Kelley Robertson – Episode #196

by Richard Wilson on August 28, 2011

The following audio interview is borrowed from our BusinessTraining.com platform and was originally recorded for our sales training program. The following audio expert interview is with Kelley Robertson, a sales expert and public speaker on sales. Kelley is the president of the Robertson Training Group and a speaker/trainer on sales. His group helps sales professionals improve their results, and earn more money through making more sales. (Download this file in Mp3 format)

Interview Transcript:

Ashley:  Hello everyone, and welcome to this BusinessTraining.com expert audio interview.  Today we’re joined by Kelley Robertson, President of the Robertson Training Group, speaker, and author of Stop, Ask & Listen and The Secrets of Power Selling.  Thanks so much for being here today, Kelley.

Kelley Robertson:      My pleasure.

Ashley:            So, what does the Robertson Training Group do?

Kelley Robertson:      Well, essentially we help sales people improve their results.  The primary focus of what I do is conducting workshops and presentations to help sales people master their conversations so they can win more business and earn more money.

Ashley:            So, the communication aspect is very important in the whole sales process?

Kelley Robertson: Absolutely.  It’s the most critical aspect.  What I’ve found over the years is far too many companies don’t provide sales training for their employees or sales people.  So, the vast majority of sales people are self taught and many of them have never been taught.  So, what happens is they go out to a sales call, they go out to a meeting, or an appointment and they don’t manage that conversation well.  As a result, they miss valuable sales opportunities, they don’t position their product or their service properly, and they just don’t get the sale.

Ashley: So, maybe-and this could be wrong-but I’m assuming there was a time that you weren’t that great at sales either?

Kelley Robertson: [Laughing]  Oh yeah!  That’s for sure!  I remember my very first sales call was I was going to say almost 15-16 years ago and I was actually selling a seminar to the hospitality industry because that’s what my background was.  And I’d come up with what I thought was a great seminar.  And I went into this local restaurant, and I’m talking to the General Manger, and I made the most glaring, obvious mistakes that everybody else I see make today.  And I didn’t ask any questions at the beginning of the conversation, I didn’t get a sense of what their sales challenges were or revenue challenges, and I just launched into what I could do in my seminar.  And when I look back at it now it was just horrendous.

Ashley: [Laughing]

Kelley Robertson: [Laughing]  And the second, one tied in with that was my first cold call and I remember I had read a couple of books on cold calling.  And the first thing they said was write a script, so I wrote a script down.  The second thing they said in the book was to memorize that script.  And I memorized it, but I sounded like a typical telemarketer.  And it was just an awful phone call.  [Laughing]

So, I’ve made all the mistakes in the book when it comes to sales and selling.

Ashley:            [Laughing]  So, how did you get better?  What was your process?

Kelley Robertson:      Essentially what I did was I became a student of sales and I really started studying sales.  And I read pretty much every book I could get my hands on.  I think one of the best books that I first read which was 15 or 18 years ago was Stop Telling and Start Selling by Linda Richardson.  And it was all about the sales process is not about talking about your product, it’s about asking people questions to get a better sense of what their situation is so that you can better present your solution.

And I found that really resonated with me and it made a whole lot of sense.  And I started applying that at work.  And I was a sales trainer, and started looking at the programs that we had developed or worked with in the company.  And then when I started my own private practice nine years ago, applied the same concepts and they’ve worked for me ever since.

So, we really became a student of sales.  And look at the tremendous amount of materials that’s out there, sifted through a lot of great stuff, some not so great, and kind of just had to incorporate a lot of that into my own private practice.

Ashley: Okay.  Now, you mentioned you did a lot of reading.  Was there any training that you took on as well?

Kelley Robertson: Sales training, no.  I got most of it through books and just reading.  I’m an avid reader and was really, really focused on that.  Now, I   did   take a course on cold calling.  It wasn’t as good as I was hoping it would be…

Ashley: [Laughing]

Kelley Robertson: [Laughing] …unfortunately and essentially the person who led this classroom style training program said, “Yeah.  Just call and have fun.”  “Just have fun.”  And the whole thing was about having fun and I’m thinking, “Yeah, but cold calling’s not fun!”  [Laughing]

So, I couldn’t relate to her methodology and to this day I do very little cold calling.  I certainly know it works, but I don’t rely on cold calling for my business.

Ashley:            What do you do conversely then?

Kelley Robertson: Most of what I do is through existing clientele-the referrals through my networks, through social media, through positioning myself as an expert out in the sales world, a lot of them through books, through publications.  So, more of a poll type marking and for the most part that’s been very affective for me.

Ashley: So, do you still consider that sales?

