In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Tom Stanfill. Tom is CEO and co-founder of ASLAN Training, a global sales enablement company appearing nine consecutive years in the Selling Power Top 20. Since 1996, ASLAN has worked with many Fortune 500 companies, training more than 100,000 sellers and leaders in over 35 countries. Tom is also the author of a book called unReceptive: A Better Way to Lead, Sell & Influence – launching in November 2021.
Today, people are distracted, overwhelmed, and isolated – because of this, there’s been a massive decline in receptivity to another sales pitch, call, or email. And the harder you try to sell, the greater people tend to resist.
In this episode, I talk with CEO and co-founder of ASLAN Training, Tom Stanfill, about his new book – unReceptive:A Better Way to Lead, Sell & Influence. He shares why the receptivity of an audience is far more important than the power of the message, and offers a solution that is a sharp contrast to traditional approaches to selling.
Questions I ask Tom Stanfill:
- [2:05] Could you talk a little bit about how you’re using the title of your book ‘unReceptive’ in the context of selling?
- [4:14] Does the value proposition go out the window if a customer is not receptive?
- [5:21] What role does marketing play in making a salesforce more receptive?
- [6:24] I get a lot of pitches today essentially cold calls in some form. The challenge is that even if they are trying to solve problems I have – one in 25 of those may be the answer to my prayers – but I don’t have time to figure out if that’s the case. How do you become that one solution and how do you clearly become that one in 25?
- [7:39] You mentioned the idea of what’s on their whiteboard – How do I get a peek at that, and how do I know what’s on their whiteboard?
- [11:31] Does a typical salesperson have to be a higher-level thinker?
- [14:19] How important does listening become?
- [16:08] How different is virtual selling from selling face-to-face?
- [17:51] How hard is it to learn this approach, convert the unreceptive?
- [21:28] Where can people find out more about your new book unRecepitive and the work you’re doing with sales folks?
More About Tom Stanfill:
- Learn more about unReceptive
- Pre-order — unReceptive: A Better Way to Lead, Sell & Influence
- ASLAN Training — Organizations looking for sales training
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John Jantsch (00:52): Hello, and welcome to another episode of the duct tape marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Tom Stanfill. He’s the CEO and co-founder of ASLAN training, a global sales enablement company appearing nine consecutive years in the selling power. Top 20, since 1996, ASLAN has worked with many fortune 500 companies training more than 100,000 sellers and leaders all over in 35 countries. Actually, he’s also the author all over the world. Well, I use, I probably gotta be the same thing. He’s also the author of unreceptive, a better way to lead, sell and influence. So a welcome to this.
Tom Stanfill (01:34): Thank you, John. I was very excited to join your podcast after I know you’re a prolific author and those excited to meet you. So thanks for having me on.
John Jantsch (01:42): So some people in listening to the intro might think this is the guy that’s trained a hundred thousand sellers. So we have him to blame, huh. But,
Tom Stanfill (01:50): And to solve that problem, one of our biggest clients, Merck actually agreed to endorse the book because they want their customers to know that they sell differently, but they’re focused more on serving themselves. We are trying to change the way people sell.
John Jantsch (02:06): Uh, a big idea. I think that you’re trying to propose in this book, it’s certainly contained in the title itself. Unreceptive. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you’re using that in the context of selling just as really our main line definition for now.
Tom Stanfill (02:22): Yes, it’s, it’s a problem that’s been growing rapidly over the last probably decade is that as the tsunami of information that we’re customers are receiving, they’re just getting overwhelmed. I think the increase has been five X in the last couple of decades. And as information, the exposure of information, the customer’s receptivity has continued to decline. And so we keep developing new and better techniques to try to win the customer over. But it only works on this shrinking group of people who are open to what you’re talking about, who are looking for your solution, where customers are now moving more and more to the internet, the information is available to them and they don’t want to talk to sales reps. So Kenzie did a study recently that said the number of customers who want to talk to sellers when evaluating a solution has dropped 120% last three years. So receptivity is on the decline. And here’s the thing that was the main premise of the book selling doesn’t work when you’re talking to people that are emotionally unreceptive actually backfires.
