When we buy products, we normally assess the things we buy for their value and if it aligns with our necessities. In this episode, host Michael Zipursky interviews author and sales enablement consultant Anita Nielsen about her career in sales consultancy for big and small businesses. Improving sales in your business is very important to any business owner. Anita shares her experiences on how she is catering to customers’ needs and improves sales in the process.
I am here with Anita Nielsen. Anita, welcome.
Thank you. I’m excited to talk to you.
Anita, you help organizations accelerate their sales. Tell us what organizations have you been working with.
My focus is mainly on B2B technology organizations. Specifically, I work with organizations that have historically been transactional salespeople, for example, selling products or equipment and trying to transition to more of a consultative sales model where they’re selling services and solutions. That’s where I’ve had a ton of experience in the past and that’s where I tend to enjoy working and I can be super valuable.
Let’s go a little bit deeper into that. You’re describing may be how you see the challenge that they have. What are the challenges that your clients are actively looking to solve? What would you say are some of the common pain points that they’re facing?
The one that I always hear is, “Our sales reps don’t know how to consistently articulate value.” I wish that that was a cliché. It’s not, it’s very real. That’s probably the top one that I help them address. The second one is, “How do we help engage sales professionals and retain them?” The last one is training. When they do invest in sales training, it doesn’t stick. It’s a sunk cost essentially is what ends up happening. Those are probably the three major challenges that I work with and that sales leaders have across the board.
Let’s talk about a few of those, at least a couple of them. In terms of making sure that you had sales training sticks, a lot of consultants are delivering training or workshops for their clients. Ultimately, we all should be focused on making sure that clients are getting great results and there’s a real impact happening there. What have you done or what have you found that’s helped your clients to see results for the work you’re putting into to stick, as you called it? What are some of the best practices?
I feel like, for me, it’s only practice. The first thing I’ll do is I go in and I spend at least a day making a discovery with the reps. I give them my customer’s list. I want your top sales rep, I want your lowest sales rep, and I want the people that are high potential. I want the negative net, I want the person that is the high energy and I get to know them. From there I understand what prevents them from applying some of the things they’ve learned in the past. It also builds relationships. When I go into the class, I’m able to deliver that content in the instructor-led training. I also build in at least two sessions for each rep.
I don’t typically train classes more than twenty reps. It’ two hours’ worth of time with me one-on-one to either look at how they’re applying those skills and that knowledge in an opportunity. Is there something that they’re struggling with that they need help resolving? I can then bring in the things that I’ve taught them. Beyond that, I also have to spend some time with the sales leader. Whether that’s the SVP of sales or CRO or it’s the frontline managers and teaching them, “This is where you’re going to reinforce this.” In your one-on-ones, these are the questions you’re going to ask. It becomes part of the vernacular and it becomes part of their culture.
What I hear you say is you’re doing a deep dive into the key players, both the ones that are not performing as well and the ones that are performing well and then bringing that back to the sales leader. They have a clear understanding of all that. I could still see the potential for the sales leader or the organization to have all that great information and not necessarily act on it or I think more common, not act on it or implement it consistently. What have you found that works best for you, the best practice to ensure that your clients are not getting that great information that you’ve identified and discovered, but they’re acting on it and implementing it consistently?
I’ve been blessed. In almost all the situations where I’ve delivered a class, I ended up working with that sales leader on an ongoing basis. They’ve become a retained client for their coaching, for that sales leader in helping guide them in that role. That’s been wonderful. For the ones that haven’t, I’ll do my typical every couple of months, “I’m just checking in to see how it’s going,” or I’ll forward some content that applies directly to something that I trained in the class. A lot of times on LinkedIn, I have connections with those sales reps out there. I’ll say, “Have you been using this?” I’ll reach out back to the sales leader. The trick is, as much as that discovery helps me, it makes me invaluable to that sales leader because I go in and talk to these people and it’s in confidence. I don’t share anything that they say, but I get an impression of what’s going on in that sales organization back to the engagement. I can then use that to help guide the sales leader. I can’t tell them exactly what I heard because I wouldn’t be much of a coach if I did that but I can give them some insight into the things that are potentially preventing their people from succeeding and from growing.
The discovery that you’re providing, that’s a paid discovery offer. Do you package that as a standalone, like the first thing you do before doing the rest of the training or is that part of the training itself?
