Anthony Iannarino is an international speaker, author, and sales leader of the top ½% of all businesses in America. Between consulting, writing, sales, and running a staffing firm, Anthony has proven that he is on a mission to serve and to help people achieve better business results than they could otherwise. In this episode he shares the transformation that his career took when he learned to embrace the necessary balance between consulting and sales, which he defines simply as the ability to create opportunity and bring value to other people. This episode is filled with valuable insight for consultants who are trying to leave the stigma of sales behind, why Anthony believes that is a mistake, and how exactly to embrace the value of sales instead.
As creators of value, consultants have the opportunity to make businesses more beneficial, to make a real contribution, and to help people grow.
Anthony Iannarino, entrepreneur, author and consultant. Anthony’s the President and Chief Sales Officer of Solutions Staffing, Director of B2BSales Coach, and a daily writer at TheSalesBlog.com. Anthony has an amazing story. I am excited to have him here with us. Anthony, welcome.
Thanks for having me, Michael.
You’re a sales guy, one of the top around. You know your industry very well, but many people feel sales and selling are dirty words. Why is this?
There’s some reason that sales have developed a bit of a reputation over the last couple thousand years. For a long time, there was an imbalance of power where sellers had more information about their product, about the market, about what it was worth than buyers. We were taught things like tie downs to say, “You do love your family? You do want them to be safe, don’t you? You do want your kids to go to college? How can you go to sleep at night not having signed this insurance contract?” There were all those kinds of tactics being used. People got tired of it, and the balance of power shifted over time. More people entered the market.
A lot of people feel that selling is about being manipulative or persuasive or making somebody buy something that they’re not going to benefit from for the sellers benefit alone. That hasn’t been true for a long time and it’s certainly not true of consultants. I would have never gotten into sales if it was about taking advantage of other people. It’s about creating value for other people. It’s about finding a way to be beneficial and helping them get a result that they can’t get without you. That’s what makes selling what it is today. It makes you valuable and you’re a value creator. You make a contribution and you help other people grow.It's about creating value for other people. That's what makes selling what it is today. Click To Tweet
Are you saying that tie downs and tactics like that, that many people will have likely read in older sales books or even maybe newer materials as well, are they no longer applicable?
Would you want me to answer that question Tuesday at two or Wednesday at ten? Would that be better for you? As a buyer, we hear them and we’re like, “Really? Why don’t you be honest and ask me what you want to ask me?”That’s so much more effective to ask for what you want it to be; honest, vulnerable, and tell the truth. It sells and it works better than a tie down.
I’ve seen a lot of salespeople, ”sales gurus”, whether it’s on YouTube or in books, that still use that type of language. I’m sure there’s a lot of other terminology that the people will have heard and that you could mention, but it seems that people are still talking about these types of tactics as they do work. You’re saying that they’re not as effective or is it more that you’re not as comfortable with them? s there a right and wrong when it comes to this?
It doesn’t matter whether I’m comfortable, buyers aren’t. As you move up from a low dollar, low risk transactional sale to a high value, high dollar, high risk sale, those tactics will destroy your ability to sell. The more about what you do is important to the person’s buying, the more that they’ve got something at risk, the more money they’re spending. You completely destroy your trust going to tactics. This is the most important thing. You have to be somebody who creates value. It’s more important that you be rather than learn tactics. You need to be somebody worth doing business with. There’s no greater value proposition than a salesperson, or in our case, a consultant that has the ability to deliver value.
That’s an important message that a lot of people will take comfort in hearing because a lot of people have been raised to feel that as consultants, as business owners, you need to sell with old tactics, and that’s what sales is all about. What you’re saying is a breath of fresh air because you’re saying that’s not the case and that it’s even going to do more harm than good. People should be who they are, and instead of focusing on these old sales tactics, focus more on providing value, which people take comfort in.
You run several businesses. One’s a staffing firm. You speak, you’re writing, you’re still a consultant on sales, and some people might wonder when they look at all the different things that you’re involved in, why is this guy doing so much? Why is he’s spreading himself thin? Why not focus on one business and take it to the moon. What would you say to them?