John Jantsch (03:24): Yeah. And I do want to get into that, but let’s talk about what we mean by selling to is this idea of receptivity before I’m even going to take a phone call or an email or even talk to you, has to be done or does it also carry through to do I trust you enough to make you my solution provider? Is it every step below
Tom Stanfill (03:43): Every step, along the way from the moment you reach out, either via email, the first sentence you write to all the way down to the, obviously to the end of the sales process, where you’re trying to ultimately win an opportunity receptivity, she continue to build. And if it doesn’t, you’re not going to. And so the traditional approach where people are just learning to make their business case and learning to communicate their value prop and learning to differentiate their solution, all of those things are really good. But if the customer is not receptive, it just doesn’t work.
John Jantsch (04:13): So does the value proposition go out the window? Do we not have to have that? Or are you just saying, you’re not going to give, you’re not going to get the chance to actually communicate it if you’re not receiving
Tom Stanfill (04:23): Or they won’t believe you. Yeah, probably the best way to think of it as it is this way is there’s two dimensions of selling those. The customers that is the soil has to be fertile. I talk about it as the seed versus the soil. If a farmer wants to grow a vibrant crop or successful crop, they start with the soil. The soil is not fertile. Then the seed doesn’t matter. And the same is true with the customer. If the customer is not receptive, then your message, the seed doesn’t matter. So your message being the value prop will never be received or been planted if you will, and braced, if the customer’s not receptive. And so we’re all about how do we create a fertile soil? And then at the same time we want to enhance the way we deliver our message. So that’s really the main point of the book. And we just talk about how do you continue to create a fertile soil and develop, develop that perceptivity all the way to the close. And the other thing is you could also have a receptive customer and you could lose the receptivity by how you interact with them.
John Jantsch (05:19): Sure. So let me ask you this. What role does marketing play in making a Salesforce more?
Tom Stanfill (05:25): It was a good point. You talk about sales. A lot of salespeople aren’t receptive to selling because they don’t, they know they’re going to get rejected. They know that the typical approach isn’t going to work and marketing plays a role in that. But the main thing we work with marketing on is how to change, how they’re delivering their message. So the best way to get the attention of the customer prospect is to talk about what’s on their whiteboard and not talk about your solution. We’re constantly teaching sellers about the solution. We want you to sell more of a certain solution. We want you to get more meetings. We want to expand your footprint in the account. We want to move from selling this to selling that. So what does sellers lead with? They lead with their solution. Marketing talks about all the benefits of the solution. What’s unique about this, and that’s all really good, but to create the fertile soil or receptivity, you need a first lead with what’s on the decision-makers whiteboard. If you want to get the decision-makers attention, you need to talk about something that’s on their whiteboard. And so that’s where we start with marketing is how do we reposition the messaging in a way that the customer embraces it?
John Jantsch (06:25): So I get ’em as I’m sure most people do. I get all manner of pitches today, essentially cold calls, some in the form of email, LinkedIn requests and the challenge. I think somebody like myself and certainly most people, even if they are trying to solve problems have is that one in 25 of those, maybe the answer to my prayers, but I don’t have time to figure out if that’s the case. So, you know, so I’m guessing in a lot of ways, what you’re suggesting is how do you become that one and how do you clearly become that one in 25?
Tom Stanfill (06:58): Exactly. Or maybe let’s say the 25 or reaching out to you. And actually you may need the services of five, but you’re right. Rejected four of those five and only listened to the one because of the way they delivered the message. But yes, that’s ultimately is what we want to do is we want to describe the problems the customer has. And if we can change the way we communicate, because all they’re doing is they’re deleting the metal less than 2% of the emails were even red. So we’re just the people we’re just deleting the messages. We’re not getting our messages through. So like an it company reaches out and says, Hey, I have it services. And so they start talking about their it services versus they need to talk about what is the problem that you have that ultimately will lead them to the it service or the solution that they offer.
