Transform your failures into success in no time by implementing sales systems that will work for you.
I’m very excited to have Bob Burg joining us. Bob, welcome.
Thank you, Michael. It’s great to be with you.
For those who don’t know, and I think it will be few because Bob has reached so many people, Bob Burg is a sought-after speaker at company leadership and sales conferences around the world, sharing the platform with everyone from today’s business leaders and broadcast personalities to even a former US President. He is the author of numerous books. The bestseller that maybe Bob is best known for is The Go-Giver, co-authored by John David Mann, has sold over 500,000 copies and has been translated into 21 languages. It’s also been released in a new expanded edition foreword by The Huffington Post Founder, Arianna Huffington. Bob is an advocate supporter and defender of the free enterprise system, believing that the amount of money one makes is directly proportional to how many people they serve. Bob, great to have you here.
Thank you. I’m just delighted to be with you.
I want to take a step back because we just talked about where you are right now, but where were you before you were standing on all these stages in front of hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of people at one time? What’s your background? How did you get into all this?
It began as a broadcaster, first in radio on a local station where I grew up. I was doing sports, which is what I really wanted to do. Then I got a job on TV as a news broadcaster. It was first of all an ABC affiliate. It was a good experience but I really wasn’t very good at doing that. I was young and not really interested in the news. I could read the news but I certainly wasn’t a journalist. It wasn’t long before I realized that’s not what I was going to be doing. I like to say I graduated into sales. The challenge was that I knew nothing about sales. While I was willing to go out there and call on people and had little success, I floundered for those first few months. Fortunately I went into a bookstore, and this was more than 35 years ago, back in the day when bookstores were mainly known for books rather than coffee and pastries and so forth. I went to the business section. I didn’t even realize there would be a sales section. I didn’t know there was such a thing as sales teaching. I just happened to see books by Tom Hopkins and Zig Ziglar and I got their materials and I started studying. Really within a few weeks, my sales went through the roof, which was to me very fascinating because the only difference between then and three weeks earlier was having the information and being able to apply it, or having a system.
To this day, I personally define a system simply as the process of predictably achieving a goal based on a logical and specific set of how-to principles, the key being predictability. If it’s been proven that by doing A, you’ll get the desired results of B, then you know all you need to do is B and continue to do B and you’re going to get those desired results. That’s what said to me, “There’s a methodology here.” I started just studying sales and applying the information and studying personal development, which is a big part of studying sales. From there, I worked my way up to sales manager of another company and started teaching others what I was doing, which led to beginning a speaking business and the writing and the whole thing.
You’ve got results very quickly. You consumed a whole bunch of books, learned a methodology, a system, an approach. How did you go from being miserable at sales to all of a sudden seeing your sales go through the roof? Can you share with me a few ideas, maybe just the ones that you feel had the biggest impact? How were you able to do that in just a matter of weeks?Selling is really discovering what that other person needs, what they want, what they desire. Click To Tweet
It was just understanding that there is a system. That was the first part, because I had no idea. I thought you’d go out and you’d tell people about your product or service. That’s what the sales manager of the company told me to do. That’s all I needed to do. Zig and Tom are the two I really started with. What they both basically taught was that you ask questions. That selling is really discovering what that other person needs, what they want, what they desire. That’s the starting point. Your focus needs to be on them and bringing value to them.
How often do you see people make that mistake where they start off and they just spend a great deal of time talking about themselves or their product or their methodology and not engaging in questions first?
Surprisingly, I still see it quite often. I think the reason why is because it’s very natural as human beings. Most people who represent a product or service, they love that product or service. They believe in that product or service. They know in their heart that they can provide exceptional value to people through their product or service. Because of that and being human, we think, “If we can just tell everybody about it and just talk about that product, people are going to get it.” It’s natural but it’s very ineffective.
You picked up on these sales skills. You started to see improvements in sales growth, you then moved up the ranks a little bit. Then you mentioned that you decided to start a speaking business. That sounds like a big shift to make from being a sales manager or moving up the ranks to all this and saying, “I’m going to go and speak.” Why did you decide to become a speaker?