It’s a bundle. I won’t do one without the other. I will not go in and train a training class cold without at least having a few hours to meet with some key players in the audience. If I want things to change, then I need to go in there with some buy-in in advance. We all have our strengths. One of my strengths is relating to people. If I get in there and I’ve even got the negative net of the class who’s probably going to be the heckler and I’ve got them to understand that I’m here to help, that makes for a much more productive class.
Many of your clients could experience that you’ve gone in and you’ve trained the trainer or a workshop around sales and the training. Those leaders become your long-term ongoing clients. What have you found that helped with that? Are you directly as part of your presentation or as part of that workshop or that training to make the recommendation that you continue on coaching with you? Is it a natural transition where the sales leader says, “Yeah, this is great. How do we continue?” What have you found has worked best for you to create those long-term ongoing relationships?The thing that makes you invaluable to customers is that you are devoted to helping them be successful. Click To Tweet
I’m lucky in that it’s natural. One thing I’m blessed about is I don’t have to do a whole lot of selling. I love to when I get a chance, but I think the thing that makes me invaluable to customers is that once I get involved with them, it becomes obvious to them quickly that I am devoted to helping them be successful and that there is not a stone I’ll leave unturned. Strictly thinking about it from a customer perspective, once you find somebody like that, you don’t want them to go away. It’s hard to find people that are that staunch advocate for you. Because of that, it becomes a natural conversation. I’m not above asking for it if it doesn’t.
Let’s say you went into training, you felt it went well. The client got good results, but they didn’t necessarily say to you, “Anita, let’s continue on,” or “What do things look like next?” What would you do? What would be the step that you would take to try and create the next opportunity together or to continue?
Depending on the situation, I would hope that I’ve gleaned some information or insight into their sales organization that I can then position back to that sales leader and say, “You guys are going to do a great job getting through X, Y, Z. Remember though, after that, you have to do A, B, C and understand that I’m happy to help.” I’ve found that sales leaders typically can use the help to accelerate the adoption and how the content is received. Know that’s an option. I’m happy to continue partnering with you to help the organization be successful outside of a training class, more of a one-on-one. It works. That works.
You also talked about one of the challenges that your clients are going to bring you in for is they’re not necessarily good at communicating value or the salespeople. That’s a big challenge for consultants as well. What have you found are some of the tried and true ways that even you yourself in your business or your clients are able to communicate more valuable what you’re doing in a way that’s relevant for the marketplace?
It’s interesting that I care so much about this idea of value, that’s what I pretty much based my book on. The idea is that there is a value that a company creates for whatever they’re selling. There’s a value that a product inherently has in it, but then there’s the value that the individual who’s selling brings to the equation, not just in the case of a consultant. That is a personalized value and that’s basically a function of who you are, what you stand for and how you make that meaningful in the context of your customer’s success. What I mean by that is when we go in to talk to customers, we understand quickly what their needs are, their objectives and their challenges. I want more than what they need. When I’m working with them and I’m learning where they’re at, I want to know what they want. What do they wish for? What do they desire? It becomes my mission to make them succeed in what their objective is. If I know that they want a promotion, then I’m figuring out exactly how they’re going to get it and I’m going to help them do it. It’s creating that personalized value based on what I know matters most to them. Typically, on an emotional level is where that differentiation lives.
How do you identify that? A lot of people will be reading and going, “That makes a lot of sense to me, Anita. I know that I need to focus more on value. I need to communicate that.” Some people might even be quite experienced where they’ve been building their consulting business for 5, 10 years, whatever it might be, but they recognize that their messaging is still at a surface level. What should they do? For someone, whether they’re getting started or they’re veterans in consulting, they wanted to strengthen their message, make it more compelling and have it align better with their ideal clients. What do they need to do? Do they contact people? Do they call them up? Do they set meetings? Do they take a guess? What have you found works best to identify those true emotional pain points?
First off, for me as a consultant, one of the things that I had to do early on was I interviewed and surveyed my customers because I wanted to know why they bought from me because that’s where my messaging lives. I can speculate all day and I’ve gotten pretty good at it, but I want to hear from them what it is I’m good at. By and large, that comes back as, “She’s not going to let me fail,” or “She’ll leave no stone unturned.” Those naturally come from the customers.
How did you do that? How do you go about doing that survey or interview? Was that online? Was it in person? Walk us through a little bit.