I’ve got a couple of businesses that are close to the moon. I was looking at my speaking calendar, and I probably will have 26 speeches, keynotes this year, which is not too shabby for third or fourth year into the business. I’m on a mission. I am here to serve and to help other people achieve better results than they may “without my help.” I know some things and I know how to help some people, and my mission is to hand people the key that they’re already holding to unlock the chains that they’ve locked themselves up in and help them realize their potential. I do that, so it looks like I have a lot of different jobs, but it’s one mission. Wherever I go, I’m still working on that same mission. It all looks like one thing to me and I bring myself to that. Whatever engagement it is, I’m bringing Anthony. That’s what I do. I bring that to the engagement.
If we provide people with more perspective or background on your businesses, when you were saying that you do have a couple of companies and businesses that you own or are involved in, and that they’re close to the moon, we’re talking about businesses that are generating significant revenue.
You can say $45 million. That’s the top half percent of all businesses in America to get to that level. It’s significant, and there’s still room to grow there.
I want to go back in time and ask you about how you got into sales. How did this even happen? How did Anthony Iannarino end up being a sales guy?
As a young child of five and six, while other kids were playing cops and robbers, I was playing sales rep. No kid ever goes to his parents and says, “When I grow up, I want to be a salesperson.”If they did, the parents would say, “Are you out of your mind? We want you to be a doctor.” I had an interesting upbringing. My dad left when I was seven. My mom raised four kids by herself, and I grew up in an apartment complex. I had no adult male role model that gave me a vision of what I could become, and so I did the thing that looked most natural for my temperament, my disposition. I started fronting a rock band when I was seventeen as soon as I graduated from high school. We played every club in Ohio and predominantly, the Columbus area where I lived until we could really fill any club that we played in.
From that point, I decided to take a run at it and I moved to Los Angeles. I knew the staffing business because it was the family business. I got into a staffing firm called Olston, which was about a $4 billion concern at that time and one of the three largest staffing firms in the world. I got a job working a light industrial desk placing people because it was the only job they let a guy with a ponytail down to his waist do. They figured I couldn’t do any harm over there. I got a new manager at some point, and he came over to the desk and he said, “What do salespeople do?” I said, “They go out and they talk to customers. They ask, they win their business.”That’s what they do.” He said, “No, what do our salespeople do?” I got the point of his question that he was saying, “Our salespeople aren’t winning deals.”
I wasn’t going to rat anybody out. I didn’t know what they were doing. They were out of the office all the time. I hedged and said nothing. He came back a while later with a list of clients, and he pushed it across the desk and he said, “Whose clients are these?” I said, “Those are my clients.”With every negative implication you can imagine because he’s looking at somebody who doesn’t look like he should have clients. He said, “How do you win these clients?” I said, “I don’t know. I pick up the phone. I call. I try to help people. Some people let me come out and talk to them, and some of those people asked me to help them.“He came back later that week and said, “I want you to cut your hair off and I want you to go into outside sales.” What I heard come out of his mouth is, “I want you to be a psychopathic ax murderer” because that was my interpretation of what salespeople were.
They were manipulative, persuasive, and dirty. It wasn’t any kind of vision I could attach to myself. I resisted and said, “I’m good at what I do. These are my clients. I love them. They love me. I can’t do this. You can’t make me.” He eventually told me, “You work for me, and you need to do the job I need you to do. If you don’t come back in on Monday with your hair cut, I’ll fire you.” I cut my hair and I went into outside sales. The first account, that one was a $10 million account. He helped me drag it across the line, but after I won a $10 million account, I was everybody’s golden boy on the West Coast because it was the largest account on that half of the United States. I fell in love with it because I realized it was me being able to be resourceful, be creative, taking initiative and find a way to help people who needed my help.
How did you get good at sales? How did you get this $10 million deal? Was it the people that you knew? Were you in some old boys club? Were there some secret rock band connections or they give you lots of referrals?