I think I’m entrepreneurial by nature. I knew I wanted to eventually have my own business. When people who were seeing the success of my sales team were starting to ask me to come in and speak to their groups, I thought, “This might be a neat thing.” It was also at the time I had attended a seminar and I bought the person’s cassette tape. At the end, they had something in there, “If you’d like to earn some extra money selling these tapes, let us know.” I did and they taught me how to go to speak at all these civic clubs, groups, organizations, all of these where I could speak for 25, 30 minutes for free and at the end, sell that person’s tapes. I did and I think I was their number one or number two sales leader in terms of tapes sold in the country at one point. It was a lot of fun. I also thought, “I’d rather be doing this for myself,” on the information that I teach and so forth. I went into business for myself speaking, but then again we talk about systems. It was only after I joined the National Speakers Association and started learning from people who were already successful professional speakers. The speaking business is a business like anything else. It has to be run by a business. It’s marketed as a business. It’s sold as a business. I started looking for those who already had a successful business. The National Speakers Association is a great organization. You’ve actually got people up there sharing with everyone else. That became very easy for me to learn how to do it and learn how to market myself as a speaker and sell my speaking services.
Do you consider yourself a natural speaker or was there a lot of work that went into really honing this craft? You’re very good at speaking. You can just tell that you’re able to bond with the audience, there’s humor in there. I think you’re a great speaker. What’s gone into that? Was there a lot of work? Did you have to practice? Did you stand in front of the mirror and go to all these different clubs? Was it going to the clubs and studying a bit more that helped you to master or fine-tune it but you had the building blocks already there? Where did you come from? What did that look like?
I think there’s a combination of it involved. I would say it’s like someone who’s a decent athlete. They maybe have the tools to be a good ball player. Yet if they’re going to make the big leagues, they’re going to have to work very, very hard at it.
You definitely did. You put in a lot of time, energy and focus.
I learned from people who were a lot better than I was and a lot better than I still am. I continue to learn. I continued to do talks for free. I probably did a couple hundred free talks before I ever got paid for one. It’s a lot of practice and you continue to watch people and you don’t copy them but you certainly learn from them. It’s a lot of work but if it’s something you love, you’re willing to do it.
You talked about the importance of asking questions and the role that plays in sales. You said that the best skill that you can actually have is a well-developed and authentic interest in the other person. Talk to us a little bit about what that actually means.
That’s where I talk about people skills being so important. I really think that people skills are the determining factor, the differentiator between those people who have attained a legitimate amount of success and those people who have just attained an enormous level of success and achievement. I believe it really does come down to people skills. Probably 10% of success is technical skills or talent or job skills which by the way doesn’t diminish those in any way, shape or form. Those are very, very important. It’s just that those are the entry level for getting in the game. There are a lot of people who have a lot of talent and who have those skills, so they’re very important. Without them, it doesn’t matter how great your people skills are. Eventually, you’re going to fall flat. The technical skills are basically there. That’s the commodity part, if you will. 90% is probably people skills. When you think about it, people skills are really nothing more than understanding and respecting human nature and doing things in a way that brings out the best both in ourselves and in others. There are skills that we can be taught and we learn, but the single greatest people skill is a highly developed and authentic interest in that other person. Not that there aren’t some people who can really phonus balonus it, but by and large, most people know when you’re interested in them or when you’re more interested in what’s in their wallet.
I find that really interesting because I think there are a lot are consultants who maybe come from a very technical background or maybe they consider themselves to be introverts. When they hear you say about people skills, their alarm bells are going off and saying, “I’m not a people person. I’m an introvert or I’m technical. I don’t really like to do the sales and marketing stuff.”What do you say to those people?As an introvert, you can be a much better salesperson than an extrovert because an extrovert wants to be talking about themselves. Click To Tweet
First of all, I’m an introvert, which simply means that I derive my energy by being alone or with just one or two very close friends that I’m comfortable with. It’s one thing if I’m up there speaking in front of an audience but that’s not me being part of an audience. I don’t like that. I don’t go to a lot of social events. I don’t do those things. I don’t derive my energy from that as an extrovert does. Here’s the neat thing for all introverts to know. As an introvert, you actually can be a much better salesperson than an extrovert because an extrovert wants to be talking and wants to be talking about themselves. While they may enjoy the process more than an introvert, but they’re typically not as effective at it unless they can control that desire to talk. With an introvert, we’d rather ask the questions because we’d rather not be the focal point. I often say to my audiences, “How many of you have ever been in a conversation with someone who let you do practically all the talking even just once or twice?” Most people will raise their hand because we’ve all had that experience once or twice. Then I say, “How many of you came away from that conversation saying to yourself, what a fascinating conversationalist that person is?” Because they let us talk about ourselves which made them fascinating. That’s really the advantage an introvert has.