It was online. It was a 360 assessment that I did. Basically, I sent it to my customers and it’s to create self-awareness. They have the ability to answer some questions on basic things, like the integrity of your work, the follow-up and all the basics that we have to deliver. It also talks about what was it specifically that endeared me to you or things of that nature. That is the information that I take and then find a way to message because realistically, that’s the value. All of us are consulting. We’re all trying to create value. We’re all using our expertise and knowledge to help customers be better but we are all doing that. Two things that’ll work in your favor is to know your niche and then know what your customers find valuable and then be able to go message that.
It’s important, your messaging is key in all aspects of the business. You are communicating your value, being able to generate leads and inquiries. If you’re at that superficial level or surface-level where their message could essentially be anyone else’s message, there’s no differentiation but if you take the time as Anita is suggesting, you have to understand what it is your ideal clients truly care about. Your message will stand out and you’ll be able to see significantly greater results. I love that. Let’s talk about how did you get into the world of sales consulting. You can talk about having a maybe negative experience at one job. Talk us through what things looked like for you before you got into sales consulting.
I hope this will inspire some people that second guess themselves, but I worked for a corporation. I was a sales enablement consultant. I worked for them with large customers to help understand their current challenges and to help define a new selling system. At one point, I worked with an amazing customer, a medical device manufacturer, a huge name. I did what I do. I go in, build a relationship and look at everything. They know that I want them to succeed. I’m a partner for them. I come back and I’m getting ready to do my recommendations and my boss says, “Here’s a 64-page template that you need to put your thoughts into.” I was flabbergasted. I said, “First of all, if I take that template that was created as a template for everybody and bring that back to my customer who I’ve spent the past six weeks working my butt off for, they’re going to ask who I am and what I’ve done with Anita.” He couldn’t grasp that.
My customer was hilarious. My customer was backing me on it. I told them, “I’m going to leave the company. I apologize.” I was honest with them. They said, “We’re going to talk to the lawyers and see if we can have you come work with us directly,” which I never did. I would never do that. It was interesting that it mattered more to them that their partner was looked after than their relationship that they already had with that company. I left the company. I’ve never, since I was fifteen years old, not had a job. This was devastating. If I look at it from an emotional standpoint, I was depressed. What do I do with myself?
How long did you feel depressed after you left that company?
It was probably about three months at least where I was like, “Woe is me. What am I going to do about this?”Know your niche and know what your customers find valuable. Click To Tweet
What did you do? What was the next step?
I always had that idea in my head, “You could go out on your own,” but I’ll be honest with you, I’m chicken. I was scared to do that but then I said, “No, it’s now or never. You’re about to be 40. If you don’t do this now, you’re always going to regret that you didn’t do it.” That was a few years ago. I went out, I created my LLC and I did a ton of research. I followed some brilliant minds in my space online. I made some great connections. When people that I had worked with in the past found out that I was now on my own, I started getting inquiries and I built my customer base like that.
How did they find out? Were you now posting on LinkedIn or Facebook? How do people know that Anita is now open for business?
The main place that I advertised was LinkedIn and it was my voice saying, “I’ve been through some crazy times and I am now on my own, I’m excited. I’m looking forward to potentially working with some of your people.” A bunch of people came to me and I did some outreach at that point with some past connections. Not necessarily much of that panned out for anything significant, but there were a few people who saw that worked with me in the past and said, “I’m in a new company. I need you to get in here and help me.” I was blessed in that way, but it was LinkedIn primarily that I used.
Most of your business has been coming in through referrals. You haven’t had to do tons of outreach or sales activities yourself. Talk us through what your mindset is around that. Do you feel that’s a good place to be? Are you thinking now more about trying to do more proactive marketing? What going on in your world?
That’s a great question and it hits to the heart of where I’m at. Historically the business has been 100% referral, which is a blessing and a curse at the same time. It’s a blessing because people see my value and they’re willing to stick with me and find me other customers. The flip side of that is I don’t have confidence that lasts forever. Things change. In my mind, a couple of years ago I said, “You need to get your marketing game up and you need to start doing more outreach.” Even though I focus on my customers a lot, I had to focus on myself and my business as well. I made some general investments in terms of contacts and magazines and such, but the biggest investment I made was writing the book, actually sitting down and sharing my expertise and content from my classes in that book. What ended up happening is that it became my single biggest marketing tool. A lot of the awareness I’ve created now has been through that book.
I’m in the process of beginning stages of marketing myself. I got my website forever, but targeting my message and reaching out to different individuals. LinkedIn is my primary source of people. I have no interest in randomly going out and finding people. I know the types of organizations I excel at and those are the ones that I’ve been starting to reach out. It’s been good so far. I’ve got a couple of good leads, but again, this is new to me. I haven’t done this in a long time. It’s going to be interesting to see how I pull through it. I look at it this way, I’ve so far been able to step up on every occasion that I’ve needed to, even though I sometimes doubted myself and this is going to be no different.
