Michael McLaughlin – Episode #133

by Richard Wilson on August 13, 2011

The following audio interview  is borrowed from our BusinessTraining.com platform and was originally recorded for our sales training program.  In this interview, we get to hear from Michael McLaughlin.  Michael is a sales expert and principle at Mindshare Consulting, LLC. Michael is a business consultant who focuses on helping professional service firms such as PR professionals, lawyers, or other consultants improve their sales and marketing. He works with medium sized professional service firms and he has been doing this for over five years now.  (Download this file in Mp3 format)

Interview Transcript:

Ashley:             Hello everyone and welcome to this businesstraining.com expert audio interview.  Today we are joined by Michael McLaughlin McLaughlin, Principal at Mind Share Consulting LLC, and Publisher at Management Consulting News.  Thanks so much for being here today Michael.

Michael McLaughlin:     Oh it’s a pleasure.

Ashley:             Do you want to briefly describe what you do now?

Michael McLaughlin:     Sure, I am a business consultant, I have a practice as you mentioned, Mind Share Consulting, and we focus on helping professional service firms whether those are management consultants, web designers, marketing people, PR, anybody in a services business, help them improve their sales and marketing.  So that’s what I do now I work mostly with small to medium sized professional service firms, and have been doing it for the last 5 years.

Ashley:             Okay and how did you get your start?  I’m assuming you may not have been always that great at sales, so how did you get to where you are?

Michael McLaughlin:     Well I spent—before I started my own company I spent a better part of 20 years at a large consulting firm called Deloit, I was a partner there, and a managing partner was well, and in that role I had all kinds of responsibilities, and towards the back half of my career there a lot of what I had to do with was business development and selling.  So I had lots of opportunities to work through to develop a set of skills around business development, marketing, and selling that helped me figure out how I wanted to approach the market, and how I thought made the most sense to sell.  And so through the years I did that and did well with it, and then I started my own company, wrote a book about selling, using the principals that I had developed over those years and now I have taken marketing to my own company.

Ashley:             Okay did you have a mentor or where did you really learn the best practices?

Michael McLaughlin:     Well I did have a mentor and more than one, and it really helps to have somebody who you know and trust and somebody who knows their stuff and can help guide you along the way.  The mentor role is really important both in terms of helping guide a persons career, but also finding specific areas where you have things that you want to develop, and so in my case I had different people that helped me with different types of things so I had somebody that was really good at marketing and selling and I could go to somebody that is really good at how to deliver a service to a client and all the issues that you face in the client environment, very good at that.  So sometimes you need more than one mentor.

Ashley:             How did you find yours?

Michael McLaughlin:     Mine, it was time and patience really, the mentor relationship has to be a two way relationship in some regards, not only do you, you can’t just try to sort of draw from somebody and get the most out of that relationship, unless they are really willing to do it and have an interest in your career also, and a lot of times people will try to force a mentoring relationship and ultimately it doesn’t work, because the person who’s the mentor isn’t really invested in your success.  So it took time and patience, because you really need to establish a relationship with people, make sure that they are invested in your success as well, and then over time find someone who will sort of fall into that supportive mentoring role for you and for me it took a couple of years to find someone who—to actually find a couple of people who have stuck with me even until today.  It is because you find people that are invested in what you want to do and are willing to help.

Ashley:             Now what are some tips for someone just starting out in the industry?  Is it to just find a mentor, is it to find some technical, or less technical training, or what is a great approach that you think to take.

Michael McLaughlin:     I think you want to have somebody who’s willing to guide you along the way, so I think you always want to have your eyes open for somebody who might be able to help you do that.   In a larger organization that can be an entirely different person that somebody that is sort of assigned to help you with your performance or does your performance reviews.  It could be somebody entirely different.  I think it’s sort of important to just keep your eyes open and find people who you can clearly develop a relationship with.  So I think that’s an important thing to do, but depending on what industry you are in, what you’re doing I think the first and most important thing is to begin to master the skills that you need to be successful.  If you are in selling is to master those skills, identify them and then begin a process by which you are going to obtain mastery in those.

