Laurel Bernstein | How Active Listening Can Help You Sell More Effectively

On this week’s episode of Conversational Selling, we sit down with Laurel Bernstein, Founder and President of Laurel Bernstein and Associates, a consulting and training firm providing performance and leadership skill training for business professionals. Laurel has an extensive background as a facilitator and trainer and aims to be able to help and advise business owners on their business models and team development.

“I spent the first 25 years of my life as a painfully shy person; in groups I rarely had anything to say. But, I started to study listening skills and learned that you don’t have to be born a good listener, it’s actually a skill you can learn. So, I became a student of listening, and as a result, I would hear and observe things that people didn’t even realize. I realized that I knew a lot more about what was going on in a room than the people who were participating,” says Laurel.

We chat about what sets Laurel apart from others in her field, as well as:

  • How active listening can help you sell more effectively
  • Her tips for keeping sales skills sharp
  • Why every conversation is a negotiation
  • What makes someone successful in sales
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:



Nancy Calabrese: Hi everybody and welcome to Conversational Selling. It’s the podcast where sales leaders and business experts share what’s going on in sales and marketing today. And it all starts with the human conversation. I’m your host, Nancy Calabrese, and it’s fantastic to have with me today, Laurel Bernstein, the founder and president of Laurel Bernstein and Associates, a consulting and training firm providing performance and leadership skill training for business professionals.

She has an extensive background as a highly effective facilitator and trainer. Laurel advises many companies helping owners evaluate their business model and team development. And she has the astounding ability to listen in ways most of us don’t. And I can’t wait to hear more about that. Laurel is a staple here at One of a Kind Sales. We couldn’t live without her. Thanks so much for joining us today, Laurel.

Laurel Bernstein: Well, Nancy, as I said, I’m honored because you have a high standard.

Nancy: Oh, okay. Well, I guess I’ve been accused of worse before, right?

Laurel: No, but thank you. I’m really delighted to be here. And I’m really delighted to talk to you more about the importance of listening, especially in sales.

Nancy: Sure. You know, you and I have gotten to know each other over the years. And, you know, I’m always amazed at your successful career and in your wealth of knowledge. I mean, any question I have, you have an answer for, you’re my go-to for everything. I’m just curious, you spent many years in corporate. What made you leave to become a certified executive coach?

Why Laurel Chose to Leave Her Job and Start Her Own Coaching Firm

Laurel: The reason I left is that two or three years before I actually did leave, I started to think about what am I going to do next. And I had made an entire career of being in charge, always in charge of something. And I really wanted to think about my next act. And I didn’t want to be let go like people were being let go after long careers.

So I wanted to plan my own exit. And so I had always been advising senior leaders, so decided to go to business school to become a certified executive coach. And fortunately, the company that I was working for allowed me to have five or six internal clients so that I could get good at what I was doing. And once I got good, I decided I want to do, instead of saving the company I was working for millions of dollars, maybe I wanted to go out on my own and make millions of dollars.

Nancy: Hey, I like that thinking. And I’ll take that any day. Now that, you know, obviously, when you hear the word executive coach, what comes to my mind is you work in a highly saturated space. And again, I know firsthand, you’re amazing. But what unique idea, sets what you do apart from the others?

Laurel: So to be very honest, I spent the first 25 years of my life as a painfully shy person. I would be in groups of even as little as three or 33 and I would never say anything. I very rarely had anything to say. And I wasn’t even uncomfortable about it. But because I was watching and listening and hearing, seeing people roll their eyes and I became so good at listening.

So I started to study listening skills and learned that you don’t have to be born a good listener. It’s actually a skill you can learn. So I became a student of listening. And as a result, I would hear things that weren’t there and I would hear and observe things that people didn’t even realize. And I realized that I knew a lot more about what was going on in the room than the people participating.

Nancy: Wow. You know, and in sales, as you know, it requires a lot of skills. But one of the most important skill, I think the most important skill is the people’s ability to listen. And you’ve often told me and my team that I’m trained to listen differently. How is that? You know, I want to know more. I’m sure my audience does.