It was the worst possible way you can imagine. It was picking up the phone and cold calling. At that time, I was dumb and naïve as a salesperson. I’m fortunate to have won that because there’s every reason in the world they should not have given me the business, starting with me pushing past the receptionist to the point where she was extremely upset when she passed the phone to her boss. I remember him getting on the phone and saying, “Why is my assistant crying?” I said, “I don’t know.” I did know because I bullied her to get that opportunity. I would never teach anybody to do that, but I had read a book harshly written by another guy from Columbus, Ohio, and I was very tactical.My mission is to hand people the key that they're already holding and help them realize their potential. Click To Tweet
It ended up undoing more deals than it did. I was fortunate enough to have gotten a pass on that one. I learned the lessons other places that how you treat people matters, regardless of what their title is. How did I learn? This about selling is you can read a lot of books, but until you’re out doing it, it doesn’t work. It’s the same as swimming. You can read a book about swimming, but if you get into deep water, you’re going to drown. You go out and you bump into things, make mistakes, and you learn. Then after that, I read every book on sales that I could get my hands on, and I started to put a lot of it into practice.
There were three books that had a huge impact, all by Neil Rackham. It started with spin selling, which taught me that you need to get some commitment at the end of every sales interaction, and it needs to be around, “How do I help this person with the real implications of what they’re facing?” As I grew and I became a sales manager, there was a book he wrote called Managing Major Sales, which is the strategy for winning big deals. That book was deeply important to me and how I developed. Then he wrote a book about salespeople that manage major accounts called a Major Account Sales Strategy with a guy named Dick Ruff. This is how I’m going to play the game, and it’s worked tremendously. It still works tremendously for me.
I can understand you’ve been in the game for awhile. You’ve fine-tuned and honed your craft. In those early days, looking back to when you had just cut your hair to shoulder length here in LA, they try to push you to the side of the office, but somehow, you still were able to get a few clients. Then you went out and you made a secretary crying, then you landed one of the largest deals around. Was that luck, do you think? Did you, at that point, even realize and know enough about sales to say that what you did was strategic, and that it was well planned.?
No, there was nothing strategic. It was completely brute force. If I had any skill early on as a salesperson that helped me, it was purely self-discipline. I could dial the phone more than you could. I could stay on the phone longer. I would call more people. Even if I wasn’t good at it, I could stay on the phone, and I dialed the phone off. For the first couple years I worked in sales, I dialed the phone like a mad man. It was brute force. I would dial and dial until I got some connection and there was really no strategy at that time. It still makes a difference for salespeople. There’s always somebody who wants salespeople to take more action and have more activity, and effectiveness matters a lot. There is something to be said for activity. Inactivity does cure low activity every time I had very high activity, and when you have very high activity, you do get lucky, and winning the $10 million, I had somebody coach me and help me through that opportunity, and eventually had to help me close it. You don’t get it in front of them if you don’t pick up the phone and make the call.
You told me that consultants don’t think enough about sales, but it’s a critical part of becoming successful. What are your thoughts as to the biggest challenges that consultants face when it comes to sales?
I look at a problem with sales through three lenses. The first lens is mindset; the second is skill set; and third is toolkit. For consultants, they’re smart people. They’re good thinkers and they have a great ability to create value. The problem is mindset. They don’t think of themselves as salespeople. I was with a group of consultants and I said to one of them, “You are the most pure salesperson in this room,” and he said, “Why would you say that to me?” I meant it as a compliment. In his mind, he took it where we started this conversation as something negative. I spoke with the Ohio Growth Summit and it’s a room of small business people, consultants, and entrepreneurs. I said, “Raise your hand if you’re on commission only sales.”Not a single hand goes up. I said, “Raise your hand if your ability to sustain your business, to create value for other people, to grow your business, to do the thing that you set out to do when you started on this path and you’ve got this dream, if anything that comes into your life financially or otherwise is through your ability to persuade other people to create value with them, to collaborate, and to do something that looks like sales.” Every hand goes up.
