Dave Kurlan Interview – Episode #113

by Richard Wilson on August 8, 2011

The following audio interview  is borrowed from our BusinessTraining.com platform and was originally recorded for our sales training program.   This interview is with sales expert Dave Kurlan.  Dave is the CEO of Objective Management Group Inc. and he is a top rated speaker and best selling author of the book, Baseline Selling. Dave runs a sales development firm and he helps companies in all aspects of growing their revenue. Dave helps people improve their sales systems and infrastructure so they can boost their sales results every year.    (Download this file in Mp3 format)

Interview Transcript: 

Ashley Wirthlin:  Hello everyone and welcome to this buisnesstraining.com expert audio interview. Today we’re joined by founder and CEO of Objective Management Group Inc. Dave Kurlan; top rated speaker, bestselling author of Base Line Selling and the leading expert and pioneer on sales force development. Thanks so much for being here today Dave.

Dave Kurlan: You’re welcome Ashley, and thanks for having me.

Ashley Wirthlin: Sure, so you’re also the CEO of Kurlan and Associates right? So do you want to maybe briefly describe what you do there?

Dave Kurlan: Well Kurlan and Associates is a sales development firm so we help companies in all aspects of growing their revenue and that would be from evaluating sales organization to see if they have the right people in the right roles.  And whether those people can execute the changing strategies and where those people need help, and where the company needs to make changes, to helping them with sales force architecture.

Ashley Wirthlin: Okay

Dave Kurlan: That, that’s better. Infrastructure an even better word which would have to do with sales process, sales modeling, sales systems, sales strategies, metrics, tools. And then we help with development, which would be sales management, and development and coaching, sales development and coaching.  And we help them on the recruiting side by helping them get the right people for their particular roles; people that’ll perform so we put sales recruiting processes in place and give them the tools they need to help with sales selection.

Ashley Wirthlin: So how does sales development differ from business development in general?

Dave Kurlan: Well, our use of sales development is in the context of building and developing a sales team, where people who talk about business development are generally talking about finding new customers.

Ashley Wirthlin: Right, right. Okay so you’re on the other side of that.

Dave Kurlan: Right.

Ashley Wirthlin: Okay. So how did you get to where you are today?

Dave Kurlan: Where am I today? I’m in the same place that I’ve been for about 30 years.

Ashley Wirthlin: Yeah.

Dave Kurlan: So how did I get to the place I got to 30 years ago, is probably the better question.

Ashley Wirthlin: Okay.

Dave Kurlan: And I have to take you back to 1974.

Ashley Wirthlin: Okay.

Dave Kurlan: In 1974 I was 19-years-old and a newly minted sales manager in a direct sales company. A company that sold direct to consumers door-to-door and I was the most senior person in the sales organization and I’d only been there six months. And it was a high turnover business; almost a hundred percent turnover.

Ashley Wirthlin: Oh wow.

Dave Kurlan:  So I hadn’t yet figured out what I was doing right as a sales person. And now I was in the sales management role and I had no clue what I was doing in a sales management role but a few things happened one the turnover stopped—

Ashley Wirthlin: [Coughing]

Dave Kurlan:  —people were sticking around, and two people who were working for me were responding to me, and three I loved it. So, at 19-years-old back in 1974 I set a personal goal that by the time I was age 30, I would be in the business that I’m in now. So it was a purposeful, conscious goal to get here. Now I don’t think I envisioned the success that I had back then, just that I would be in the business. And I don’t think that I imagined I’d be pioneering the industry, and be a thought leader, and, you know, be a sales coach to hundreds of other sales experts. Didn’t, didn’t envision any books, didn’t envision the assessment company Objective Management Group at all never mind it being the leading assessment company on the planet in the sales force base. But the goal was to get into this business and that’s what I did.

Ashley Wirthlin: Okay, so did you have any mentors or I mean was there a time when you weren’t very good at selling that, that maybe you had some mistakes made?