Ashley:             What are some of those skills that you think are important to master for a successful sales career?

Michael McLaughlin:     Well you know what, I think there are sort of characteristics or attributes that a person has, and then there are skills, and I think you got to have both.  So I would start—there are two things I would start with, one of the attributes is you’ve got to be very confident in your abilities, and in what your offering to your customers and your clients.   So that attribute of confidence, not arrogance, but being self assured, and having a good presence when your with clients and customers is something that makes a big difference in terms of how somebody views you, and so I think that’s something that can be something people can learn.  Something people can improve upon, and so that’s kind of a personal attribute.  From a specific skill there are so many skills that people need to focus on to be good at selling, but I think the first one is to become an expert in what it is that you are selling, and so many times people can’t, because they have difficulty answering a customer or clients really hard questions about what it is that they are selling because they just don’t know enough about what they are selling.  So it is absolutely essential to become the expert on the thing, or things, or services that you are selling before you try to really master any other kind of sales techniques.

Ashley:             Now aside from maybe being technically inclined on the product you are offering, is there other soft skills that make for a great salesperson?

Michael McLaughlin:     Yeah there are, I think one of the things, sort of the softer skills is your ability to really uncover and understand the customer or clients needs, and many times whether you are selling a product or service what the customer actually says they want, or what they say they need, and what they actually need are very different things, and so there are lots of cases, and you have probably seen them, and I know I have where—sales people in their sort of quest to get the sale closed or just by lack of their own understanding actually solved the wrong problem, or solved a clients symptoms and not the real problem, because in the long term that creates a lot of issues for the seller.  So one of the top skills is how do you actually uncover the real needs, not just the stated ones, and that’s about getting good at skills like problem diagnosis, and client interviewing, and sort of feeding back and understanding, and sort of feeding it back in a way that confirms or denies that you’ve really got the right problem.

Ashley:             How do you become a better listener?

Michael McLaughlin:     I think one way to become a better listener—that’s all sort of internal work that you have to do—to become a better listener you have to stop waiting to talk.  You know a lot of people particularly sales people will sit in a meeting, and they don’t, their listening, but what they are really doing is waiting to say whatever it is that they are going to say.   In the process of waiting to talk you don’t actually take in what your customer or client is saying, and so dropping this thing where you are sort of tensing up, waiting, and knowing, preparing in your head what you are going to say next, letting that go until you’ve heard what the other person is saying is probably the easiest way, although it’s not easy it’s the easiest way to hear more of what the person is actually saying to you, and in sales there’s so much of that waiting to talk people will just pounce as soon as you stop talking, and they may say something that is completely irrelevant.  That’s how you know that somebody’s just been waiting to talk and not really listening.  So that’s the first thing I think that people can do to become better listeners.

Ashley:             Now I know that even during a process like this you definitely feed off of what the other person is saying, so do you think it’s a process of learning how to change your approach or change your script so to speak?

Michael McLaughlin:     You know I think that, I think you’re right it is, I think there are situations you just want to stay flexible.  You may have a script of sorts, but those scripts and the plan that you have going into any kind of sales lead, rarely survives the first communication you have with your customer, because a lot of times when you get into those sales meetings what you thought they wanted, and what you thought they wanted to talk about, and what they really want to talk about are sometimes two different things, and so the script or plan could fall by the way side, and you just have to be flexible, you just have to really listen be flexible create a set of questions, or areas that you want to talk about, but don’t feel like you have to go through every single one of them if the situation you’re facing has sort of suggested to you that you don’t have to.  There are lots of cases and I’ve seen them too many times where there’s sort of a script or agenda that a salesperson has that we’re going to go through it no matter what you say.  And you have to be I think more collaborative, or more consultative in the discussions that you have with people, and the point number 5, 6, and 7 on your agenda or script are not relevant then drop them and focus on the things that are most important to that person sitting right there in front of you.

Ashley:             So what happens if your respective boss or manager requires that you go through all of those?  How do you think you could talk to them and maybe share the importance of not following those?