They start to realize, “I only make money if I sell.”I know a lot of people who look at what I’ve done and said, “I want to do what you’re doing.” They have every ability to create value for people, but I say, “What’s your client acquisition plan?” They say, “I’m going to start a website.” You laughed right out of the gate. You were like, “Good luck with that.” The website’s great and the internet is littered. It’s a graveyard of people that hung their shingle up on the web thinking that, “If I build it, they will come.”It takes a lot more than that, but once you put on the mantle, ‘I am a salesperson’, salesperson means that I find a way to open up opportunities to create value for other people, and by creating value for other people I’m allowed to capture some of it. That’s all we’re really doing. Once you put that mantle on, it’s easy to take the sales actions that you need to take. Once you accept that’s part of your role and part of what you have to do, it gets a lot easier.
It’s that mindset that you’re talking about and the shift that people need to make. It sounds so critical. It’s almost like the word ‘sales’ has a bad stigma attached to it. If we could change it to value delivery, it’s the same kind of result that you’re delivering, but a different word. It might open so many more people’s eyes to the idea that they need to actually in this and they shouldn’t be scared of it, and then it’s not a bad thing, it’s a necessary thing. It can be a beautiful thing because you’re providing value, in return you get some of that value.
I liken it to your walking down the beach. There’s somebody drowning, and you walk by and say, “If they’d only yell for my help, I would go help them.”You go, “I’m going to wait and look at them for awhile and see. Why are they not asking for my help? I’ll keep walking on.”You know they’re drowning out there. You’ve got to get into the water and go try to help them because they’re going to die without you. That’s the truth for many of us. We have the ability to help. People need our help, but they’re not going to find you. You have to raise your hand. This is why so many people in our space love social media because it’s the ability to put something out there, and be able to get people to raise their hand. The people that are failing at it, once somebody does raise their hand, they don’t think about what that sales process needs to look like. What they need to ask for, and the commitments they need to gain to move those sales along. If they did think of it through that pure sales lens, they would immediately improve the result.People need our help, but they're not going to find you. You have to raise your hand. Click To Tweet
You mentioned client acquisition where we’re talking about that process. You’re going to share your early morning routine, which allows you to crush it in your space when it comes to marketing and building your business. You told a story of one lady that emailed you to report her success with this strategy. It would be great if you could share it for all of our audience.
My routine was almost destroyed when I got home and realized we’re out of coffee. Our neighbors, we took their mail in for them while they were gone, and they left us a little coffee mug with some Jamaican coffee in it. I’m not sure if it’s going to be up to my standards, but it’s all we’ve got, so it’s necessary. The routine starts for me at five, and my alarm clock goes off at five every day, and I have the coffee pots set to go off at five also. I get up and I spend literally the first hour and a half to two hours a day on marketing and following up on sales activity. For me, it starts with writing the blog post for TheSalesBlog.com because that’s my main hub. I’m a brute force guy. I posted a blog entry there every day since December 28th of 2009 with the exception of ten days I was in Tibet in 2010. I thought it would be poor form to be at Mount Everest writing blog posts instead of taking that in.
I had been writing and I’ve been sharing ideas, but I put marketing first. It’s coffee and then it’s writing. What I’ve discovered about the writing process, I had always heard that writers write early in the morning. One, when you wake up your mind is clean. The world hasn’t started making demands of you yet, so you’ve still got all your psychic. You’ve still got your best thinking because your brain is working. At least that’s the case for many of us. I have some friends who say 11:00 PM is the best time for them. Maybe their brain is in its peak form at that time, but there’s no interruptions.
On the way to get coffee, I step over my dogs, they don’t even wake up, they want nothing to do with me that early in the morning. Kids don’t, wife doesn’t, businesses don’t, so you can get a lot of work done in a relatively short period of time. That hour and a half is like three or four hours any other time of the day. From there I can get into other things, but I’ve gotten the client acquisition piece. The main thing that I’m doing to generate traffic to the site, to generate value for people who read is by putting the blog post, creating connections, building my mailing list, which grows every single day. I get inquiry after inquiry. We connected over the fact that you sent me a note saying, “The link to your B2BSalesCoach.com site is down.” I had to take it down because I can’t take any more business, which is a great problem to have. It gives you a sense of how effective this kind of strategy can be.