A Different Approach to Listening

Laurel: Okay. So this is really important to understand. And I’m going to give you a little background story. I went to a networking event. We were sitting around a big table and there were 17 people, including myself. And when I have people introduce themselves, I like to go first because otherwise, I’m sitting here at the table, practicing what I’m going to say and practicing what I’m going to say and then I’m not listening to anybody else. So I sat in the spot where I could go first.

But unfortunately, the leader started elsewhere in the room. So I decided I was going to write one thing down about each person in the room. Just one thing that was outstanding that I would want to remember. And then when it got to me, I was the last person, I went around the room and I said to each person, I’m going to tell you what I remembered from your presentation and then you’re going to tell me if that’s what you want to be remembered for. And if you don’t want to be remembered for that, you get to do a do-over.

So, out of 17 people, there were nine people who did do-overs because truthfully, I was the only one in that room that was listening. Everybody else was preparing what they had to say. It was pretty obvious when they said what they had to say but they hadn’t heard anything that happened before. And I really, as a result, wound up with two clients in that room that signed up to my active listening workshop.

Nancy: Wow. I mean, that’s pretty amazing. So can you talk to us more about that workshop? What’s it like?

Laurel: All right, so I’m going to give you sort of like an intro so that you can feel what the workshop is like. One of the first things that I do is I said, say, we’re not going to introduce ourselves. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk about our favorite room, and it needs to have texture and color and function. And why you love it, why it is your favorite room. It doesn’t even have to be a room in your home. It could be your deck, it could be a room that you stayed in at the Biltmore Hotel.

It could be any room that just was perfect for you that you love. And so we go around the room and everybody does that. And what I then do is I asked them one at a time to tell me one thing that they know about every other person in the room without repeating something they said. So in other words, if they said, I have a red couch in my living room that’s so furry and comfortable, and I stretch out on it every night after dinner, you can’t say any of those words.

You have to say something about the person you learned from hearing the things they said. So what we’re looking for is, well, you know, she knows how to unwind because lying on the couch was unwinding. It wasn’t about that Nancy has a red couch, it was that she got a place to lie down in her favorite room where she knows how to unwind. And so all the attributes of a person come out when they’re talking about something they care about. And if you’re really listening, you can know them.

Nancy: Wow. So how long does it take to develop a skill like that?

Laurel: My workshop is nine sessions. They’re an hour and 15 minutes each. Usually, you press to really materialize around session number four. And I have to admit that there are occasionally some people that get all the way through the program and they still are unable to listen to cutely. They are better, but they don’t really learn how to listen with a third year.

Nancy: Right. So let’s talk about what you do and how it would benefit people in sales.

If You’re Talking, You’re not Learning

Laurel: So, people in general like to talk about themselves. They are, if you ask somebody tell me something about yourself, they like to do that. And so if you’re talking, you’re not learning anything about them because they’re not talking. I would think that in a sales situation, the more you knew about a person, the better the conversation will be. And if you really want to know, you have to listen.

And you have to keep prompting them. One of my favorite books of all times, Tell Me More. And that was just something that in a conversation, a woman would say over and over again, tell me more. And it would really allow somebody to really tell you what they need. And then from a sales perspective, then when you hear what they need, you can then tell them you understand that and that you can provide that for them in a way that they can receive it because they’ve just told you they need it.

Nancy: Yeah. So is this the kind of training, you know, I know, there were a training programs people invest in, and then maybe they’ll do it, right? For a period of time. What is your recommendation to keep your skills sharp? Again, in sales, I think it’s the most important skill. So do you have any techniques or any go-to places you would recommend people spend time each week and just, you know, revisit or learn new techniques?

Laurel: So what I can explain which can be recreated very easily at the end of the workshop, we define what areas of listening people are still struggling with. And then what we do is we have one final videotaping of each person’s listening skills test. And we have them do it over and over and over again until the skill is built. We’ve provided a way for them to do that on a regular basis until it gels for them. The listening skills requires another person to practice and that’s what we provide.

Nancy: Okay, and you do this, you can do this virtually?

Laurel: Oh, yeah, it’s better done virtually, actually because then you can record the visual.

Nancy: Okay, so generally speaking, what do you think makes a person more or less successful in sales?