I love that definition and insight because I think a lot of people initially feel that an introvert has a disadvantage but clearly, the way that you’ve explained it here, they have a real advantage when it comes to having more meaningful conversations with people. You started off speaking. I think you’re best known in terms of books as the author of The Go-Giver and a whole series around that. When did you start writing? When did that come into the picture?
I was very fortunate with The Go-Giver because I got to team up with John David Mann, who is an extraordinary writer and storyteller. I’m much more of a how-to person, as you can probably tell. I’m step one, step two, step three. John is a great storyteller. In The Go-Giver and two of the three books in the series, are our parables which are stories. John did such a fantastic job there. My first book, Endless Referrals, was a how-to book. The reason I wrote that one was because I’d been in National Speakers Association for a few years. I’d been speaking for about four years and I was doing pretty well. My career was progressing, not as quickly as I would have liked, of course. I was attending one of the events and I think it was in the hallways I was talking with some people between programs and one of them said, “Burg, you really need to write a book.” I said, “Why?” They said, “Because when you write a book, when you’re the author of a book, you’re going to be much better-positioned. You’re going to have much more authority in the market place with your topic. You’re going to be able to get higher fees. It’s going to be easier to sell your speaking engagements.” I did some checking around. This is common knowledge today, but not everybody knew that back then when I was starting.
My first book was just really utilitarian. It was just because there was a reason for me writing that particular book that was totally business-focused. I would say back then, I was a speaker who wrote. I wrote a couple of books in the 90s and so forth. I would say it morphed a little bit because The Go-Giver series, again even though John is the lead writer and storyteller, we still write these because of the messages themselves that we want to share. I’d say now I’m more of a writer who speaks. With all my other how-to books that I wrote, I would use them as outbound, outgoing marketing tools. They worked very successfully but it’s not like I usually receive calls from a company that said, “We’ve got your book and we’d like to have you to come and speak.” That didn’t usually happen. With The Go-Giver, it’s different, that we do get calls now that the book has gone through their organization, “How much do you charge to speak? Can you come in?” I think the big reason is because it’s a story and stories connect with people.
I want to dive a little bit deeper into that. In terms of the how-to books, when you first heard from someone, “You’ve got to write a book, Bob,” and you go, “Okay.” You do some research and you decide, “I’m going to write a book,” so you write a book. That first book that went out there, what was the impact? Did it have an impact on your business?
It had a big impact but it was always proactive because I could use that when I was calling and selling my own speaking engagements. I would be working on a particular niche. I’d work horizontally with every state and regional association. I’d work it vertically all the way up. What I would do is I would continually utilize it. I also wrote articles back then. This wasn’t online; this was back in the day. I’d write articles for their trade magazines and publications. I’d make sure to position myself every way I could as an expert in that field. When I would call and I would introduce myself and ask if they happened to have heard of Endless Referrals. If they did, great, but usually they didn’t. I’d say, “I’d love to send you one if you would like.”Usually, they did because that’s exactly what they were looking for. I knew my audience. My audience needed, wanted, desired and could afford to learn about Endless Referrals. That’s what they wanted. That’s how I named the book, with a benefit in mind. They’d get the book and if they didn’t like it, I wasn’t the right speaker for them obviously. If they did like the book, then they wanted to know more and now we could take it to that next level. It worked very well and we sold a lot because I was just constantly marketing and selling that book.
You had a list of ideal clients or ideal associations or groups that you wanted to actually speak at. That’s what you were selling, that was the product. You’d call them up and you’d ask if they had heard of your book. You’d send them a copy of the book and then you’d follow up again to see what they thought of it, then transition that to see if there’s an opportunity to speak for them as well as potentially write for their publication. Is that what you were doing?