Kelley Robertson: Absolutely because when somebody contacts me or when I’m having a conversation with somebody I have to be able to ask them the right question.  And if I’m meeting with somebody for the first time I have to know the research that I have to do beforehand-before I have that meeting so I can speak intelligently to that prospect-I need to know what questions to ask and then I need to figure out how to best position my product or service so that it makes sense to them.

Ashley: Do you think that your approach to sales really differs from those books that are being read, popular magazine articles?  Are there differences from your method to theirs?

Kelley Robertson: No, I don’t think so.

Ashley: Okay.

Kelley Robertson: And that’s a really good question.  Now, when I say that and I say no, it doesn’t differ from I’ll say the sales reps who get it-the Jill Conrad’s, the Colleen Francis, Art Subject, Jeffrey [Name 06:30].  I mean, we all preach the same type of philosophy and it’s about creating value, it’s about demonstrating value.  It’s not about going into a customer or a prospect’s place of business and launching into this canned pitch.  It’s about creating a two way dialogue that helps you fill in the gaps of the information that you gather during your research to make sure it validates the research that you’ve done.

And one of the mistakes that so many sales people make is they don’t do that research beforehand.  They think, “Well, we’re experts in this industry”.  We’re the experts in the medical field, or insurance, or whatever field.  “I don’t need to research my clientele and my prospects”.  And what happens is they miss out on opportunities because their competitor has done some research and they can speak more intelligently to business problems.

I think one of the issues in sales today is that sales people don’t see themselves as business people and they can’t all speak intelligently to current business issues that are effecting their prospects or their customers.

Ashley:            Why do you think that is?

Kelley Robertson: They’ve never been taught.  It’s never been clearly shown that as a sales person you are a business person.  And the people who get it do exceptionally well because they’re so far apart from their peers.  So, they can have a conversation with an executive in a company.  They don’t feel intimidated talking to a Vice President or a President.  They can speak-I’m not going to say corporate speak-but they can speak intelligently to those individuals and that’s something that takes time.

I remember the very first time I met with the President of a mid-sized company.  They were probably earning or generating $80-100 million in sales.  And I met with the President and I started talking to him about the training programs that the company was delivering.  Well, she had no idea because she pays people for that.

And so, I was speaking at a really low level and of course I got shunted down to a district manager, and of course, the sales stalled out and died.  And it made me realize that if I was going to deal with Presidents, or Vice Presidents, or CEO’s, or whatever I had to speak their language, and become more strategic, and look at the big picture-the macro, the high level view-the higher up in an organization you go.

Ashley: Do you think having more of a business based background versus just sales in general is something that people can bring to the table as a benefit?

Kelley Robertson: Absolutely.  Absolutely.

Ashley: So, would that be a marketing degree, a management degree, any one of those?

Kelley Robertson: It can be anything like that.  Even for small business owners who are outselling, if they have that business experience it’s looking at that business experience, business knowledge that they have and recognizing that there’s a way to use that of course if they’re targeting the right person.

If you’re targeting the consumer you’re not going to talk about best business practices, or the challenges that business owners face, or whatever the case might be because you’re not speaking the language of the person you’re targeting.  And I think that’s the essential key element is you have to speak to the level of your prospects.

Ashley: Are there training programs that you think are relevant?  And I know that maybe this goes against your process of just reading, but do you think that training and reading together can create…Yeah?

Kelley Robertson: Absolutely.  And essentially because I do training programs as part of my business…

Ashley: [Laughter]

Kelley Robertson: …it wouldn’t be very smart for me to say, “No, training doesn’t have a place”.  There are lots of great programs out there.  There are a lot of great sales trainers and speakers who have devoted the bulk of their career to helping sales people improve.

The key is finding the type of program that gives you the knowledge or the insight that you need.  And one of the challenges within a company-especially if they’ve got more than half a dozen sales people-is that quite often what happens when a company embarks on sales training they bring somebody in that’s maybe been recommended to them or they’ve come across on the internet, through social media, whatever the case might be, and they treat it as a one day event.

So, they bring somebody in for an hour, or a half a day, or a full day.  They do a generic presentation that really doesn’t address the challenges that company has.  And the greatest sales trainers in the world always look at how they can adapt their program to meet the needs of their customers.  But they also look at those individual prospects and say, “I’m not the right fit for you.  You’re looking for somebody that can help you do ‘x’.”

And so, yes there’s a lot of merit in finding sales training or conducting and participating in sales training.  The other great thing too that a lot of sales people don’t consider is taking having coaching, and hiring sales coaching, and actually having someone work with you one on one or in a group setting, usually virtually over the telephone, or webinars, or the internet.  And that can be a great way to improve your selling skills in addition to all the information that’s out there and listening to all the information that’s available.