Every Conversation is a Negotiation

Laurel: So I think that one of the things that is one of the most important things is that they don’t ever sell, they need to know that every single conversation you have with another human being in a negotiation. So you want to go to a movie with, or you want to choose a movie to download with a friend. So you say, What do you feel like watching? Do you want to do a rom com? Do you want to do a shoot em up?

You want adventure? Do you want to do sci-fi? You’re negotiating, right? Well, I really thought I wanted to do this. Well, I heard that wasn’t so good. And it goes back and forth and back and forth as a negotiation. Every conversation that any two people have is a negotiation. So I think salespeople from listening, can benefit so much because they are hearing what they need to hear to negotiate effectively.

Nancy: Yeah. And, you know, when you really pay attention and understand what they need, they are pretty much telling you how to sell them, right? by listening and letting them talk. And we love that phrase here, tell me more. We use it all the time and just try to keep quiet. I think there’s a stat 70% of the time, prospects should be talking, 30% of the time we should be talking. So I think this is really amazing. And frankly, I haven’t heard of a program like this. You may have just answered this, but I’m going to ask you this anyway. Tell me something that’s true that nobody agrees with you on.

Laurel: Well, that every conversation is a negotiation. It’s hard for people to think that they’re doing it all the time. And I’ve never really gotten anybody to say yeah, I guess you’re right. But I did, you know, I did think it through and it really, that’s how it comes out. Every interaction.

Nancy: Wow. I know that you and I spoke earlier about how you quote your father, and it’s endearing. And I saw something on your LinkedIn profile talking about the forcers and the unforcers. And I wonder if we could just tie it into what we’ve been talking about.

Forcers vs Unforcers

Laurel: Well, absolutely. Let me give you a quick summary of the story that I wrote. My father believes that the room, the dichotomy that he lives by were the people who forced things and the people who were patient and would keep things calmer. And his example was that if you are trying to get a light bulb out of the ceiling lamp, and doesn’t come out easily, the person who is a forcer, is going to grab it and turn it and the bolt could break in their hands.

And more than not, they get hurt. But the person who is patient and waits, wiggles it a little bit, turns it off, thinking maybe if it pulls down a little bit it’ll come out easier. And they almost never make a mistake. And I think in sales, it’s the same kind of thing. If you’re trying to force a sale, uh oh, I don’t, nobody likes to feel that. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of something that’s being forced at them. But if you’re gentle and you’re listening, and you’re waiting to see what a person needs and you really hear them, the patient person will come out on the right side of the sale.

Nancy: Awesome. Yep, I completely agree with you. So what’s the one takeaway you’d like to leave the audience with?

Laurel: Alright, so there’s this program called StoryCorps, started 17 years ago by a fella named Robert Isay. And what you can do is go into a booth, they started in Grand Central Station in New York, and you could go with a grandparent or a parent or spouse and interview them. And the interview would be stored in the Library of Congress. And after 17 years, now you can do it online. You can do it with your cousin in California.

And these interviews are golden. They’re just beautiful. And they interviewed Robert Isay about on the 10th anniversary to ask him what he learned from starting StoryCorps, and he said, first of all, I learned that listening is an act of love. And then he said, I also learned that when you’re talking, you’re only telling people what you know. But when you’re listening, you’re learning something new.

Nancy: Oh, wow. Laurel, I’m sure my audience wants to reach out to you. How can they find you?

Laurel: They can find me at or

Nancy: Wonderful. Another great conversation with Laurel Bernstein. I highly recommend to any of you out there, if you have interest in what we’ve just discussed and she shared with us, be sure to reach out to Laurel. My team and I are going to participate in this active listening workshop. We can’t wait to get started. And additionally, for those that might have an interest in relying on a professional to turn to who’s got the answers for everything, I highly recommend. Laurel. Thank you so much for coming on today.

Laurel: Well, thank you. I really had fun. This is great.

Active Listening – it’s more than just ‘hearing’ what your prospect is saying!

At One of a Kind Sales, we spend a LOT of time training our people to ACTIVELY LISTEN. Picking up the phone and dialing MAY get you to the right person but active listening is the real secret to setting qualified appointments and sales success! 

Can you hear me? 