How are you using the book? You said the book has a good response from it. A lot of people write books, they don’t necessarily get good results from them. They’re not marketing them. What have you done specifically with the book? How have you found that you’ve been able to use it in an effective way?
The first thing I did with the book was when I knew that it was going to be coming out, I reached out to almost all of my LinkedIn contacts and I sent them an email, a personal one saying, “I’m finally going to finish this book. I need your help. Can you help me talk about the book on LinkedIn and pass it around?” Sure enough, because of the commitment that I’ve made to those people in the past and how I’d worked for them, I was overwhelmed at how willing they were to go out there and recommend my book. Before I knew it, I had some reviews on Amazon, which I never thought that was going to happen. When you do genuinely care for people and their success, ultimately when it comes to your turn, they will find a way to help you. I’ve been lucky with that.
I’ve made a lot of great contacts with mentors over the years. I had to do a lot of learning when I first went out on my own to put some discipline around the way that I delivered my services. Those individuals who I’d always been grateful to and I was vocal about how grateful I was, they came in droves to help me. I joined a group called WOMEN Sales Pros, which you’ve interviewed many of them in the past. That was a group that has been incredibly helpful in terms of, “You have to get her book,” or “I’m reading your book. I sent it to this customer.” It has a product of relationships that I’ve cultivated over the years.
It’s key to surround yourself with others, whether it’s in some mentorship group or people working in similar industries. For many consultants, the work that we do can be lonely. It can be ourselves. Finding people that you can learn from or surround yourself with that community is beneficial. We see that with a lot of our clients in the coaching programs that we run. On your website, you have four core service offerings. The sales training, sales performance coaching, general sales enablement, and then your proprietary training. Why those four? Why not 6 or 2?
Those are the four that I know that I can be amazing at. Frankly, they’re the ones that will get me the customers I want to work with and they’re the ones that are proven and jive with who I am and what I stand for. You’ll never see on my website somebody that’s going to help with commissions and figuring out the compensation. That’ll never be a thing for me. It took energy and time to figure out what I am good at. What do I know I can go in there and make an inimitable value? Those are the four that I landed on. I’ll be honest, the general services might change in 2020 because that feels a little bit general and I understand that the more I focus and the more I’m able to take the expertise from that niche and apply it, the more valuable it’s been in general for the customer and me.
What do you say to the consultant reading right now who goes, “Yeah, but if I narrow it down too much, I’m missing out on the potential business. Should I let people know that I can do all these other things as well?” How would you respond to them based on your experience with that?
It’s scary. First of all, acknowledge how scary that is. When you’re trying to pay bills, you’re pretty much like any project. I did this, by the way, any project I get my hands on, I’m going to take it because it’s going to be a check. What ends up happening is when you go out on your own as a consultant, you have dreams and goals and you have an idea in your head of what that business looks like. When you take on that business that isn’t going to jive with what you wanted, you’re going to be unhappy. Until you go back and focus on those things that you know you can be uniquely valuable on, it will be like a rat race and then you’re going to be ready to go back and work for somebody else. A big reason that you go out on your own is you want to do work that you love. If you start doing work that you don’t love, then why not go back and get a job and have a steady income? I say that it’s hard, it’s scary, but have faith in yourself and your skills to be able to go out and make something of it and know that you will be based on your ability to focus.When you take on a business that doesn’t jive with what you want, you're going to be unhappy. Click To Tweet
It also goes towards mastery. If you want to be known as a master in a certain area, an expert in a certain area, then you have to narrow in. You can’t do too many things. There’s no way that you can be an expert in all of them. The other thing that I’ve shared with many clients is this idea that if you go out, you’re doing a lot of different types of things and you’re building different case studies that it’s varied. When you want to attract one specific type of ideal client then ultimately, it’s hard to demonstrate it to show a lot of similar case studies. Your case studies are wide-ranging. If you have a whole bunch of case studies around, let’s say 1, 2 or 3 specific areas, then you’ll be able to attract those types of clients in droves because they see more specific proof of what you’ve done in that area.
They see your value in the context of how people like them. That’s attractive. That’s what’s going to get people to buy is knowing that you’ve helped people like them be better.