John Jantsch (07:38): So how does, you mentioned that the idea of what’s on their whiteboard, how do I get a peak at that? How do I know what’s on their
Tom Stanfill (07:44): Great, great question. If it’s a very strategic account and for a seller, who’s calling on a company that they obviously it’s worth investing the time they need to, they need to do a little bit of research before they reach out to the decision maker, or at least the person they think is a decision maker and gain that insight. And so they versus guessing if it’s not a strategic account, they need to look at the profile of the people they serve. If you’re serving a VP of manufacturing, there’s only three or four things that are on the VP of manufacturing whiteboard. And if you get to know and understand that profile and become a student, you can get either way, you’ve got to lead with something that’s important to them.
John Jantsch (08:23): Yeah. And I think one of the things that just always I scratch my head is that a lot of people are taking stuff that’s on their whiteboard and they’re putting it on LinkedIn and Facebook and other places, and clearly sending signals up. And it just always amazes me when people don’t take the time to at least familiarize themselves, even vaguely with what might be.
Tom Stanfill (08:44): And I think that comes from the idea that we start we talked about at the beginning of the podcast is because the market’s shrinking, they’re speeding up and trying to send more messages instead of changing what they’re doing. They just have to send more messages. So you’ve got to work harder. Similar messages spend less time and are the premise of the book is if you’ll stop and study your customers and prospects and learn more about them and change your approach, you’re going to, you’re going to open up your market and you’re going to be more successful. And we’ve tested this. We’ve, there’s actually three elements to how you position a meeting. We’re talking about that element of the sales process. I’m trying to get a meeting and prospecting. There’s really three elements of effectively position, a meeting we started. We talked about you first want to lead with their point of view.
Tom Stanfill (09:29): It’s just another way of saying their whiteboard. And then you want to communicate disruptive truth, something, an unknown truth or unknown principle or unknown stat about a better way to solve their problems. And that’s one of the reasons also the decision makers aren’t meeting with sellers because they feel like they have nothing to say, but you have nothing to say. I don’t real decision makers. Don’t meet with sales reps because they’re just going to represent their info, their products. And they go, I can get, I get that information from the internet, or I can get somebody else to get that information, but you can’t really help me solve a problem. You can’t lead me cause you don’t know where to take me. And so by communicating a disruptive truth, you’re demonstrating that you’re, you’ve got some thought leadership and you’re worth following. And then the last is what unique what’s what do you offer that unique?
Tom Stanfill (10:14): What’s we call it proprietary benefit. What’s the thing that you own that can, did you do differently than everything else. And it might be how you do it. It may be what you do, but what do you do? That’s different. And I’ve had some emails that sometimes I get up that are very effective, like from marketing firms. And they’ll say we can generate leads for you. And they’ll describe my problem. Like great. And then they’ll communicate maybe something a little bit disruptive or a little bit that they can do about how to better generate leads, but then they don’t tell me what they do differently. Right? And so I read it, but I don’t engage all of this to say, when those three elements are together, we’ve tested it. And we’ve seen a 366% increase in response rates where people will respond.
John Jantsch (10:57): So, so does this necessarily change how a sales person has to not just prepare, but if somebody’s going to be able to, in some ways, challenge somebody with a strategic question, perhaps that they’re not even thinking about. Cause what, to me, what are the most successful things somebody can do is help me understand a problem. I don’t really understand fully that I have, but that doesn’t that right off the bat being a typical salesperson has to be, I’m struggling with how to propose this question. You’re not necessarily smarter, but they just have to be a higher level of thinker. Don’t they?
Tom Stanfill (11:35): I don’t know if they really have to be smarter. Here’s the thing that a sales person has anybody they’re calling on, or maybe a resource that they have that everybody they’re calling doesn’t have. If you’re a typical sales rep, how many decision makers are you talking to your customers? You’re talking to in a month, if you just ask one or two questions every month, it’s everybody you talk to and you just focused on learning from them. And what do most people don’t know about a better way to solve their problem. And you started to share that you would be somebody worth following.