Dave Kurlan: I did have times where I wasn’t good at selling. And I did have mentors. And probably the one that influenced me the most was a guy that I worked for back in 1974 and 1975 who’s passed away decades ago but his name was Bob Gigear [ph]. I really learned to sell from him and when I slumped and when things weren’t clicking. It took about two hours with him to get my head on straight, to show me some additional tactics for getting better results. And then I was off to the races again. And, and later on there were several people that I considered mentors, but I think the one that was most influential was the author Dan Millman who wrote The way of the Peaceful Warrior. And he’s written about a dozen other books since then and there’s a movie that came out on the Peaceful Warrior book. But he’s, he’s given me some very brief but great advice, and he doesn’t come from the sales space but his advice has always been applicable to the sales space. And I’ve, I’ve quoted him and used exercises he contributed to my book so appreciative for the help he’s given me along the way.

Ashley Wirthlin: So Baseline Selling is the title of your book right?

Dave Kurlan: That’s, that’s the best seller. There was another book before that, I’ve been a contributing author to four or five other books, but Baseline Selling is the one I’m referencing when I say the book.

Ashley Wirthlin: Okay. So what does that book cover? What is baseline selling?

Dave Kurlan: Baseline Selling was my attempt to simplify what had gotten out of control when it came to sales. There are a lot of sale methodologies, and by methodology that’s a sales expert saying you should do it this way, you should sell this way. And there are some sales processes and by processes, that’s these are the steps you need to take while you’re doing it this way. So, Baseline Selling was an attempt to simplify all of the methodologies and all the different processes into something that people could actually execute. The, the processes had gotten out of hand.  There were anywhere between six to twelve step processes, and they weren’t intuitive and they weren’t memorable.  And they were anything but easy and the methodologies had gotten very technique oriented and had moved away from just be conversations between two people. So Baseline Selling simplified the sales process down to four steps using the baseball diamond as a metaphor and simplified the methodology down to a few basics. So this book demonstrates through example, through stories, through role play exactly how to cover the entire sales process.  Whether you’re selling business-to-business or business to consumer.  Whether you’re selling directly to somebody or through somebody.  Whether you’ve got a high ticker sale or a widget.  Whether it’s a consultative sale or a transactional sale the book demonstrates exactly what you should do, when you should do it and how you should do it, in a simple easy memorable way.

Ashley Wirthlin: Are there other differences in the way that you do sales that maybe differentiate you from other sales books?

Dave Kurlan: Yeah. I think that, I think there are a lot of things that are different for one Baseline Selling includes a lot of material on things that get in the way, the personal things that get in the way. Some of them are emotional and some of them are psychological and some of them are intellectual but they’re real and these, these are the demons that sales people have to battle every single minute of every single day.  So they’re addressed in this book along with some direction on how to overcome those demons, because if, if those things continue to get in the way then it doesn’t matter really whether you’ve got a good process or a good methodology. The demons will win out. The other thing that differentiates Baseline Selling is how memorable and intuitive it is. Every kid on the planet learned when they played kickball for the first time, you know, that you run to first, and you run to second, you run to third, and you run home. So it’s not much of a strain on the brain to remember what you’re supposed to do and when you’re supposed to do it. And from a, from a memorable and intuitive and easy stand point we make it easy be eliminating most of the tactics and techniques that other books have, have littered themselves with. I’ll give you one example, one, one of the most powerful books on selling is a book called Spin Selling. And that, that came out a couple of decades ago. Very powerful, very affective but two limitations; one that entire book is, is about a questioning process called spin, and that entire spin process takes place between first and second base, if we use baseline selling. So one of the limitations of spin is that it’s not a process it’s just a methodology. And the big limitation of spin is that most sales people can’t do it. It’s too difficult and baseline selling makes everything easy. It, it makes it easy enough so that anybody who is selling can apply it to their business, and execute it, and get results with it.

Ashley Wirthlin: Are there necessary characteristics or, or maybe strengths or abilities that a sales person needs to have in order to be successful?