At the Ohio Growth Summit, a woman came up to me afterwards and said, “I don’t get up early in the morning, I don’t have a strategy for writing posts, and I’m in this content marketing space. I’m a copywriter. You get up at five every day. I’ll do that.” She’s like, “I’m not going to write a blog post seven days a week. I only write one five days a week. Do you think that will help me?” I said, “How many are you writing now?” She said, “None.” I said, “Yes, it’ll help you. There’s no question that it will help you.” Maybe six weeks had gone by and I got an email saying, “I’ve been getting up at five, some days, a little later, some days 4:30 AM. So far, I’ve landed two new accounts, and I’ve got two more prospects in the pipeline that I’m certain I’m going to win. This has totally transformed my business. Thank you so much. This has changed my life.” It can have that kind of result for people if you go out and you put marketing and sales first. You tend to grow your clients and you tend to do well if you pretend that there’s going to be time later. You try to take care of everything else but that sales and marketing piece, eventually you run out of runway.
You’re writing daily, you’re putting up an article on your blog, but what else are you doing? What are the considerations? Can someone go and write on their topic and expect that they’re going to get inquiries and land some clients? What other pieces are going on there? What else are you doing? How are you approaching writing the blog pieces? Are you thinking about keywords? What else is happening that’s allowing this to work?
I think about, “What do I need to write to help someone with a challenge that they’re having?”I’m thinking about the people that want to hire me, “What are they faced with?” I’m writing the answers and I tell this story to people. I had one old consultant call me and rip my face off because he didn’t like the fact that I’m giving my intellectual property away. He said, “You’re a dummy. You’re supposed to save your intellectual property, and you’re giving it all away. Anybody can print your blog post if they want to and you’re dumb enough to put an archive link up there where they can go back through the last four years of what you’ve done.” I let them rip me for a little while and then as the conversation went on, he said, “By the way, how are you getting all these clients?”
In his view, I’m giving my content away and it’s costing me something, but in my view, he’s smarter than I am. He’s been consulting longer than I am. He probably has a greater ability to help some groups of people than I do, but no one knows it. He’s a secret agent. I tend to think of things through the lens of, “What’s the buyer looking for?”The buyer is either dissatisfied or they should be dissatisfied. I write things to help people see the gap between where they are and where they might be.
Buyers are also looking to recognize their needs. I write things that help them understand what they might need if they’re faced with a certain problem, and then they try to evaluate their options. One thing they do when they evaluate their options is decide, “Who do I think can help me?”When you’ve had a chance to be in somebody’s inbox for hundreds of days, if they’ve gotten your newsletter every week for a couple years, you’re the person that they start to look to for those answers. I’ve gotten the permission to come into their inbox, to have conversations, and share with them. it’s a natural fit.
For someone that say, “This is great. I’d like to get the same kinds of results.” If they get started, how quickly do you think that they’re going to be able to see some traction? When you started your blog, what kind of timeline were you looking at before you start to see some results from it?
I bought the blog in 2007 and I did nothing with it. As’09started to creep along, I was reading Seth Godin every day and watching what he was doing. I was watching Chris Brogan, who’s now a good friend of mine. Chris was writing a lot about how to use the social web to connect with customers. He wrote the book Trust Agents. I read Trust Agents, and I didn’t get it the first reading. It took me a couple of readings to get what he was saying. When I read it the first time, I intellectualized it, but the second time I was like, “This is a recipe book.” You’re supposed to follow the recipes. I went, ”Now I get it.”
I started following the recipe, and in that December, I went and told my wife, “I’m going to get up at five in the morning and I’ve got this thing to share. I’m going to start writing a blog post every day.”Within a year, I’ll be keynoting keynote sales conferences for $10,000 a speech. She said,” I don’t understand any of what you said, but it sounds like a good plan to me.” I got up and I started writing. I got my first speaking gig from the blog October of that year. It took ten months of writing every day. I did more than that, so I connected with the community.