A basic Cold Calling requirement is being able to HEAR the prospect. That means setting yourself up so there is no background noise or music to distract you and having a headset with adequate volume controls. Close all your extraneous browser windows and shut off your personal phone so you are not tempted to check email, texts or social media.  

It’s not just hearing them… 

ACTIVE listening involves more than just HEARING what your prospect is saying. It means UNDERSTANDING what is being said, and oftentimes, being able to hear and understand the UNSPOKEN context. Actively listening will enable you to ‘hear’ the prospect’s body language through the tone, volume and words they are using. It means noticing shifts in that tone or changes in the volume and then modulating your own tone and words in response. 

Active listening involves paying attention to what is said and using the prospect’s responses to formulate your own statements.  

Active listening tactics 

We recommend a number of tactics to do this: 

  • Paraphrasing – which is where you restate some of the prospects replies but in your own words.  
  • Summarizing – where you provide a summary of the process or discussion to give an overview and context. 
  • Clarification – where you restate and/or explain things to make sure you are all on the same page. ASK for clarification on a point or statement to keep the prospect talking about their issues. 
  • Reflection – where you reflect the prospect’s words back to them to help them understand what you are hearing. 

Note that ALL of the above require you to have HEARD not just the prospect’s words but the intentions behind those words. Pay attention, listen carefully and you will be rewarded with valuable insights and you will, more importantly, earn their trust! They can tell when you are listening and will appreciate that you have HEARD them.  


Because we know that ACTIVE LISTENING is such an important skill, we have collected many useful resources on this topic. Here are a few articles and videos we think can help YOU improve YOUR active listening skills: 

Cold Calling is Networking

I have noticed that many salespeople are quick to spend an exorbitant amount of time and money on live events, claiming that they offer networking opportunities that they cannot afford to miss. That time and money would be better spent on Cold Calling. Cold Calling IS networking!

When done correctly, Cold Calling provides all the benefits of networking at a much lower cost and in a shorter time frame. 

Cold Calling vs Networking

Here are some of the most important reasons to network professionally:

  • To build and nurture your professional network
  • To stay visible and top of mind with your community
  • To stay on top of industry news and advancements
  • To help others and build good will

 Cold Calling provides the opportunity to do all of these, and more!

  • Cold Calling helps build and nurture your professional network. When making Cold Calls, you are introduced to new people and have the opportunity to touch base with older contacts. And since you are speaking with them, one on one over the phone, instead of across a table with numerous others – some of whom may be competitors – I would argue that the conversations you have during a Cold Call are more advantageous. 

But the key word there is ‘CONVERSATIONS’ – when done correctly, a Cold Call is a conversation! 

  • Cold Calling helps you stay visible and top of mind with your community. Again, when Cold Calling, you are ‘touching’ the prospect – even if it is only to leave a voicemail. These ‘touches’ help establish a sense of trust and by maintaining a regular delivery cadence, you will stay top of mind.
  • Cold Calling helps you stay on top of industry news and advancements. While you may not be gaining information from your prospects, a good salesperson will be sure to stay on top of industry news in order to be able to provide that on calls if needed. Cold Calling incentivizes salespeople to be in the know!
  • Cold Calls provide opportunities to help others and build good will. A good salesperson will be listening, on a Cold Call, for problems they can solve. If they cannot provide an appropriate solution, they will offer a referral. This not only helps the prospect but serves to build good will.

How much time should you spend networking?

According to Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI (Business Network International, which claims to be the largest business networking organization in the world) people should spend 8 – 10 hours per week networking. To achieve this by attending networking events, you need to then add the commute time, factor in the costs of the event and the lousy coffee and hope that your target audience will be there.

Yes, attending some live networking events can be helpful but I say, cut to the chase! Pick up the phone and make a call. And start thinking of your Cold Calling time as ‘networking’ – making and building new connections. I bet this shift in mindset will you’re your calls become more conversational and productive. Let me know how it goes!

Do you need help shifting your mindset out of ‘selling’ mode and into ‘conversation’ mode? Check out our Call Center in a Box program where we train you and your team in our time-proven Conversational Selling technique. OUR SALES TRAINING gets YOUR people delivering real results!