Ashley:  So, coaching would mean having someone watch you go through your sales process, critiquing, or giving nice feedback?  Is that what your version of coaching is?

Kelley Robertson: Partly.

Ashley: Okay.

Kelley Robertson: It doesn’t necessarily have to be face to face.

Ashley: Oh okay.

Kelley Robertson: A good coach will provide the format, and the guidelines, and the how to.  And then it’s up to the person that’s being coached to actually go out and apply that.  And what makes coaching more effective than group training is that it becomes more personalized, and there becomes that accountability factor with the coach.

So, if I’m coaching you and we have an initial conversation, and then our next phone call is next week, you know that I’m going to be asking you what progress you’ve made in this last week.  So, you’re going to be accountable to me.

Now, I can’t fire you.  I’m not going to write you up, there’s not going to be any discipline, or anything like that.  But when you’re paying for that result and I’m going to be saying,  “Ashley, how come you didn’t do that?”  “What’s holding you back?”  “What barriers are preventing you from doing that?”  And it allows the conversations to get deeper than group training.  And that’s not to say that group training doesn’t work because it does when it’s the right type of training and if there’s the right type of follow-up afterwards.  And I think that’s where most of the training program kind of goes off the rails.

Somebody comes in for a day, learn all this great stuff, and then they leave.  This one’s going to have to try to figure it out on their own.

Ashley: Right.  Right.

Kelley Robertson: The good companies have the next step.  So, they have some coaching, they have some webinars, they have teleconference calls, whatever it might be.  But they look at it as a process instead of just an event.

Ashley: How do you really drive home the importance of this training because I know a lot of companies during recession time or our down economy now cut things like sales training or customer service training.  So, how do you encourage the use of training like this?

Kelley Robertson: I’ll be the first to admit that’s a real tough, tough sell during a recession.  And I think the sales training industry in general-the people that I know and I’ve talked to quite a few of them over the last 18 months-two years-took quite a hit in the last couple of years.  It’s slowly recovering, it’s slowly coming back.

How do we convince people?  It’s ultimately being able to show them that they’re going to get a better return on their investments.  If they invest $20,000 they’re going to earn $60,000 and a challenge from a corporate perspective is that a lot of companies have bought a lot of programs that have failed to deliver them results.  So, once again it comes back to making the right investment with the right company for your particular sales challenges at that time.

Ashley: And it goes a little deeper too, maybe being burnt by previous programs, having expectations that they’re going to fail.  Do you incorporate that psychology behind the way that you market or the way that you write?

Kelley Robertson: Well, actually that’s a good question.  I don’t think I do it intentionally.  I know that when I’m speaking to a prospect I will always ask them if they’ve ever done anything like this before.  If they have embarked on something-hired an outside consultant to help them with sales and sales training-I’ll find out who they used, find out what their results were, ask them what went well and maybe what didn’t go so well which gives me a sense of where they are.

If I’m dealing with somebody who has never embarked on this before I’ll ask them what their expectations are, then I’ll manage their expectations because if they’re looking to double their sales in 12 months with a one day program, you can tell them right up front that’s not going to happen.  But the expectation is that just because we’re doing a sales training program that means, “Hey!  My problems are going to be cured.”  And I think even I [Inaudible 16:55]

Ashley: Right.  Right.  I’m curious what your #1 skill is for someone to master.  So, for the whole purpose of taking training what do you think that #1 skill to really work on is for a sales person?

Kelley Robertson: The #1 skill from my perspective is to learn how to ask really good questions.

Ashley:            Okay.

Kelley Robertson: What I’ve found over the years 1)the majority of sales people don’t ask enough questions to begin within the beginning of the sale.  What happens is they just launch into their presentation or their pitch, and then they ask questions later.  So, they have the process backward.

People that do ask questions quite often don’t ask enough of the right questions and it’s questions that make people think.  And what makes it challenging is these tend to be very tough, penetrating questions that force somebody to think and from a sales perspective can make somebody feel, “Oh my God!  This is really probing into somebody’s business and I have no right to do that.”  So, being able to summon up the courage to ask those tough questions.

So for example, if I’m talking to you and we’re talking about sales training I’m going to ask you what your expectations are, what your sales challenges are, what impact do you hope or what behavioral changes do you want to see in your scene, what impact will that have on your results?

And you say, “Well, I’m hoping to get a 10% increase on sales”.  I’ll ask, “So, what does a 10% increase represent in dollars?”  I need to have an understanding of how much 10% is for you.  If you’re a $3 million company it’s going to be a lot less of an impact than if you’re a $100 million company.  So, I need to get a sense for that because that can help me then position my product or service more effectively.  We need to find out what other barriers might get in the way.  We need to find out what other decision makers are or people who need to have their stamp of approval on the decision making process.