I’ve built connections. I shared everything from everybody else in my space. I have a tribe of about 35 to 40 people in the sales world. They’re consultants and trainers, and I share all their stuff. I share all my competitors’ stuff, and they share mine. I built that presence over time, but it took about ten months before I got the traction. If you’re going to approach this, it does take time. I will tell you good content, it will definitely make a difference in the frequency. It doesn’t have to be every day, but there needs to be some regular frequency where people can feel this connection to you, that they don’t think you just blog sporadically.I don't want to spend time with people I can't help. Click To Tweet
What you’re saying is frequency, valuable post educational articles for your ideal clients and the people that you want to connect with. You also engage and connect with other people in your industry even if they are competitors, which might seem counter intuitive to some people, but it’s working for you. Anything else along those lines? Were you doing any other kind of social media that helped you? Any kind of advertising? Search engine optimization?
I don’t ever think about search engine optimization. I use a synthesis from Copyblogger. I have no idea what the score means or what I’m supposed to change. Some scores, it’s almost like a game for me. I can get like, “I got two 100.” I have no idea how I did that. Other days, I get 35 and 42, and I hit the publish button anyway. It doesn’t mean anything. I don’t think that that’s what matters. You make a connection with people, and that’s what connects. I did use AdWords when I started the coaching and consulting thing early on, and I had success with AdWords without having any kind of blog. I don’t know what it would do if I had what I have now with AdWords, but I don’t feel like I need it from this point because I’m at the point where I’m turning business away.
When people read your articles and they contact you, do you have a specific process that you’re using to turn them from people that are inquiring into actual business that the people could benefit from?
Mostly, it starts with me trying to understand their challenges, their problem sets, and their goals because there are a lot of people who I can’t help. I don’t want to spend time with people I can’t help. Although some of them would like me to spend time with them because they read me and think, “You’re the guy to help me.” Sometimes I’m not. Sometimes they need somebody with a different background than mine to help them. I’m not a B to C guy, I’m a B to B guy. If they’re B to C, I’m not the right guy. Some of them are in commission-only gigs, which I’m opposed to when it’s a young person and they’re being taken advantage of. It’s tough for me to help them because what they need is a good coach, a good teacher, a good sales manager. I start with disqualifying. At some point when your business gets big enough, you start with money as a disqualifier because you have to raise your rate when you run out of hours. You keep raising your rate and that knocks some people out of your pipeline, right out of the gate.
How much time do you typically invest when someone inquires, and they know they’re interested in working with you? Or they send you an email and say, “I’d like to get some help coaching and some support through my B to B sales process and for my organization.” How much time would you typically spend with that person? What kind of interactions would you have before you start charging them?
I will have a full hour discussion to figure out where they are and how I can help them. It may not be through coaching or consulting. It maybe me giving them some different advice or telling them to go to somebody else who’s better suited for their problem, but I’ll spend an hour with him if I can.
Do you do a certain level? Are you doing qualification before you spend that hour with them? Do you have any kind of assessment?
Someone could just send you an email and say, “I’m interested in getting help,” and you’ll get on the phone with him for potentially an hour?
It normally takes me sometime and somebody who’s not a client right now, maybe is a client later on. Maybe me giving them the help that I can give them and pointing them in the right direction, later on they say, “He’s a good guy. We should think about him for something else.” Who knows? Try to be nice to everybody.
For people that don’t consider themselves writers, any recommendations for them as to what they can do to become better at writing?
Read Stephen King On Writing. On Writing Well, Zinsser’s writing. Read those things. It’s like swimming. The more you do it, the better you get. If you want to make the best mistake you can make, I can share my favorite one that I did early on and I stopped the blog post to prove it. If you want grammatical errors and spelling errors that you can’t see, that are invisible to you and horribly embarrassing, write directly into WordPress instead of something with a good grammar and spell checker. At some point I went, “I’ve got to do something different.” I switched to Word where I had a reasonable shot at picking that stuff up. I’m still not the best editor in the world.
That goes to show that you don’t have to be a perfectionist. You don’t have to be perfect every time. You can still achieve a lot by giving it a good effort.
More action, that helps.
Anthony, thanks so much. I appreciate your time and you sharing with all of our audience. It’s been a lot of fun.