Cold Calling Success Tips – The Tone of Your Voice is Key

At One of a Kind Sales, we talk a lot about LISTENING. But the tone of YOUR voice is also key to your Cold Calling success.

According to an industry statistic, “93% of the potential success of your cold call is attributed to the tone of your voice during the conversation.” 

How do you sound?

Confidence is AUDIBLE – make sure the client hears this. 

This is one of the many reasons we say that you should memorize your script. Knowing what you are going to say, without having to think about it, helps instill confidence. 

Having your rebuttals ready helps too.

And of course, PRACTICE! The more conversations you have, the better you will become.

Match their tone

And it isn’t just confidence. I also recommend that you match the prospect’s cadence and style of communication. If they are calm and soft spoken, speaking quickly and confidently may be a turn off or feel ‘salesy’.

Really LISTEN to what the prospect is saying AND to their tone. Then match their tone in your delivery. For more about this please see our post on Active Listening

What NOT to do

And for a humorous look at what NOT to do, check out this vintage Saturday Night Live skit with Chris Farley and Paul McCartney.

If you need help with YOUR delivery, give us a call at 908.879.2911 – we can provide you with the skills that will instill the confidence YOU need to succeed! 

Michael Markulec | The Best Steps to Maximize Your Cyber-Security

Cyber-crime has been on the rise for the past 20 years.

Ransomware costs businesses billions of dollars a year.

SMBs are especially vulnerable to attacks.

How safe is your business?

Michael Markulec is a Chief Information Security Officer with decades of experience working with the federal government, Department of Defense, and large financial firms. He is also the co-Founder of Harbor Technology Group, a comprehensive service provider of cyber-protections for SMBs.

Michael joins us to discuss the threats, the vulnerabilities, and the fixes you can put in place right now. He is a wealth of knowledge on the topic and shares with us:

  • How to avoid the costly mistakes most companies make with their cyber-security 
  • How to put together your own plan to stop ransomware attacks 
  • Why proper employee training is your best line of defense 
  • And more

Cyber-risk is a business problem FIRST and a technology problem second. Get proactive with your security plan and never again leave your business vulnerable to cyber-attacks.


Mentioned in this episode:


Voiceover: You’re listening to the Conversational Celling podcast with Nancy Calabrese.

Nancy Calabrese: Hi, it’s Nancy Calabrese. And this is Conversational Selling. The podcast where sales leaders and business experts share what’s going on in the world today. And it always starts with the human conversation. Joining us today is Michael Markulec, co founder of Harbor Technology Group. Harbor provides companies with a comprehensive set of consultative services that allow SMBs to make informed, fact based decisions and manage cyber risk. 

They offer a range of services from cyber risk advisory to virtual ciso. Harbor Technology believes cybersecurity is a business problem first and a technology problem next. In addition, Michael is also a CEO pure advisory board chair at Vistage worldwide. So folks, cybersecurity is such a hot topic nowadays. And yet, so many firms don’t have a current strategy to manage this. We’re all looking forward to hearing why this is so important, Michael. So welcome to the show. Let’s get going. 

Michael Markulec: Great. Thanks for having me. 

Nancy: Always a pleasure. So I just want to jump in and like talk in generalities. And then we can get down to some specifics. But what are some of the common threats all businesses businesses face today?

Michael: Well, cybercrime has been on the rise for the past 20 years, and it’s moved from you know, defacing websites. And, you know, early hackers who, who did it for the fun of it, to now a business? Things like ransomware costs businesses worldwide, billions of dollars a year, according to the FBI. So what we’ve seen is this trend that’s moved from what was just a nuisance to now a real business threat, especially small and medium sized businesses.

Nancy: Wow. So I mean, that is really scary. Scary, and, you know, knock on wood. It hasn’t happened to me, I’m sure. Many of you out there it hasn’t happened to. But you know, what, how do we go about protecting our data? You know, I know you published five tactics for doing this, maybe you can share it with us?

Michael: Sure. You know, from from a business perspective, it always starts with understanding what your critical assets are, you know, for some of us, that is the data, our client data, you think about a law firm and the data that they have on their clients. You know, for other businesses, it might be manufacturing equipment, and protecting that manufacturing equipment. But again, it starts with, you know, identifying what the critical assets are. And then I really believe you need to take a couple of basic simple steps. 