John Jantsch (12:10): You’d have the playbook. Wouldn’t you have
Tom Stanfill (12:12): A playbook. If you said, look, what’s on your whiteboard. If I’m talking to anybody, I’m calling it as if I were selling to you, John, and as a consultant author, you have a whiteboard. And every time I talked to you, I talked to 50 authors and marketing experts and consultants. You would have a problem and you would have a whiteboard. And I would see that there are three or four things. And then I would how’d you fix that problem? And then I would learn, okay, most people don’t know that. And so then I would start sharing that knowledge. And so really sellers need to be more of a decider of information, distill it down and then share it. They’re too focused, typically on the pro on the solution that they offer. And that’s, what’s on their whiteboard and what are the talking points because that’s their comfort level. And again, they’re trying to speed up the number of messages they sent. Here’s my email. I’ve got my email and I just gotta write it on changing names. Let me put on a couple of things. I’ll send more and more of those. And it’s just like,
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John Jantsch (14:17): I think I know the answer to this, but I’m going to tee it up for you. How important is listening then become?
Tom Stanfill (14:22): Yeah, so really receptivity starts reels receptivity starts in discovery by validating the customer decision makers point of view. Once you get the meeting, you’re going to have more influence by articulating and validating their point of view than what you say when you really know how, what we call, take the trip and leave our point of view, which we’re comfortable with. We understand our point of view because when you’re influencing, there’s always two points of view. Are there otherwise you’re not influenced. Influencing means you want to change belief. Most people think of selling is kind of relationship management or fulfillment, but if you’re really going to create demand and you’re going to influence people and change the way they see the world and influence them on book, changing, how they’re planning on doing something, there’s going to be two points of view, their point of view and your point of view.
Tom Stanfill (15:07): And if you can leave your point of view and take the trip and see their point of view, we call it and think of it as there’s two, you think of one person’s on the north pole and the other person’s on the south pole. So you have these two kind of polarized points of view. If you can leave your position, take the trip and articulate their point of view. And they say exactly, you know, John, here’s what I understand. You’re saying that this is what’s important to you. And this is what’s unique about your organization, unique about your challenges. And then you say exactly, that’s when influence begins and then they will take the trip and see your point of view. Or you may find out actually, I really can’t help them. And that’s fine.
John Jantsch (15:47): Traditionally, a great bit of receptivity happens. Face-to-face because we connect somehow. And my dad was a bag carrying salesperson all his life. I remember him used to say, he’d walk in an office and he’d see pictures of the kids. He’d see the golf trophy. He had all these connection things right now that we’re doing this in zoom meetings and email and how, how different is virtual selling than face-to-face.
Tom Stanfill (16:12): Yeah, it is much more difficult to create that intimacy virtually than it does. You know, that had happens face to face. There’s a lot more immediate trust and relationship typically. But if you’re eye to eye, I was thinking about driving car and how you interact with people on the highway versus how you interact with them, that you’re standing in line next to them. So there’s definitely a different level of intimacy. And we’ve recognized there’s about five main barriers to selling virtually. And that’s actually something we talk about in the book. If you can address the receptivity challenges, you can do it. It works either where you’re face-to-face or over the phone, honestly, or virtual meeting, like a lot of the things that you do to create receptivity, like taking the trip and validating their point of view. You have to be better at asking questions.
Tom Stanfill (16:57): You have to be better at responding. You have to be better at reducing pressure. You’ve got to be better at how you articulated position your either your recommendation. So all those advanced skills are required virtually and they may not be required. Face-to-face for example, if you’re in discovery, one of the most difficult things is to uncover the truth. It’s like to get people to really tell you what their informal decision drivers like. Here’s what I really care about. Not the formal stuff that they tell everybody, but the stuff they lean in and say, okay, really, really don’t know what we’re doing. And I know I had a decision-maker tell me that he goes, I’m not a really, I’m not going to be a good buyer here and I’m not going to be go shape very well. I just come to tell you, it’s almost like I’m going to quit this adversarial relationship. I’m just going to open up and that’s what we ultimately want to happen. And that’s more about how you ask questions and how you respond. And if you can, that well virtually you can do it anywhere. Yeah.
John Jantsch (17:53): So as I listen to you talk about the things you have to get better at to be more receptive as a sales person. I’m wondering if this may be actually could just be a great communication skill, a way of life. I think even write about it in a book. How, how have you presented that idea, particularly as you start working within training, maybe in some cases, some unreceptive groups of salespeople, how do you get them to use that as a lever to say this would make you a better person as well as a better?
