Our guest on this week’s episode is author, speaker, and CEO John Asher. His company, Asher Strategies, offers sales advisory services to clients all over the world. Working with Vistage, an international network of CEOs, John has presented best practices in sales, sales management, and marketing. And his team has trained over 80,000 executives, salespeople, and managers in almost two dozen countries over the past 19 years. The author of Close Deals Faster and The Neuroscience of Selling is here to talk with us about all things sales.

Solution selling is dead. The idea of building rapport, conducting a needs analysis of the buyer, and then offering a solution that fits no longer works in today’s business world. While the average salesperson is a passive listener and good salespeople are active listeners, elite sellers are the ones who now practice perfect listening. No one stays at the top without training, especially with so much new information emerging in the field of sales. John breaks down the techniques that have replaced solution selling, including:

  • How to become a perfect listener
  • The five factors for sales success
  • Identifying the right time to close a deal
  • And much, much more

John is truly a wealth of experience and information. He has helped so many salespeople get to the top of their game in the ever-changing landscape of modern sales. His approaches are backed by science and proven in the field. Become a more successful seller by becoming a perfect listener and listen now!

Mentioned in this episode:


Voiceover: You’re listening to the Conversational Selling Podcast with Nancy Calabrese.

Nancy Calabrese: Hello, it’s Nancy Calabrese. And it is time for Conversational Selling, the podcast where sales leaders and business experts share what’s going on in sales and marketing today, and it always starts with the human conversation. Speaking with us today is John Asher CEO and master facilitator of Asher Strategies, which offers sales advisory services. John is an experienced international speaker on sales, sales management and marketing for Vistage a worldwide network of CEOs. He co-founded an engineering firm in 1986. He and his team grew the company at a compounded growth rate of 42% per year for 14 straight years. 

During his tenure as CEO, the company acquired seven other engineering and software development companies. His team’s sold the company in 1997. After growing, I believe the I’m looking at this number right growing annual revenue to 165 million. In 1998, he co-founded a sales advisory services practice that has grown into a global leader in sales strategies. And these strategies include sales, sales management and marketing. His team has trained over 80,000 executives, sales people, and other customer facing managers in 22 countries over 19 years. The only word that comes to my mind right now is wow! I’m not even sure where to begin. But to say wow, again, welcome to the show, John.

John Asher: Great to be on Nancy. Thanks so much for inviting me.

Nancy: Oh, my goodness. So I I’ve been looking so looking forward to this conversation. And, you know, one in learning more about you over, you know, over time, I love the name, or I don’t know if it’s a tagline or your company name close deals faster. I mean, that’s every sales person’s dream, right? That’s every CEOs vision. Tell us more? I mean, how do you close deals faster?

John: So it was a little interesting history about that as it was my my second sales book. First of all, I actually wrote I quote, it was co authored by me and my GM in China and in Mandarin. And, and the title of the book was How to do Business with the West. Advice for Chinese Salespeople. And I wrote the second book in the US, it was called the Top 10 skills of the Elite Salespeople. And Ingram, the publisher, went out to his 40 salespeople and had a brainstorming and said he liked the title or is there a better title? And they came back and said, You need to call this book Close Deals Faster. So it wasn’t my idea, actually, it was the publisher’s idea to change it from my preferred title to their’s. So of course, we go over their’s.

Nancy: Well, it is catchy for sure. What’s the trick or any tips? You know, I’m sure we could go on for hours and hours. But anything jumped to mind that you really believe a salesperson should focus on first?

John: Well, if you if you just pick one of the 10 skills, one of the most important almost every salesperson knows this is to be a great listener. Great salespeople are not great talkers. They’re great listeners. And there’s always been two types of salespeople. And if you go back to the harbor data, there’s about 25 million salespeople in the us right now. And there’s two 80/20 rules that are associated with them based on harbor data. The first is 5%, are elite, five land and 20% are not very good. And their turnover rates about a third per year. The second 80/20 rule is those top 20% the elite are again, 80 percent of the new business. Right? Let’s compare the listening skills of the elite salespeople and the average. The average are typically passive listeners meaning, listen, just enough to start interrupting and talking about what you can do. Active listeners have always been keep asking questions. Keep trying to figure out what the buyer needs totally before you respond. Right. Always. And that that’s that’s a key skill. 