Michael McLaughlin:     Well you know if you have somebody that says you have to touch all these basis on every call, then you might want to—this might not be realistic to do—but you might want to say, maybe you want to sit in on some of these calls, because there are times when these things are just not relevant.  And depending on what you are selling, there are cases when there’s a list of points that maybe you think you need to make to actually get a person to move a little bit along in the sales process, and that’s fine, but I think there are situations when you just don’t have to say everything.  I think you have to work with the people that are above you to help them try and understand why you didn’t do it, and if people just refused and said sorry you just have to do this, you’re not really selling in a collaborative way, you are just pushing stuff on people and in the long run you are going to be very unhappy.  So if you have people that are working with you like that, that’s not collaborative selling, that’s just pushing stuff on people and I don’t think most people want to work in that environment.

Ashley:             And it’s probably not all that beneficial or affective forward selling.

Michael McLaughlin:     I don’t think it is, eventually—if there’s one thing that customers know is they know when they are getting stuff pushed at them, and lots of people have said this before, but customers like to buy things, but they don’t like to be sold stuff.  So if you got to structure sales conversations in ways that allow people to see the value of what it is that you are offering.  At the same time guide them so that they are making the decisions to do these things and don’t feel like you are pushing stuff on them.  I mean if there is anything that we know today is that hard sell just doesn’t work, and there’s just too many other options in the market for what most people sell that if somebody is sort of jamming stuff at you, and push, push, push, your customers are going to say go away, and they are just going to find somebody else.

Ashley:             Now this may relate to what you’ve already been talking about, but do you think there is some main differences in what you do in your own consultancy as opposed to what’s in some of the biggest books, or what some of the other consultants are preaching?

Michael McLaughlin:     There’s an awful lot written so I’m not sure, but I do know that in the services business and particularly our business there’s—it takes time, these sales sometimes take a long time to get done.  So a lot of the literature on selling talks about ways to speed up the sales cycle.  Ways to make things go faster, make your clients decide more quickly that they are going to buy something from you, and I just don’t find that that really works.  I mean I think if you have a client that can’t make a decision quickly, because they don’t have a method for making a decision, they don’t have a process for deciding, which is pretty common, then you could help them figure that out, but I don’t think there are too many effective ways that don’t really get pushy that really speed things up.  If somebody wants to speed things up, I think it has to be your customer that has to decide they want to speed something up, that’s not something you can force them in.  If there is anything that I do a little different than what some people suggest that you do is I just stay patient and work through in a collaborative way with your customers and with our clients and be patient.  Whatever time they need to take that’s what they need to take, and I don’t try to speed it up through some kind of phony sales technique.

Ashley:             Do you find that social media helps customers make a faster decision?

Michael McLaughlin:     I think it helps them make a faster decision in terms of who they want to include in the sales process, but in terms of making a decision about who will actually—who they will actually choose to do the work or who they will buy from, I’m not sure that it matters that much.  I think if you look at most social media, and you include in that things like your blog, Facebook accounts, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so forth, I think those platforms are very valuable and they open the door and so it gives your perspective clients a way to do some evaluation of you before they decide to talk to you, but once the doors open you’re the one who keeps it open, or your company is the one that keeps it open, not your web presence or your social media presence.  You have to do it in sort of a one on one or face to face selling actually has to be effective.

Ashley:             So selling actually requires work?

Michael McLaughlin:     Yeah that’s actually an odd thing you know.

Ashley:             I know.

Michael McLaughlin:     I hate that part.

Ashley:             Well do you have maybe a top three list of tips for being successful in sales and it could be a recap of what you already said or something completely new?