And this is true, whether you’re, you know, whether you’re looking at your home computer, your small business network computer, or even if you’re a large enterprise, and that that starts with protecting the endpoints, which is really the, you know, the computers, the servers, that make up your network with things like antivirus anti malware. And for home users, small, small business users know there’s free software out there that comes with most of your PCs, that just needs to be turned on. Second.

Nancy: Can I ask you something? Why isn’t it automatically turned on? Why do you have to turn it on?

Michael: Because it’s, yeah, I mean, again, because a lot of software and I laugh, I chuckle because, you know, the IT, Information Technology, information security world has made this hard and it really doesn’t need to be hard. You know, endpoint protection is something that you definitely need. If you’re running, you know, Windows or the new version of Windows, Windows 10. It comes with something called Windows Defender, but yet it doesn’t come fully turned on when you get the machine. That’s required by your IT staff or your managed service provider, or in your home environment for you to do that yourself. And again, I chuckled, because having been in the industry for 25 years now, you know, we still haven’t gotten to the part where we make security easy, where we build it in. It’s something that we seem to layer on top, not build into the solution. 

Nancy: Wow. 

Michael: And then I was I was going to continue the other two big things that I really recommend for folks or backup your data. I don’t care whether it’s you know, my wife’s photographs of the dog, or my business data, or even as I advise, you know, larger clients, look at the data that’s important to you and back it up. Because when you get hit with ransomware, or you have some kind of cyber breach, your best defense, your best solution is to wipe the systems and start clean. And the only way you can do that is if you have a current backup of your data, right? 

The data, the data is important to us, as I said, the critical assets. You know, back it up having someplace off site where you can recover very quickly. And then finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say this, the best thing you can do for cybersecurity, according to Harvard Business Review, that says the best return on an investment is training your employees. 90 plus percent of all cyber incidents, start with the employee doing something wrong. Clicking on an attachment they shouldn’t. Entering the correct entering their credentials into a fraudulent website. It’s an employee problem at its heart through the weakest chain in the link. And yet we don’t train them. Which to me is just mind boggling, you know, at a level.

Nancy: Wow. How, I want to go back to backup. How often should files be backed up?

Michael: Depends on how important they are to you. So you know, if you’re a small and medium sized business, and we’re talking about things like your accounting files, or your inventory, you know, that should happen a couple times a day. You know, my wife’s pictures of the dog should probably happen once a week, right? So you want to make sure that you’re doing it in a timely manner. And I tell you, you really need three copies of the data. You know, the copy of the data that you’re working on, right, the spreadsheet that you might be working on on a daily basis. 

You should have a local, you should have a local backup of that. So something that’s, you know, on site that you’re backing up, you know, daily at a minimum, and then you should have an off site backup. And, you know, God forbid, we have you know, Superstorm Sandy again, or you have a, you know, a fire at your business or something like that. You want to still be able to bring that data back, even if it’s a week old. Right? It’s better losing everything. 

Nancy: Yeah. I can only imagine what that might must be like, if you lost everything, and you spent so many years in building something. Alright, so tell us more about your company and why Harbor is unique. What what makes your organization great?

Michael: So what what makes us unique, my business partner and myself, you know, have decades of experience in cybersecurity, we worked with the US federal government, the Department of Defense, some of the largest agencies in the government. We work with large financial service firms. You know, for the early part of our career, what we’ve done is taken that knowledge, the methodologies, the consulting methodologies, the processes that large organizations use, and we’ve brought them down and right sized them for small and medium sized business. 

I tell people all the time that you know Bank of America, and Hopewell Valley Community Bank, need to comply with the same federal regulations around cybersecurity. The difference is, Bank of America has almost unlimited resources to deal with the problem. Small and medium businesses don’t, right, they just don’t have the expertise. They can’t hire and train people quick enough to keep up with the changing landscape. So what we do is we help small and medium businesses fill that gap. We do do that provide by providing a set of services, that that at its heart starts with that virtual chief information security officer. 