Now with all these neuroscience studies Nancy, active listening has been picked up to a whole new level. Yeah, perfect listening. Yeah. And if you’re a perfect listener, and you do those three techniques, as the end of a discovery process, the buyer will say something like this, wow, you have a perfect understanding of our needs. You’ve actually helped me understand what we need. This has been such a great collaboration. Thank you so much. So to the end of the story about listening, the elite salespeople now use three techniques to be the perfect listener. Accurate listening is one. Second, ask permission to take notes and take notes. And third, summarize it back to the buyer as many times as it takes the buyer to say you got it. I guess it’s actual statistics that backs it up. 90% of the sales people get it that you really ought to take notes, only 10%. And only 2% summarize the feedback. That’s probably the most important skill.

Nancy: You know, they seem pretty simple. And listening to it. Why? Why are most salespeople challenged with doing that?

John: As my wife says, frequently, you can’t fix stupid.

Nancy: I like to think that not, you know, most of us aren’t stupid, but there seems to be a hesitancy or just lack of interest.

John: Just a lack lack of training, in my view, in my experience, once you start doing it, using the three techniques ask permission to take notes, take notes, summarize and feed it back. And don’t do that until you thoroughly understand what the buyer needs. And then you watch your closing rates go sky high, when you start using the technique, it’s just like a no brainer.

Nancy: I’ve also read that I really loved what I’ve written when I read this, no one stays at the top without training. Isn’t that true? Tell me where that came from and give share your thoughts on why it’s so important to keep polishing your skills.

John: Well, what is that they say sales training. That’s what we’re talking about. There’s so much new information coming out. I give you one example. So there’s a worldwide forum of neuroscientists in 70 country, countries sharing their expertise, sharing their research. Sharing our experiments. And many of the now we’re done with what are called functional MRI machines. So imagine a buyer sitting in a chair with a helmet on and there’s an MRI machine built in. You show the buyer a picture, you ask the buyer a question, you show the buyer or short video, you make a statement to the buyer. And then you can see when the oxytocin circuit lights, up the dopamine circuit, the serotonin circuit. When nothing happens. When more than one light at the same time. So now we have real science behind sales. So sales people haven’t caught up with that and had this new neuroscience based sales training. They’re behind the competition. You got to keep trying new stuff happens all the time.

Nancy: Oh, yeah. Interesting. You also have a segment I found online about the five factors for success in sales, can you share what those are?

John: It’s really simple. So if you if you go back to the elite salespeople, all five of the following factors are in alignment. One, great product knowledge. Gives them power and confidence. They can really add value to prospects and suspects. Two, they have a natural talent for sales. You can’t you can’t change your talent, right? The leopard doesn’t change his spots. So back to good to great get the right people on the right seat on the bus based on natural talent. Though product knowledge must be learned natural talent or sales aptitude is we’re born with what we got. The third is selling skills, which must be learned. The fourth is motivation. Fairly, fairly complex aspect, there are three parts to it. 

One is people’s natural motivation. Two is the environment they’re selling in. So during COVID when sales went down by 90% for some companies, what happened the motivation of their salespeople right? In the tank. Yep, to the third part of motivation is who’s the sales manager. And if you go look at these various Gallup studies, one of them was 800,000 managers in three million people. One of the results was people will stay with a great manager in a bad company. They will not stay with a bad manager in a great company. So the third, the third, the fourth aspect, motivation has three components. And then the fifth is the processes and technology and tools that the company provides for the salespeople. So product knowledge, natural talent, selling skills, motivation, process, technology and tools. When you see all five of those in alignment, now we’re talking about the elite sales people.

Nancy: Yeah. So you think elite sales people are natural, naturally born, they have it within them.