Michael McLaughlin:     Well I think there’s a—if there were three things I think, the first one is that you really have to want to be successful, and I think that’s true for anything, and so having the ambition and the drive to do it is probably the most important thing, and lots of people will say, I don’t really like selling, and I don’t really want to do it, but I’m doing it, and that kind of perspective you are just, you know you are not going to be successful in the long run.  So you really have to want it, have to like it, want to embrace it, that’s the only way that you will actually really get good at it.  And the second thing I think is to be very collaborative to know how to be collaborative with someone sitting in front of you, trying to figure out their issues, understand what their problems are, be a really good listener, master those skills of interpersonal communication so that you can articulate a value to those people that would make sense to them and that they want to buy.  And the third thing is to be somebody who is, this is not a sales tip, but somebody who is really driven to self development, self improvement, somebody who is continually building their skills, their professional skills, because that will take people further in the long run.  So if you are building skills today, that will help you in three years, that’s how you want to think about them, and that’s how you want to focus.  You got to have that sort of drive to be better all the time, and then—so those would be my sort of top three—and then if through that process you learn specific technique, you learn how to help people decide, you learn how to communicate, and you close more sales.

Ashley:             As a part of continually growing what are some important things that you think are important to do there?

Michael McLaughlin:     I think the people who grow the fastest—there are a few things, and I will do them quickly—but the people who grow the fastest are the ones who can see out a few years and say what do I need to do today to be ready for the challenges I am going to face in three years?  So if somebody tasked me to do X whatever it is in three years, what do I need to be good at then, and what can I do now to get there?  And so it’s really being very forward looking in terms of where you want to get to, and then just being focused and moving towards that.  I just think people should be great readers, I mean there is so much out there in the literatures, I think you want to read a ton, I read lots and lots, and most people I know are just veracious readers and they just consume and try to learn as much as they can, and then you know you’ve got to be attending events, going and doing the right kind of training, being visible, and among people who are much more experienced than you, and trying to find ways to learn from them, and I think if you combine things like being a great reader and a student of your field, really engaging and immersing yourself in training and education on a consistent basis and getting very focused with people who are in the place where you want to be, and working with them, and seeking out those mentoring relationships that we talked about at the outset.  Those things are the right set of things to do to help you move toward where you want to be in the next 3, 4, 5 years.

Ashley:             And maybe just to close here, do you have maybe one thing that you have learned over the years that could save someone like $10,000 or be your number one $10,000 type person?  Do you have something like that?

Michael McLaughlin:     You know I think that $10,000 I probably lost it I don’t know how many times with mistakes that I’ve made, but I think if there was anything it sort of comes back to what we were talking about earlier about listening, but it’s not listening it’s—there are times in the sales process, where I think people need to be very comfortable with silence, because you know when you are having a sales competition and things are going back and forth with people like—you don’t always know the person that well you are meeting with and so there’s, you know there’s this bias to peacocking.  Who knows this question, answer, answer, answer, question, dialogue, comment so forth; it just keeps going back and forth, back and forth.  Sometimes when somebody answers your question or makes a comment it helps to just let some silence just sort of settle in between the people, because in that moment which is sometimes awkward for people to have silence in the room.  In that moment the person who you are working with is very likely to say something that’s really valuable that might not have been fed if you just jump in with your next question, your next comment, whatever it is, and so many times when I have met with people, when I have let a little bit of time, just a few seconds go before I jump back in, sometimes I get the best information from the client that I have ever received by doing that.  By letting that little bit of silence, so the $10,000 tip for me is sometimes it helps to just keep your mouth shut.

Ashley:             I think maybe silence is a scary thing for some people.

Michael McLaughlin:     Very scary, because it’s awkward and 2 seconds seems like 2 hours, but people don’t like it and so generally what happens is someone will fill the space, and it’s actually a fairly common technique in job interviews that an Ashley will intentionally ask a question, listen to the person’s answer, and then not say a word, and watch the interviewee do something either smart or really dumb, and so it’s a fairly common technique, it doesn’t have to be for a long time, but just a couple seconds sometimes is all you need to learn something really valuable.

Ashley:             Yeah I am sure it can be very telling.

Michael McLaughlin:     Yeah I didn’t say it was going to be easy, but I think I’ve lost $10,000 by not keeping my mouth shut.

Ashley:             Thank you so much for your time Michael McLaughlin, do you have anything else you want to add here?

Michael McLaughlin:     No I appreciate your time, and I hope it’s helpful.

Ashley:             Sure, thank you so much for your time as well and have a great day.

Michael McLaughlin:     Thanks take care.

Ashley:             Thank you, you too.


[End of Audio]

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