Coming in helping them understand the regulations, helping them understand how to implement a security program, writing policies, establishing training programs, really building out a cybersecurity program. Very similar to you know, a part time CFO, or a part time COO that organizations would bring in, we’re doing the same thing on the cyber side. But doing it from a place of, you know, having dealt with large organizations, and therefore, understanding business and understanding that the trials and tribulations of running a small business.

Nancy: Right, you know, what do we do if we have an attack? What’s the first step to take?

Michael: Well, step one is to prepare, right so we you know, if we’re not let’s let’s assume that we maybe haven’t been as prepared as we should. You know, if you do have a an attack, you should have have, you know some Incident Response Plan that talks about, you know, you know, taking the device off of the network, doing some analysis to determine, you know, what has been compromised, what might be at risk, what data might be lost. If we’re talking about something like ransomware, you’ll know when you get hit with ransomware, because you’re going to get a note on your screen telling you oh, that you owe the cybercriminal money.

And they’ll unlock your data if you send them a Bitcoin or two. And if anybody’s followed cryptocurrency, exciting subject, but you know, Bitcoin can an individual Bitcoin can be well over $1,000. Paying two bitcoins to have your laptop unlocked, you know, $2,000, just to have somebody unlock your laptop, and then ultimately, there’s no guarantee that they’re going to unlock it, or that they won’t target you again.

Nancy: Wow. And so we really have no control over that, except for protecting ourselves.

Michael: I think protection, again, backup, I recommend people all the time, don’t pay a ransom, just replace your files from backup. Yeah, train your employees not to click on things that cause ransomware. So you can take some very proactive steps. But again, most businesses don’t. Most businesses wait until something bad happens. Where they’re reactive, not proactive.

Nancy: Interesting, you know, and and having worked with you and in in your space before, there’s all there’s often a lack of understanding in the business community about something that I quoted you on that you believe that cybersecurity is a business problem first, and then a technology problem. Our experience here is that many see it as a technology problem and not a business problem, wouldn’t you agree in in general, and why is that bad?

Michael: You know, so we look at IT or information security is some kind of black art something that you know, we have an IT guy to go handle. And for most most managers, most executives, they have no idea what their IT guy does on a daily basis.

Nancy: Yeah.

Michael: But yet, when we think about things like operations, or finance, you know, we manage those and we manage them properly. Right? If you’re, if you’re a CEO of a small and medium sized business, I guarantee you, you understand, and you’re monitoring things like accounts receivable, accounts payable, you have annual audits or reviews, so that you understand you know where your finances are. But we don’t bring that same kind of discipline to the IT space. And for life in the I don’t know why. Right? It’s, it’s not that you need to understand every technical bit and bite, you need to understand how to manage, right, and how to make sure that you’ve got a plan moving forward. 

Right. So just like anything else, build a roadmap, follow a plan, make sure that you know what you’re you know, information technology information security team is doing. And this is not something you can pass off to an IT guy or a managed service provider. Right? Managed service providers only going to do what you tell them to do. They’re only going to do what you manage them to do. Same what’s your IT staff, you’ve got to make sure that they know what they’re doing. You got to provide them training, you got to provide them guidance. We wouldn’t let somebody go out and run a bulldozer without proper training. But yet, you know, we don’t train our employees on information technology. We don’t train our IT staff on how to remediate these kind of problems.

Nancy: Yeah, wow. Is this something you’d like me to spotlight?

Michael: You know, just the fact that, you know, small and medium businesses are kind of really at risk. And when I talk about the risk, you know, people are like, wow, someone’s going to deface my website, or, you know what, someone’s gonna lock up a computer and it’s going to cost me you know, $500. Well, it becomes a lot more than that. Right? The risk today, if you’re a small law firm, and have to go tell all of your clients that you’ve lost their data that can be catastrophic for your business. If you’re a chain of retail locations and you lost you lost control of your inventory. 

Some of that inventory is probably on consignment. Right. Now, you’ve got a tremendous problem with trying to go back and, you know, inventory, your retail shops, to make sure that you know exactly where things are costing you hundreds of 1000s of dollars. We’ve seen it recently right here in New Jersey in Mercer County. You know, Mercer County fell victim to a scheme, right they know fraudulent wire transfer, they sent over $660,000 of taxpayer money. That’s now non recoverable. 

