ahold of Simon because every time I called for Simon, it was voicemail. I made friends with the assistant every time I asked her where Simon was, she said, Oh, he’s in a meeting. He’s in a meeting, he’s in a meeting. So I’m thinking this guy’s always in meetings The poor guy, he probably never eats lunch or goes for a walk in the park or anything.

So one day I called the assistant. I asked for Simon, and again she says he’s in a meeting. It was 11:30 in the morning, and I said to her, What’s the best pizza place in your town? She says. Paulie’s, why? I said, I’m going to send four pizzas into his meeting right now, four large pizzas and this is back in the days of fax machines and I said, and I’m going to fax you a poem, and I want you to put it on that pizza box if you will, and deliver it to Simon.

And if you’ll do that, I’ll buy a pizza for you, too. So she laughed, and the poem said this ‘Is it sunny, or is it raining? It’s always a good time for online training. I know you’re busy playing businessman and banker, but isn’t it time we set down our anchor? So when you’re done with that last pepperoni, pick up the phone and let’s make some money.’.

So about an hour and 1\/2 later, I get a phone call from Simon and he is laughing so hard, and he’s just out of pizza and he says, All right, let’s talk and I tell you that story because it took so long to get to him and it became the biggest deal of my career at that point and led to years of doing business. And I think too many sellers today, they hear no, and they stop and they retreat, and I hear him all the time. Oh, I left a voice mail. I sent an email, and that’s it.

1)  When research shows us. First of all, it takes 10 tries to get ahold of a new prospect.
2) I think today more than ever to rise above all the noise we have, we have to take risks.

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We have to be creative. We don’t have to have a better product or service. But we do have to be different. We have to stand out. And so I would just encourage you. How can you be authentic? Are you going to use a video? And video Is very effective today. I heard of a guy and this is a long time ago, but he was desperately trying to get an interview and I’m not kidding you.

He sent a mannequin of a hand to the customer in an overnight box and said, I give my right arm for an interview, right? This is crazy, But people that stand out that have the confidence to be vulnerable. And today you’ve got your CEOs and your presidents and they got a background just like me.

Our newscasters are at home with the kids and the animals and everything else, and it’s easier to get a hold of people. But you’ve got to be clever. You’ve got to make it about them. And if one thing doesn’t work, try a second, a third, and a fourth.

“And if one thing doesn’t work, try a second, a third, and a fourth.”

But have persistence, be tenacious. That’s what it takes to be good at sales. 

Sumitha

Amazing. Amazing! I love how you still remember that poem and you still remember it right? You didn’t force anything. It just flowed. It’s amazing. And, you know, with the advent of digital marketing and sales, what do you use for success here? And do we need traditional sales with the advent of e-commerce and SaaS sales? 

Shari

I guess there are two things to think about when we’re selling a SaaS product. the first thing is keeping existing customers happy with their product because you’re going to get more new business out of an existing customer and more referrals than you are a new lead. So I would want to separate that out first. And there was an interesting study done by Gartner, the research giant here in Washington, D.C.

And they found something very counterintuitive. Just because your customer is using your SssS product and are engaged doesn’t mean they’re gonna buy more products and services from you Now, you think well, wait a minute. They’re happy, they’re using it. Why wouldn’t they buy more? All they’re saying is if they’re unhappy, they’re not gonna buy more.

But just because they’re happy doesn’t mean they’re gonna buy more. And in fact, some sellers over service existing accounts and you actually have diminishing returns. So what will happen is you can give somebody too much service. Again, this is counterintuitive because it’s easier than hunting for new business, right? Also, then what happens is we can increase their expectations to the point where they say ‘you did that for me last month. You gave me that free last month’.

And again, I’m not saying don’t give value and don’t exceed expectations. Don’t get me wrong. But the first thing I want to say is with your existing customers, bear in mind that if you want a renewal or you want to sell them more, you are starting a new sales process and you have to build a new case for that product.