Ashley:            Right.

Kelley Robertson: And I think one of the things that a lot of sales people are afraid of is hearing that “No” or letting a low value prospect go.  And really, we need to have the courage to cut somebody loose if they’re not going to play ball with us.  And what I mean by that is if I’m asking you questions, but you’re reluctant to answer them I can’t do my job properly.

Ashley: Right.  How do you encourage someone to open up?

Kelley Robertson: It’s the way I start the sales conversation.  I’ll say, “Ashley, we’ve got a 30 minute meeting” or a 60 minute meeting.  “We’re going to start with a couple of questions just to get a little bit better understanding of your situation and then it’ll help me position the solution I have in mind for you.”

And with rare exceptions people always say yes.  I’ve only had I think in nine years three people say no.  And potentially what they wanted was just a price, but I can’t give a price without having more information.

Ashley: [Laughter]

Kelley Robertson: It’s like going to a dentist.  “Hi, I’d like a filling.  How much will it cost?”  “Well, it depends on how deep the tooth is, it depends on…” there’s so many other variables.  And yet, a lot of sales people will just jump to price right out of the gate.  They’ll just quote a fee and then they become a commodity.

Ashley: Right.  Right.  Do you have a list of top three tips for someone looking to be successful in this space?

Kelley Robertson: Absolutely.  1)Prospect every day.

Ashley: Okay.

Kelley Robertson: The best sales people prospect every single day.  They’re constantly prospecting and looking for new business.

The second thing is to learn the sales process.  Go from start to finish, that initial contact, creating your value proposition, learning how to ask really good questions, and then learning how to position your solution in terms that make sense and that is compelling to your prospect.

And then, at the very end of the day under promise and over deliver.  If you say you’re going to do something, make sure you do it.  So, it’s always better to under promise and over deliver.  And yet, most sales people get that process backwards.

Ashley: [Laughter] I think it’s difficult to do that.

Kelley Robertson: [Laughter] It is.  Well, the thing is we have every good intention of executing and we think we can execute.  We sometimes bite off more than we can chew.

Ashley: Right.

Kelley Robertson: Our eagerness to capture the sale and get that deal, and if we over promise and under deliver then we hurt our own credibility.

Ashley: Right.  Do you have your #1 tip for working in sales?

Kelley Robertson: Yes.  Don’t pitch.

Ashley: Okay.

Kelley Robertson: Don’t go into a prospect’s place of business and pitch your solution until you have a really good understanding of their situation.  And I’ll give you an example.  I met with a group of business owners last week and they had contacted me.  The person that had contacted me about coming in to present to them had very little information about what they wanted to accomplish.

So, I’d done some research, gained some information, created a presentation on what I thought would be good for them.  I started off the meeting with asking them some questions and it was, “Assuming we went ahead with the program today and we got together next year, what would our conversation be like next year?  What would be our topic of conversation and what would you like to have accomplished in that year?

And their goals and objectives were completely different than what I was led to believe they were.  But if I hadn’t done that I would’ve gone in with my pitch and they would’ve looked at me like I had three eyes.  So, it gave me the opportunity to adapt and modify my presentation as I went through it.

So, the #1 thing is don’t pitch.  Just go in, have a conversation, and look at how you can present your solutions in terms that make sense to your prospects.

Ashley: Do you often ask those questions before you get there?

Kelley Robertson: Yes.

Ashley: Okay.

Kelley Robertson: Yeah.  I will do whatever I can to get as much information before I ever meet with or have a telephone conversation with a prospect.  I was talking to someone this afternoon.  The conversation had started by email.  He said, “I’ve got a sales meeting.  We’re looking for a speaker.  How much do you charge?”

Well, I have no idea what they’re looking for.  I don’t even know if I’m the right person.  So, my response back is, “We’ll talk about price.  Before we get there I need some information.  Let’s set up a short phone call.  We can discuss what your goals and objectives are and then we can go from there.”

We’ll have a preliminary telephone conversation.  During that conversation I’ll get the information that I need, then I can present the solution.

Ashley: Right.  Well, is there anything else you want to add here before we close?

Kelley Robertson: Yeah, because we’re talking about sales, and sales training, and development I think one of the biggest things in today’s business world is you have to constantly refine and hone your skills.  Business is becoming more complex.  The sales environment and business environment changes and is changing more rapidly than ever before.  And yet, far too many sales people are relying on the strategies and techniques that they learned 5, or 10, or 15 years ago.  And we’ve got to constantly refine, hone, and develop and [inaudible 24:50] your skills.

Ashley: Well great.  Thank you so much for all of your advice, Kelley.  This was great.

Kelley Robertson: My pleasure.  Thank you.

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