Author Joy Rains: How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy

Authority Magazine
Jul 16, 2020 · 19 min read

Listen mindfully. Many people are experiencing high anxiety due to the pandemic. Simply by listening to them, you can be a pillar of support. Remember not to try to fix things for them. Being a compassionate listener can go a long way toward relieving people’s stress. The simple act of listening says I care about you. I value you. What you have to say is important to me. Mindful listening can be as simple as forgetting about yourself and bringing your full and complete attention to someone else.

a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joy Rains. Joy is the author of two books on mindfulness, including Ignite Your Sales Power! Mindfulness Skills for Sales Professionals. She co-hosts the podcast Mindfulness for Sales Professionals with her husband Bill, and she also hosts the podcast Mindful 180. Joy believes the key to growing your business is to take a positive, customer-focused approach.

Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?

my late 20s, I had achieved considerable sales success, but I was stressed out. I wanted to find some peace of mind and discovered meditation. Meditation and mindfulness made a profound difference in my life. I became less reactive. Less stressed. More grounded. More relaxed. And, my monthly sales doubled!

Meanwhile, my husband and I started a family and I wanted a more flexible schedule. I founded my company, Key Seminars, to train sales teams to sell to the Federal Government. Later on I began teaching meditation and recognized a need for mindfulness training for sales professionals. Mindfulness helps you become compassionate to others and focus on their needs instead of your own needs — one of the least pushy mindsets a sales professional can adopt!

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

Many sales training classes teach you to “shut up” after you ask a closing question. I learned the value of this lesson when I was a new sales rep selling optical products to an optician thirty years my senior. I felt intimidated, although I tried to appear confident. While showing him a line of designer sunglasses, I asked, “Which ones would you like?” He chose seven pairs, which wasn’t enough to meet the minimum order of ten, so I suggested he get an extra pair of his favorite three styles to meet the minimum. This optician didn’t appreciate my suggestion. He slammed my sample case shut, exclaiming, “That means I’d have $300 tied up in this!”

I was so frightened by his response that I couldn’t move or speak. I was unintentionally abiding by the sales rule, once you ask for the order, zip the lip. After what seemed like hours, but probably was just a few minutes, he opened the sample case and said, “I’ll take two each of these three styles.” Lesson learned: silence is an important tool to use in the selling process.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Right now I’m focused on producing my weekly podcasts, Mindful 180 and Mindfulness for Sales Professionals. My husband Bill and I launched the sales podcast last year. We’re keeping the episodes brief and focused, perfect for busy schedules. With 70+ years of sales experience between us, we wanted to share tips and techniques we wish we had learned years ago. When I started in sales, I thought my job was to “get” customers to do what I wanted! At some point I learned that selling in a positive, customer-focused manner is the key to success.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I was in college, I worked on a telephone crisis intervention hotline. My supervisor trained me in counseling skills that helped me relate to my callers. Later on, these skills helped me in my sales career, making a tremendous difference in my ability to build relationships with customers.

During the training, the instruction she gave me was to “repeat what the hotline callers say” back to them. Confused, I asked, “You want me to repeat what the callers say back to them? Wouldn’t that be awkward?” She looked at me with a twinkle in her eye. “You think it would be awkward to repeat what the callers say back to them?” I nodded emphatically. “Yes, I do! (pause) Oooh. Now I get it.” She was modeling the skill she wanted me to use and it wasn’t awkward at all.

When you repeat your customer’s words back to them, it creates understanding and shows the customer you’re listening. You can either paraphrase throughout your conversation, or when your customer is finished answering your questions by saying, “Just so I can make sure I understand . . .” and then summarize what you heard. The act of paraphrasing the customer’s words is one of the least “salesy” things you can do, and it’s also one of the best ways to discover customer needs, build bridges, and ultimately close the sale.

As an added bonus, when you paraphrase customers’ words, it builds an atmosphere of agreement. Consider this: if a prospect says we’re looking for something to shorten the processing time and you say it sounds like speed is important to you, your customer will likely say yes. When customers say “yes” throughout your conversations, the selling cycle moves forward in a positive direction.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?