John: Elite sales people are naturally born and made. In other words, all five factors are in alignment. When you go back to the five factors and ask what’s your most important? What’s the most important one and blah, blah, blah. So if you integrate, if you have a big meta analysis, a summary of a bunch of studies from sales, and HR Institutes, aptitude accounts for 50% of results, and the other 50% is the other four factors. So aptitude ain’t everything, but it is pretty significant. For the best sales people are born and made. Yeah, born meaning they got the natural talent and made means they’ve got the skills, they got the product knowledge, and they got the tools and know how to use them.

Nancy: Yeah, you know, I want to go to the question I asked you to think about which is sharing your unique idea that is different and sets you apart? What is that?

John: Well, it’s actually not my idea. But there was a article in the Harvard Business Review must be three years ago. And the title of the article was, of course, provocative to get people to read it. And the name of the article was Solution Selling is Dead. Pretty provocative, right? And solution selling has been around probably for 15 years. Sometimes it’s called consultative selling. And the big breakthrough happened when, instead of salespeople just starting with presentations, the whole idea of their idea was to be a solution seller or consultant, meaning that three step process, build rapport, make the buyer comfortable with you, doing these analysis discovery process, find out what the buyer needs, and three offer a solution as the term solution selling opera solution. 

I agree, and everybody kind of knows that. Pretty much now. Not all of the not so good salespeople, but the elite salespeople certainly know that. So here’s a little bit of a background behind the article. I mentioned these neuroscience studies, essentially worldwide now. And there’s huge collaboration of them in 70 countries. So the the, the knowledge increases exponential. We now know from these functional MRI studies, that by the way, it the science behind sales now tells us what techniques we’ve been using that are correct. Tells us how to improve some of those techniques, and also tells us some of the techniques that we’ve been using are exactly the wrong thing to do. That’s why I’m an engineer engineers. That’s why I really love the science behind the sales. So that has been the art of the sale the sales process now we have the art, the process and the science. And yeah, here’s, here’s one of the results of the science. 

There are six activators that will wake up the buyers decision making brain. So we all have three parts of the brain a rational part, facts, figures, complex thinking, our conscious brain. And we have two parts of the unconscious or old brain one’s instinct to the reptilian brain and the other is emotional brain. And we now know that I’m sure you’ve heard the term we buy on emotion and justify with logic. Yep, so there’s six ways to wake up the buyer’s old brain. So they’ll they will like you and they want to do business with you. And you’ve really alerted them that something important is coming. And one of those six is called me, me, me focus. In other words, we’re all focused on ourselves. So when you go back, millions and millions of year, no, no species survive through evolution without being focused on their own safety. So it’s true for all of us. We’re all focused on our own safety, our own success, our own happiness, her own family. 

Just everybody kind of knows that. Well, when you put that in a buyer selling context, when salespeople are all focused on themselves and what they’re selling, it ain’t waking up to buyer’s old decision making brain. But the salesperson can, can make it focused on the buyer, then the whole thing will shift. So a good example would be a presentation. So if when you are going to meet with a new buyer, and instead of the solution, sell it and build rapport, do a needs analysis. So build rapport, of course, but then instead of at least starting with a needs analysis, and you’re kind of 15 questions that you know, you need to ask to get to the bottom of everything. In many cases, now, buyers savvy buyers, know there’s so much information about their company about them about their competition on the internet. 

They get impatient with the 15 questions of their discovery analysis. They’re saying to themselves, why does this salesperson know more about us and our competition and where we stand. So now let’s go back to the harbor sales department forty four years, the Harvard neuroscience laboratory 10 years, as you can imagine, they talk to each other now. So if you are the salesperson, and you will use to get ready to start the needs analysis, you say something like this, here is our understanding of your needs, bullet, bullet, bullet. Whatever they are. Do I had this about right? Then, based on the neuroscience studies at Harvard, you don’t have to have it exactly right. If you had a pretty well nailed, in 95% of the cases, it causes a big conversation between the buyer and the seller. 