There are probably new decision-makers involved, so that’s the first piece, but you always want to make sure that you’re managing your customers and servicing your customers, giving them a wow guest experience. But not doing that to the exclusion of hunting for new business. When it comes to any software as a service product, I don’t know that there’s a huge difference. And, you know, we have many customers in SaaS.

We have many customers in manufacturing and all different types of verticals. I think it goes back to helping them to make a decision. Because a SaaS product, a technology product, can be very difficult to understand very often, they’re complex by nature, it’s more complex. And if I’m selling you bottled water, hamburgers, or even a car, for that matter, right, it’s a complex product.

Again, going back to some Gartner research, Gartner tells us that the biggest shift today outside of the pandemic, where people are fearful, is that we’re barraged with information, right? In fact, I just read that we take in the equivalent of 175 newspapers worth of information a day. We’re overloaded with content and information. So are our customers.

So the average customer spends 67% of their time online learning about a SaaS product before they ever contact a sellar. So they’ve got a lot of information. The problem is, a lot of the information is confusing and even conflicted, so people would rather make no decision than making the wrong decision. So what happens in a B2B product, with a SaaS product is, Gartner, says. There are three types of sellers, and only one is effective today.

In this environment of information overloads, the first type of seller is what we call the giver of information, and the giver just gives them more white paper and says, Yeah, let me give you some information. Here’s a white paper. Here are some stats. Here’s a brochure. They are already overloaded with information and that doesn’t help much. The second type of sellers. Even worse, the second type of seller is the teller of information and the Teller gives information based on their recommendation and their experience, and they would say, Well, if I were you, I’d buy our SaaS product. It’s better than the competition.

Here’s why, and that doesn’t work so well either, because we’re also in an environment of very low trust. But the third type of seller wins the day, and this might be the most important thing I can say on this interview. So the third type of seller doesn’t give information, doesn’t tell the customer what they should do. The third type of seller makes sense of all the information that the customer already has and teaches them how to buy a product like there’s theirs. They’re a true, trusted advisor.

So it would sound like this, Sumitha, when purchasing a CRM or when purchasing this enablement platform, what I would recommend whether you by ours or not, you want to think about three things. These are the three things that most of our customers consider when making such a decision because they don’t even know how to make a decision. They don’t know how to get consensus with all of the other stakeholders. So by really helping them and having the true intent that whether you buy my product or not, I’m gonna help you along this journey and share with you how to make a decision or not, Or should you get it in-house, should you get it out?

But I’m going to care so much about you and your journey that I’m gonna show you how to buy a product like ours. And then there’s a lot of techniques that go along with that. The types of questions to ask and because what’s interesting is today, people are less concerned with trusting the actual seller with their decision as they are trusting themselves to make the right decision. People would rather make no decision that makes the wrong decision. So particularly with the SaaS product, when they get complicated, we need to, walk them through it, step by step. 

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Sumitha

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense and Shari, just to kind of wrap up the interview process. If you have any last important soundbites that you would like to leave our audience with?

Shari

I think the most important lesson I ever learned is this. We can’t take the glory for being great if we won’t take the responsibility when we’re not.

We can’t take the glory for being great if we won’t take the responsibility when we’re not.”

Sales is full of rejection, and the best sellers and leaders that I’ve ever met never blame external factors for their lack of success. You can lose the deal. Don’t lose the lesson. 

Sumitha

Well, wonderful. And thank you so much for your time today. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, Shari. And I really, really appreciate your time and you sharing your views with us and especially the last answer was wonderful. And I’m sure it’s going to help a lot of our audience, the three types of sellers and what you should be. So that’s wonderful. Thank you so much for that. And it’s been a totally enriching and learning experience for me personally too, So I keep in touch with you and have a healthy and safe time ahead of you, have a great day. 

Shari

Thank you. Maybe I’ll meet you in Mumbai one day. 

Sumitha

Yes, We really, really hope so.