Dave Kurlan: Absolutely, but they’re not the ones that most people think about. Most people think it’s all about personality, it’s all about being outgoing and it’s all about product knowledge but the reality is – and, and maybe this is one way where Baseline Selling is different and where I’m different, where my companies are.  Different everything we do is based on science. There’s no guessing.  There’s no throwing stuff out there and see if it works.  It’s all based on science so Objective Management Group, my other company has assessed over 500,000 sales people. So we have the data that tells us what’s going on.  What, what characteristics sales people have, what gets in the way, and what doesn’t.  And we can see, literally in black and white, in, in data the difference between the great sales people and the lousy sales people. So it’s not about personality.  It’s not about traits but there are selling specific things that make a difference. So if we were to compare the top six percent, the elite sales people, with the bottom seventy-four percent, the less effective sales people we would see distinct differences.  And I don’t, I don’t think we have time in the interview to go through all of those differences. But many of them are in the book.  And I can name a few from a, from the strength/ weakness perspective.  Strength, support, the ability to execute the process, support the ability to execute the methodology, support the ability to do the more difficult things in selling. So from the strength weakness standpoint, the weakest sales people tend to have need for approval, they need people to like them. And ironically it’s probably the reason that they got into sales. Because they were such people pleasers, because they were such people people, people say “Oh, you ought to be in sales.” But, but once they’re in sales when they, when they start to learn that selling is all about listening, and asking really good, really tough, really timely questions. So, all of the top things that you’re supposed to do to sell effectively folks with need for approval, just can’t handle it. So that’s one of the differences. Another difference is a weakness I call “the non-supportive buy cycle” and that’s really if we look at how a sales person goes about the process of making a major purchase for themselves. Whether or not they think it over, whether or not they price shop, whether or not they comparison shop, how much they think is a lot of money. Those factors all play into what kind of stalls and put offs and excuses sales people will take from they’re prospects. So there’s, there’s a hundred percent correlation between how sales people buy and the stalls, excuses, and put-offs they’ll take from they’re prospects. So if a sales person thinks it over when they’re making a decision they’ll let prospects think it over. It makes sense. If a sales person looks for the lowest price then they’ll understand it when a prospect wants the best price. If a sales person comparison shops and needs to talk to three different companies or vendors they’ll understand it when a prospect wants to do that. So the best sales people have a supportive buy cycle. They don’t shop around, they don’t look for the lowest price, they don’t think it over. They just know what they want and they go buy it someplace, preferably the place they want to do business. And the bottom seventy-four percent most of them have this non-supportive buy cycle. So they, they empathize with a prospects need to shop, demand a lowest price, and think it over. So those, those  are two examples on the strength/ weakness side that differentiate the best sales people from the weaker sales people. On the skills side the best sales people have a process they follow, have a methodology they use, and they excel and listening and asking questions. And the weaker sales people have none of the above.  All they do is present, quote, and then chase the prospects for a decision.

Ashley Wirthlin: So is that where other books maybe come into play and, and perhaps cripple people who are trying to become better sales people?

Dave Kurlan: Exactly. Exactly.

Ashley Wirthlin: I’m curious, you said that it’s not a lot about personality but does personality come into play as an underlying factor when it comes to having a supportive buy cycle or, you know, methodology there? Does that come into play overall?

Dave Kurlan: Well it does come into play. People buy from people they like. So, sales people must build a relationship with the people that they’re selling to. In the old days that’s all that was required. If you could build a relationship people did business with you but there’s a lot more pressure on people now to make good decisions.  So yes they’ll buy from people they like but they’re not going to buy only because they like them. There also has to be tremendous value gained from making the purchase.  So being liked by the prospector is one piece.  Certainly if you have a personality that makes it easier for somebody to like you that’ll put you in a better position to be liked, and to have somebody do business with you. It’s, but it’s only one of many things as opposed to the most important thing.