And then after that conversation is over, maybe you have three or four questions left to ask, you have to ask all 15 questions now. Maybe only a few more. And if you had a slide deck of 23 slides to show how many slides you have to show now. Maybe three or four. And it won’t be a random three or four, either. There’ll be just the three or four that relate to how the conversation is going. So that’s what I mean by solution selling is dead. As I said I wouldn’t sell brands and I made it up. It’s actually another Business Review article. And that’s, that’s what they mean.

Nancy: What they mean it’s all about them. Them them them.

John: Correct. Make it all about them, them, them.

Nancy: Yeah. Lose the me, me, me and focus on them. What is something and I think we kind of touched on this, but what is something you would want us wants to spotlight? Besides your good looks?

John: That is debatable. That’s for sure.

Nancy: Well, they can’t see us unfortunately.

John: Yeah. Yay. Like, ah, yeah. Well, the probably the second most important skill after listening would be closing. Now is knowing when is the right time to close knowing how to interpret the vocal from the buyer and knowing how to interpret the buyer’s body language. And knowing that you have to you can’t try to close before the buyer’s ready because it’s a total turnoff. And once the buyer is ready, if you don’t try to close the buyer, wondering what’s going on. It doesn’t take too long before you lose the opportunity. And buyers and buyers don’t want untrained salespeople who since they’re like to to sure when the buyer’s ready, will kind of beat around the bush and hope the buyer will close themselves. As you know, hope is not a good, good strategy.

Nancy: Hopeism. Haven’t you heard that term?

John: I have. And so the buyer wants to definitive closing approach something like this. Would you like to get this project started on the 5th of May? Any ambiguity there? There’s no ambiguity, you just directly ask him for the for the deal. And there’s nine other ways to close and I’m sure you’ve heard the alternative close and the assumptive close. You know and on and on. So the great salespeople have those 10 closing approaches in their back pocket or up their sleeve. And they recognize when the buyer is ready and how to get them and what they need to do to get them ready. That’s probably number two skill and importance after listening. Yeah, and frankly, if you don’t do great listening, you’ll never get anywhere near close.

Nancy: I totally, totally agree. And I can’t believe we’re at the end of our show. I want to be sure to get one or two other comments out here. What is one takeaway you want to leave the audience with?

John: If you want to get to the top of the game as a salesperson, be the perfect listener. That has to be a total active listener, don’t start talking or enter. The worst is interrupting. Don’t start talking about what you can do, until you thoroughly understand what they can do. Ask permission to take notes and take notes. And when you think you got it all summarize and feed it back.

Nancy: Yep. Great, great advice. Great advice, John. How can my audience find you?

John: Well you can find me on LinkedIn, that’s easy. So John Asher. Just go to LinkedIn and everything you need to know and probably more than you want to know. That’s probably the best and easiest way to go. You know, there’s 760 million people on LinkedIn now.

Nancy: I love it.

John: So right, why not? Why give out phone numbers and email addresses anymore with LinkedIn?

Nancy: You don’t need a business card, that’s for sure. Yes to text and do everything electronically. Well, listen, I really want to thank you, John, for being on and to my audience. Thank you so much for listening in. Everyone have a fantastic sales day. And we remember, you want to be elite. John’s your man. Pick up the phone, give him a call. Hook up with him on LinkedIn. Thanks again, John.

John: Thank you, Nancy. Great to be with you and then we’ll get you on our podcast sometime in the near future. 

Nancy: Well, I’m gonna have to study up for that one. I can’t wait.

Voiceover: The Conversational Selling Podcast is sponsored by One of a Kind Sales. If you’re frustrated that you don’t have enough leads or your sales team complains that they just don’t have enough time to prospect, we can help. To work with Nancy and her team one on one to help you manage your sales team, install her proven outbound sales process and create more bottom line results, email her now at Nancy@oneofakindsales.com. To learn more about Nancy and her outbound sales secrets, grab your free copy of her book, The Inside Sales Solution at oneofakindsales.com/book.