I wouldn’t lead in with, “Have you heard of my book?” First I was leading in to see if they were interested in the program I would be teaching. In other words, I might talk to the person who’s their director of sales or if it was an association, it might be their program chair or something like that. I speak on a topic called Endless Referrals that basically answers the question asked by so many and the type of people in that business, which is, “Who do I talk to next now that my original list of names has run out? Does anyone in your organization tend to have that issue?” I knew they did. That was the market I was going for. They’d say, “Yeah, absolutely.” I’d start that way. At that point, it could be at the same time, it could be later, it could be whenever but I would have spoken to the person at the trade, which would be a different office maybe. It might have been before I even spoke to that person or it could be at the same time or it could have been after that I would have written for that magazine and I could refer to that, too. “Did you happen to see the article in?”
When you were doing that, you must have encountered a lot of people that weren’t interested.
Many more nos than yeses.
How do you deal with that? What was your mindset as you were working through and you were just getting no after no? What was going through your mind as you were working that process? How did you stick with it?
I think it’s understanding that you don’t have to enjoy the nos. You just have to know it’s part of it. Some great friends of mine, Andrea Waltz and Richard Fenton have this fantastic book. It’s also a business parable. It’s called Go For No!. They totally reposition the very idea of no. The basic premise of the book is yes is the destination, no is how you get there. It’s being willing to go through the nos. Let me share something with you because you bring up such a great point, “How do you deal with the nos?”I think that sometimes in the personal development genre, which we’re both part of and so are many other people, there’s that politically correct type of thing where, “Don’t worry about the nos. Nos are great. It means you can get another yes or it means there’s more to be known.” That’s malarkey. I hate nos. Most of us do. Who wants a no? We want yes. That’s not the issue. It’s just understanding that no is part of it. You don’t have to like it in order to hear it and be able to accept it. Remember, today’s no is tomorrow’s yes or it’s next year’s yes, but not always. Sometimes it’s just no and it’s going to be no. It’s just a matter of having a game plan, understanding what you’re going to do. How are you going to follow up with this person? How do know when it’s no longer worth following up with that person? You just do it that way. The main point is I don’t think you have to enjoy the nos, you just have to know that it’s part of it and be able to deal with it and go through it. There are people in this world right now whose main goal for the day is to get fresh drinking water for their family. Having someone tell us no is not the worst thing in the world. I don’t mean to be morbid but sometimes it’s helpful to really reframe things by understanding that we could be a lot worse off than having to face someone saying no.
Bob, you talk a lot about this idea of “Value comes before money,” really providing value to people. For those that are in the earlier stages of their business or even maybe their business is more established but their number one priority in their mind is growing sales and growing revenue. For those people, sometimes it’s hard to see that their focus should be on providing value instead of having a successful transaction or just getting a deal done. What do you say to those people that are either in a position where they really need to generate more revenue and cash in their business because they’re early stage or just because they’re in a position where that’s important to them, to the growth and to the existence of their business? How can they shift their mind to actually saying, “It’s okay to provide value before focusing on the transaction?”
A lot of it has to do with people maybe misinterpreting the value money situation. This is what we say, that your focus needs to be in the value. Money is simply an echo of value. It’s the thunder to value’s lightning which means nothing more than the value comes first. That needs to be the focus. The value comes first. The money you receive is simply a very natural and a direct result of the value you provide. When we say focus on the value, that doesn’t mean give yourself away for free. It means you’ve got to be able to communicate to that person the value that they will receive by doing business with you. Remember, value, which is the relative worth or desirability of a thing to the end user or beholder, value is always in the eyes of the beholder. It just makes logical sense that until this person understands the value they’ll receive from you, they’re not giving you their money. When I speak in a conference, I’ll say, “No one’s going to buy from you because you have a quota to meet. They’re not going to buy from you because you need the money. They’re not even going to buy from you because you’re a really nice person who believes in your product or service.”No, they’re going to buy from you only because they believe they’ll be better off by doing so than by not doing so. As a result, the onus is on we, the salesperson or the consultant, to communicate that value. We do that not by focusing on the money. We do that by focusing on making their life better, their life easier, what have you.