Ashley Wirthlin: Are there tips that you have or, or strategies for someone to become a better sales person?

Responder: Yes, there’s a book called Mastery by George Leonard. And, and that book is about twenty or thirty years old too. But it’s a book about how to master anything. And for a sales person to rise from the bottom seventy-four percent to the top six percent, to go from being mediocre to elite, the first thing that has to happen is they must make a commitment to master the – both the art and the science of selling. You can’t, you can’t get good by bumbling your way through, and by doing it by trial and error. It, it’s like any other profession and there’s a right way and a wrong way. And there are way too many people in sales that just kind of wing it.  And they think if they know their product and make good presentation that people will buy from them and some people will, but most people won’t. The second thing is they have to practice, so with a commitment toward mastery practice becomes a requirement so 30 minutes of role playing every single day is probably the activity that leads to mastery the quickest. And third they, they need to learn process and methodology, along with strategies and tactics.  And they can get that to a certain degree from books, to a certain degree from listening to pod casts and webinars, but there is nothing – there is no substitute for being coached and trained. So they should get themselves into a training program or get themselves a sales coach, and let the learning begin.

Ashley Wirthlin:  During that learning do you think that there’s one skill that a professional sales person needs to really work on?

Responder: Listening.

Ashley Wirthlin:  Okay.

Dave Kurlan:  Most sales people are horrible at listening.  They’re so focused on the next thing they want to say that they don’t hear what they’re prospect says to them, and the next question comes from what their prospect just says. And if they’re missing the response then they don’t have the appropriate follow-up question. So, so some advice along those lines to, to those sales people that are listening to this, or want to be sales people who are listening to this, it’s not about you. It’s about your prospect, and as soon you can get you out of the equation then your listening will get better. Because it’s not about what you want to say and what you want to tell them, and what you want to accomplish.  It’s about what your prospect has to say and what they need and what’s going motivate them to buy. So, stop worrying about yourself and start paying attention to your prospect and good things will happen.

Ashley Wirthlin: I think that’s a hard thing to do for a lot of people.

Dave Kurlan: Right, that’s why seventy-four percent of the sales people are so bad.

Ashley Wirthlin: I have a question about the difference between a prospect that you actively seek out and then for example a prospect that comes to you through, you know, your online advertising or finds you through your website. Is there a difference between those two prospects?

Dave Kurlan: Are you talking to me personally as a, a company CEO or as a sales person, or you – is that a generic question?

Ashley Wirthlin:  It’s sort of a generic question and I guess more geared toward being a sales coach or being a sales person, when you have those two types of prospects coming in, is there a different strategy that you make? Is listening still just as important? So I guess my question is stemming from the way that you would work with each prospect.

Dave Kurlan: The, the only difference really takes place early in the call. If they’re coming to you then they know a little about you and they’re ready to have a conversation.  And if they aren’t coming to you and you’re coming to them they don’t know anything about you and they’re not ready to have a conversation. So the difference is in the first 20 seconds of the call. And once you get passed the first 20 seconds of the call it’s the same. It’s, it’s about listening and asking questions.

Ashley Wirthlin: Okay. How do you become a better listener? Does that require therapy or some other sorts of training?

Dave Kurlan: Well if it’s bad enough I suppose therapy is an appropriate [laughing] cure. But mostly the, the best advice I can give is every time the prospect is responding write down two things they said that you could ask a question about. And that focuses you to pay attention, to listen, to, to actively pick out things that’ll form your next question and there will always be a couple of things you can ask about. And I’m out of time.

Ashley Wirthlin: Oh okay. Well is there any other little tidbits you want to add in before we’re, we’re closing here.

Dave Kurlan: No I think the, the best tidbit I could add in was its not about you.

Ashley Wirthlin: Well great thank you so much for being here today Dave.

Dave Kurlan: You’re welcome.

Ashley Wirthlin: All right, well have a great day.

Dave Kurlan: Thank you, you too.

Ashley Wirthlin: Thank you, bye.



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