Tom Stanfill (18:22): Yeah. I love that question. We always start a session off workshop offers. There’s nothing more important than your relationships, right? You’re never happier than your relationship. So everything we teach in our workshops and in this book is also improved your relationship. My ability to take the trip with my wife and have the oh moment and go, oh, that’s why you feel this way and feed it back to her. And she says, exactly, that improves my relationship. That creates intimacy. That creates empathy in me. My, my ability to make a decision about who’s first, because here’s, that’s a simple thing. Like the decision you make before every meeting ultimately determines what’s going to happen in the meeting, because either you are the most important person in the room, you’re the hero of the story or I’m the hero of the story. That’s always true. So stopping and deciding if I’m going to be what I call other Senator self-centered drives our relationship.
Tom Stanfill (19:18): And so all of the things that we talk about in the book, except for some things like how to handle rejection objections and things like that, practical models, almost all the principles apply to our relationship and our personal life. So matter of fact, one of the things we say is what works in life works here is that if you don’t apply it at home, it won’t actually work at work. You can’t turn it on, turn it off. There is no on and off switch to being effective at interpersonal relationships and effective and influence and the most influential people do it all the time. Yeah. Yeah. That’s very important. Like I was washing the dishes the other day that I’d worked a 17 hour. It was a 17, 14 hour day and we had some people over and I just was watching the dishes cause I was just wanting to help.
Tom Stanfill (20:01): And my wife had worked hard to nail all that stuff. And a lot of times I cook, we share, but I was watching the dishes and I found myself wanting to be appreciate, Hey, I’m washing the dishes after this long day. Do you appreciate me? And I remember thinking, that’s the worst way to get somebody to appreciate you is to tell them to appreciate you. So that’s a concept we talk about in the book about dropping the rope instead of pulling the rope and trying to force people to do things. But when I dropped the rope, she’s the open and free to be able to communicate to me whether she appreciates me or not. And so it’s the best way possible for us to have a relationship versus controlling and trying to get her to do something. And that enhances our relationship. There’s a personal example for you.
John Jantsch (20:43): Yeah, no, that’s awesome. And while a lot of, I think there are people that are naturally more receptive and they guess what, they’re probably better salespeople, but what I’m hearing you say of course, is that you can teach this, but it has to actually become a life skill and not just a workout.
Tom Stanfill (20:59): Yes. Yeah. It can. It can not also speaks to motive. If I’m trying to learn these things, just to manipulate other people, it will backfire because motive is ultimately transparent. And so if you’re, we all know when someone’s working. So they like, well give me these tools and these cool techniques so that I can then go leverage them to manipulate. But if it becomes who you really are, it’s going to work in life. It’s going to work in your personal life and at work.
John Jantsch (21:25): Awesome. Thanks for something by the duct tape marketing podcast, tell people where they can find out more about unreceptive and the work that you are doing with sales folks,
Tom Stanfill (21:33): Beautiful or the best way to check out the book is unreceptive book.com. That’s got all the information either about the book and of course you can buy it on Amazon or any place the books are sold. It doesn’t come out until the 9th of November. So
John Jantsch (21:50): Kind of point when you’re listening to this, yeah, it will be available November 9th, anywhere you want to send them to learn about your work.
Tom Stanfill (21:57): As on training.com, Azlan our organization’s looking for sales training and wants to improve an organization’s ability to get more meetings, convert, more prospects or grow accounts, go to Ashlyn training.com. Awesome,
John Jantsch (22:13): Tom. It was great to catch up with you. Hopefully we’ll see you one of these days out there on the road.
Tom Stanfill (22:17): Thanks John.
John Jantsch (22:18): All right. That wraps up another episode of the duct tape marketing podcast. I want to thank you so much for tuning in. Feel free to share this show. Feel free to give us reviews. You know, we love those things. Also. Did you know that we had created training, marketing training for your team? If you’ve got employees, if you’ve got a staff member that wants to learn a marketing system, how to install that marketing system in your business, check it out. It’s called the certified marketing manager program from duct tape marketing. You can find it at duct tape, marketing.com and just scroll down a little and find that tab that says training for your team.
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