How do you draw that line or even connect that line between providing value and then actually making an offer? A lot of consultants have this hesitation, like they don’t want to impose, they don’t want to be too direct. Sometimes when they’re thinking about providing value, so maybe they’re writing articles, they’re doing online trainings or maybe they’re even speaking, but they’re not making a clear off. There’s no clear call to action. They’re waiting for people to come to them or to request something from them. What’s your suggestion around that? How do you know the right time and the balance between giving value and putting information and content out there and actually having a clear offer?
Putting content out into the marketplace is one form of adding value which positions you in the marketplace. All that does really is make it easier for when you reach out to them. If you have an attractor out there such as at the end of your article or at the end of your interview for people to come to your site to get a special report or a free video or an audio on something, that’s going to attract them to it. Now they come to your site because they want that, because they feel it’s going to be of value to them so the right people are coming. They go through that and hopefully within the whitepaper or the video or whatever it is, you’re able to communicate your value. Still, you’re not connecting with them personally there. It’s either got to be enough that then they want to take that next step but you’ve got to ask them to do that, or because they’re now on your list, you can reach out proactively to them. There’s a big thing now of people saying, “No longer is outbound or being on the phone needed.” I disagree. Inbound is great. When you can attract people and get people to contact you, that’s a wonderful thing. By no means does that mean that outbound is no longer important. Absolutely it is. The more you’re willing to do that, the more success you’re going to have. As you start to build up your client base, and not that you should ever stop marketing and not that you should ever stop selling, you’re still going to be creating the context where you’re able to work a lot more through word of mouth and referrals. Even that, you’ve still got to proactively approach.
I’m so glad that you mentioned that, Bob, because that is so critical for people to really understand and to follow through it. That outbound, especially in the early stages of growing your business, is critical to get that momentum going which then can allow you to be in a position where you’ll get more inbound, more referrals or more people contacting you. I love how you just hit on there that even when you reach a level of success in your business, it doesn’t mean that you should stop. You’ve clearly reached a great level of success with your business. What’s your approach to scaling it? Do you have a team around you? Is it just you? Is it simply a matter of more books and more speaking? For those people who are also in a more developed situation of their business, what’s your approach to scaling into growth?
We do have a team. We all work out of our homes. I have a business partner, Kathy Tagenel, who’s absolutely brilliant and basically runs the day-to-day operations. While I still speak, I’m now limiting myself to no more than twenty out-of-state engagements. I really have never enjoyed the travel part of the business even though I enjoy the speaking part. I’m 59 and as I’m getting older, I’m just less willing to do those things that I don’t want to do. I do just twenty a year out-of-state. We also have two other areas that are really the big parts of the business that we’re continuing to develop and having a lot of fun with. One is a certified Go-Giver Speaker Program where people buy the rights to speak on my intellectual properties that I’ve developed over the last 28 to 30 years, including The Go-Giver, Endless Referrals, Ultimate Influence and all the things that we teach. These are mostly people who already had a successful career. They’re in their mid 30’s or 40’s, they maybe read the book and it helped them in their business and now they want to be professional speakers and they want to utilize the platform of The Go-Giver teaching. That’s one area. The other is where we’re more in the development phase but it’s looking great and it’s a lot of fun. We have a Go-Giver Sales Academy and we have both in-person classes, which we limit to just ten people because it’s very intense. The big thing is the Go-Giver Sales Academy Online Course. That is something we’re really bringing out and developing big time. That is what we’d like to be the ongoing program that people are purchasing.
Bob, I really want to thank you and appreciate you for coming on and sharing here. What’s the best way for people to learn more about your work and to connect with you?
The best thing is just to go to TheGoGiver.com. On the site they can get Chapter 1 or an excerpt from The Go–Giver and some of my other books, as well as check out the podcast and The Go-Giver Movement that we have. I really appreciate being on your program. You’re really a fantastic conversationalist.
Thanks so much, Bob. It’s been a lot of fun.
Mentioned in This Episode:
The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea, by Bob Burg and John David Mann
National Speakers Association
Endless Referrals, by Bob Burg
The Go-Giver Leader: A Little Story About What Matters Most in Business, by Bob Burg ?and John David Mann
Go-Givers Sell More, by Bob Burg and John David Mann
Go For No — Yes is the Destination, No Is How You Get There, by Richard Fenton and Andrea Waltz
Go-Giver Sales Academy