It comes back to the messaging too. Your ideal clients want to be able to see themselves in your messaging. The more specific that you can be about that, the more likely it is that it’s going to resonate with them.
I’ve worked with individuals especially in sales that they’ll do outreach and it will be very much, “My name is so-and-so. This is my title. This is the company I work with. This is what we deliver.” I’m like, “Delete, so what?” Anybody can cut and paste that information into an email and try to go in my junk folder. What’s different is reaching out and saying something like, “I recently worked with a medium-sized business in B2B tech and we were able to see a 20% increase in revenue from a 2-day-class over the course of a year.” Now I’ve caught their attention and I’ve got it in a big way. It becomes easy to ask for that call.
Looking back over the last several months, what would you say has been the biggest impact and benefit that something that you’ve done or something that you’ve learned, you implanted into your businesses that’s had the biggest impact for you?
The book, hands down. I did it because I wanted to help salespeople. That was what the heart of it was, but I did not realize the overwhelming support that it was going to get and how much people were going to benefit from it and use it. That was an awakening for me. Over the years, I’ve worked hard on my self-confidence and that was huge for me. It’s not just in your head that you know things. People appreciate what you know and there’s value to it. That was probably the highest impact thing that I did and in so many ways.
Talk to me about the whole self-confidence, self-esteem area because many people struggle with that. It’s everywhere. What were you going through? What were some of the thoughts you were having at that time especially?
I’m sure a majority of the people on the show have heard about imposter syndrome. I used to joke that I’m the poster child for imposter syndrome. No matter how great I would do, no matter how many thousands of dollars people were willing to pay me, I still was second-guessing. Am I going to be able to deliver the value? Ultimately, it was the mindset. It was a shift in mindset. People want to buy you and don’t underestimate that. When I started to think that way, it helped alleviate it. I’m always working on things like this. Your scripts are written in your childhood and you’re spending the rest of your life trying to grow and learn from them. It’s an ongoing effort. It was a shift in mindset to say, “You do get it.” They’re telling you that you get it. Don’t get in your own way. That’s how it went through.
Have you adopted or used any way of thinking or a principle or let’s say some action that has helped you with this? Do you tell yourself certain things? Are there certain books that you read that have helped you? Are you meditating? What are you doing to help you to go from this idea of the imposter syndrome or another challenge around self-esteem to be able to see improvement?
There are a couple of things I do. One thing I do to help balance me is I have about a fifteen-minute period of time in the morning where I’m in gratitude. I’m grateful for these customers I have that are willing to go out and find me more customers. Coming to your day with that mindset is huge in terms of getting you on the right track for the day. When you’re grateful, abundance follows. Without getting too mushy on you, that’s a huge thing.
What are you doing? Are you journaling?
I sit there and think through it. I go through and think through it. Someday, I maybe will be disciplined enough to write it, but so far, it’s like wherever my mind takes me in terms of what I want to be grateful. Some days I might be grateful that I can have a conversation with my teenage daughter without killing her. It depends on what that situation is. Where your head takes you is where your heart needs to be. I do that. When I get to a point where I’m starting to question myself, I have a bunch of surveys that I’ve done from my classes and they have feedback in them from sales reps. I will go open those and read them and say, “This is from the people that you serve. They are coming back and telling you that they’ve never been in a better class. They are telling you that they can’t wait to use what you’re saying. Do not get in your own way.” That’s probably the second most important thing that I do. Lastly, I keep good connections. I surround myself with people that are supportive. They don’t let me forget that I have value. In case I do backtrack, there are people that’ll say, “No, you are a star and you’re going to continue being a star. Don’t get in your own way.”
Typically, the person that we see in the mirror is our own biggest critic. That’s the person that’s holding us back more than anything else. Oftentimes, it’s easy to put that externally and say, “It’s this person or that person or this situation. It’s this location, these external circumstances.” The thing that’s holding you back more than anything else is the person you see in the mirror, which is yourself. That’s a great lesson there. Those are good ideas. Anita, how can people learn more about your book and about the work you’re doing? Where’s the best place for them to go?
I’m most active on LinkedIn, probably Anita Nielsen with LDK Advisory Services. LDKAdvisory.com is my website. The book is on Amazon.com. It’s called Beat The Bots: How Your Humanity Can Future-Proof Your Tech Sales Career.
Anita, thank you so much for coming on here.
It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
- Anita Nielsen – LinkedIn
- WOMEN Sales Pros
- Amazon.com – Beat The Bots: How Your Humanity Can Future-Proof Your Tech Sales Career