Nancy: Wow. 

Michael: So it’s not a game anymore. This is not something you can stick your head in the sand to ignore. And you know, sorry for getting up on a spoke a little bit on a soapbox. But, you know, I think too many businesses don’t understand the risk, and then wake up one day out of business.

Nancy: Well, I hear it. It doesn’t make sense, why more aren’t implementing a strategy. You know, tell us something that you believe is true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

Michael: Well, it’s, it’s funny, because when you I know, we did a little bit of prep for the show, you asked me that, you know, I don’t know if you recall my response. But I wrote down something that I believe that nobody else believes is, you know, the Eagles are gonna win a Super Bowl in next three years.

Nancy: Hey, but that is optimism isn’t it. 

Michael: That is optimism on my part. But again, I’ll come back to the employee training. And really, the fact that you know, you can greatly reduce your risk, your risk to cyber fraud, your risk to exposure, by training your employees. You know, they become the weakest link. They reuse passwords, they click on things they shouldn’t click on, they open attachments they shouldn’t. And at the heart of it, if you can improve your employees’ cyber awareness, cyber hygiene is another term that’s been used, you know, you’ve taken a big step forward, in terms of preventing risk to your business. And for most organizations, that’s not that hard. Right? It’s not expensive. It’s not difficult. You just need to do it.

Nancy: I want to tap on that, though. What kind of a program do you recommend? I mean, how long and you know how long it’s not, you know, it works.

Michael: Yep, a couple a couple things you can do on on both sides. The program we typically implement for our clients has three components. It has a simulated phishing, which is sending out phishing tests to see who clicks on bad things. Who answered enters their credentials into a fake website. Right. So that’s really the testing component. And it allows us to track over time, how well the organization is doing. Second, I believe training needs to be interactive, it needs to be short, and it needs to be monthly, at least. Right? The days, the days of once a year, going in for a PowerPoint session, with doughnuts just doesn’t work. That’s not training, right? 

Training is repeated, often. It’s frequent. It’s interactive. And we use a set of short videos on a monthly basis for most of our clients to cover the training aspect. And then I sit, I sit with the leadership team, the management inside your inside our client organizations, at least once, preferably twice a year, to talk about cybersecurity, to talk about the threats to the business. To make sure that your accounting team and your your remote sales team and your operations team all understand what cyber security is, how important is it to the business. So that executive component that executive education is just as important, as you know, training the day to day employees.

Nancy: But you know, it makes total sense. And I’m looking at the clock, I cannot believe we’re almost out of time. This is a conversation that we could have gone on for quite some time. But before you go, how can my audience find you because I think you’ve given us some really good things to think about and be proactive moving forward. So how can they reach you?

Michael: So a couple ways the audience can reach me, obviously, it’s a Harbor Technology. It’s Harbortg, Tango They can find me on LinkedIn. And we’re publishing almost on a weekly basis information to LinkedIn. We’re blogging on on a weekly basis to make sure that we’re getting out the best information around cybersecurity issues. You can certainly get me on Twitter, you can get me on LinkedIn, or you can go to our website and connect to me there.

Nancy: Awesome. You gotta help us here. How do you spell your name, last name.

Michael: Last name. It’s Michael Markulec m a r k u l e c. Harbor Technology Group, the web, the URL is harbortg Tango

Nancy: Awesome. So once again, thank you all for listening in and a big special thank you Michael for joining the program. You know, everyone remember to reach out to Michael, when you’re looking to get things right. I think what he said makes so much sense. It would be remiss if we didn’t take next steps. Make it a great day everyone and Michael, are you going to come back on the show and keep us updated on what we should do and when and how?

Michael: I will keep you updated. And we didn’t. We didn’t even get into the sales world today. We just got into the cyber security world but right now we’re doing some innovative stuff to get more information, more content out to the small and medium business community. And yeah, I’d love to have that conversation over over coffee sometime.

Nancy: Hey over coffee or another podcast and finally, I’m all about sales. You know what I’m saying? Make it a great day everyone. Thanks again for listening in.

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