Both my father and my grandfather were professional salesmen, so I like to think selling is part of my DNA. When I was in high school, I landed a part-time telemarketing job and began a long sales career, following in their footsteps. I’ve had a track record of sales success in different industries and with a variety of products. After college, I earned my living as a traveling sales representative, selling optical products to wholesalers. I moved on to selling computer products to the Federal Government, then telephone systems to commercial accounts, and finally print and online advertising to businesses. I’ve immersed myself in learning sales techniques over the years, always looking to sharpen my craft. I love the sales profession and the opportunity it presents for creativity, connection, and considerable income potential.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

These certainly are extraordinary times. Here are a few ideas:

Release your anxieties first. If you’re contacting someone to offer support, don’t share your anxieties with them. A friend told me he realized he called his elderly mother three times a day, not to make her feel less isolated, but so he’d feel less anxious about her being alone. When he recognized his motivation, he made sure to spend a few minutes breathing and releasing his anxieties before he called her.

Remain present. Try to be fully present when you talk to people on the phone or video chat. Your presence can help them be more at ease. By releasing your agenda, your judgments, and any distracting thoughts, you can bring your attention to the here and now. Be with your people as if they’re the only ones who exist in this moment. If your attention wanders away from them, gently bring it back, again and again.

Listen mindfully. Many people are experiencing high anxiety due to the pandemic. Simply by listening to them, you can be a pillar of support. Remember not to try to fix things for them. Being a compassionate listener can go a long way toward relieving people’s stress. The simple act of listening says I care about you. I value you. What you have to say is important to me. Mindful listening can be as simple as forgetting about yourself and bringing your full and complete attention to someone else.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versatile topics, is totally ignored?

Sales is a partnership between you and your customers. It seems the education system is more focused on individual skills than collaborative skills. One of the best ways to collaborate is through listening, but listening skills typically aren’t taught in schools. Nor are listening skills typically taught in sales courses. As I said earlier, I learned to listen when being trained as a crisis intervention counselor. Imagine if listening was a required course in the education system! We’d likely live in a more understanding, more compassionate world.

This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?

I do agree with this assumption! When people are “salesy,” it seems they’re more focused on what they want. They want to push a particular product or service and close the sale. It can seem as if people are talking AT you, rather than WITH you. As a buyer, I’ve experienced those who talk at me, and I feel like I want to run away from them. Conversely, I’ve experienced salespeople who seem truly interested in my needs, and it’s a pleasure to work with them.

We can learn a lesson from Martin Buber, an Austrian philosopher born in the latter part of the 19th century, who wrote the book I and Thou. His premise was that people think of humanity in one of two ways. The first way is to think of the other person as an “It,” or a person to be used, and the second way is to think of the other person as “Thou,” or a person that’s the same as you. Taking Buber’s approach is key to sales success.

The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?

My “secret sauce” is mindfulness, which applies to all stages of the sales cycle. I’ll address it as it applies to Approach. I’m a huge advocate of spending a few minutes or more clearing your mind before you make contact with your customer. Release any thoughts that pertain to you, such as I need to close this sale or doing business with this client can really help me with this month’s quota. As you approach customers, release any judgements you might have and bring your entire focus to them — their needs, their concerns, and what they’re communicating. Any time you notice your thoughts wandering, gently bring them back to your customer, making your customer your focal point.

I’ll always remember one of the first times I applied mindfulness to my sales activities. Early in my sales career, I was selling business telephone systems. As I was driving to an appointment with a big law firm, my thoughts started spinning. Will I remember the benefits? What will the customer think? Will he buy?

At this point in my life, I had just learned about mindfulness, or the experience of keeping your attention in the present moment — instead of lost in thoughts, judgements, or preconceived notions. I sat in my parked car before going into the customer’s office and practiced a mindfulness exercise. As I breathed, I brought all my attention to the feeling of the air moving in and out of my body. Any time my attention wandered, I refocused on my breath, again and again. As I walked to the customer’s office, I practiced another mindfulness exercise by noticing the soles of my feet as they connected with the ground. Any time my attention wandered, I brought it back to my feet, even if I had to shift my attention back every second or two.

And I’ll tell you what happened on that sales call: My attention was no longer on my spinning thoughts, but it was in the present moment, fully focused on my customer. I realized that he wasn’t there to serve my needs for making my quota for the month, but I was there to serve his needs of solving his firm’s telecommunications problems. It’s as if the entire dynamic of the sales call shifted — and he ended up purchasing a large phone system that solved his problems.

Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

Develop a “seeking” mindset. Always be on the lookout for prospects. For instance, if a company truck passes you, check out the logo to see if that company could be a potential customer. This “always seeking” mindset will open you up to opportunities you may have missed otherwise.

Visualize your sales territory as being filled with prospects. What you imagine as already happening will often manifest. The more details you imagine, the more effective your visualization will be. Your imagination has a tremendous amount of power, so you may as well tap into that power to boost your sales.

Release preconceived notions about prospects. One of the most common reasons salespeople miss opportunities is because they misjudged a prospect. Spend a few minutes before each call clearing your mind of any distracting thoughts that might cloud your judgment.

Ask for referrals. Even if you only get one referral for every twenty times you ask, it’s one more referral than you would have gotten otherwise. When someone gives you a referral, ask if you can use their name when you contact the prospect. If they say yes, then lead with the contact’s name when you reach out. For instance, if you send an email, write “referred by (name)” in the subject line.

Learn how to use LinkedIn to prospect. The advanced features will help you identify the prospects you’re trying to find. You can find a treasure-trove of great contacts on this platform.

Do your research. Find out about your customers and their organizations prior to contacting them. See if you can find out about their company structure, their challenges, and any upcoming projects. This information will help you navigate your way in the sales call — and your customer will likely appreciate your taking the time to do your homework.

Set aside regular prospecting times. It’s vital to keep your sales pipeline filled. Some people like to schedule their prospecting time in their calendar, as if this dedicated block of time is an appointment. And in a way, this time is an appointment — between you and your future customers.

Practice common courtesies. For example, if you make a telephone cold call and your prospect answers, ask if it’s a good time to chat for a couple of minutes. Some salespeople are afraid to ask, since it gives the prospect the opportunity to say no. If they say no? No problem! Just offer a strong benefit statement and ask when you can call back for a brief chat. People appreciate it when you show that you value their time.

Know when to walk away. Not every prospect is a qualified prospect. At some point, it may be time to walk away and spend your time elsewhere.

In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?

Expect objections. They’re part of the selling process. My father used to say if there were no objections, companies would only need order takers, not sales people.

Plan for objections. Keep a running list of possible objections and ways to address them. When I was in high school, my first sales job was as a telemarketer, scheduling home appointments for outside sales reps to sell vacation property. I was given a big notebook containing a script and answers for different objections. When someone objected, I’d turn to the appropriate tab in the notebook and find the answer! I thought it was a bit contrived at the time, but now I see the value in it.

Use the Three “F” Formula: Feel, Felt, Found. For example, I understand how you feel. Other customers have felt that way and they have found . . . When you relate other customer’s experiences, you’re using a third party testimonial — a very effective selling tool.

Don’t take it personally. The customer isn’t ready to buy from you for any number of reasons. Maybe it’s a reason you can address immediately, or maybe you need to cycle back to the prospect or company at a later date.

Keep your body relaxed and your mind alert. Notice your physical response when you hear the word “no.” Do you tense up? Try to be physically relaxed, while still keeping your mind sharp.

Recognize the shifting nature of sales. Nothing is absolute. The prospect who would only buy from his sister-in-law might change jobs and the new hire could be a great contact. The prospect’s favorite supplier might close their business and the buyer will need a new supplier. If you receive a definitive “no,” make a note to cycle back in three to six months to see if anything has changed.

‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.

1. Fact-finding is key. If you do all the important prep work, closing should come naturally. Find out as much information as possible and listen closely to your customer’s responses, so you know exactly how to gear your presentation.

Some salespeople fall into the trap of spewing the features and benefits of their products, while not understanding what the customer wants. This dynamic was shown in a well-known sales training video. Comedian John Cleese played a travel agent who didn’t ask the right questions to identify customer needs. A man and woman walked into the travel agency looking for the perfect vacation destination. Cleese’s immediate response was, “How about Australia?” The couple declined. Cleese said, “How about Belgium?” The couple declined again. “Canada?” “No.” “Denmark?” “No.” “England?” “No.” The scene sped forward as Cleese worked his way through the alphabet and finally landed on Zurich. The couple still said, “No.”

Cleese could have identified this couple’s preferences by asking open-ended questions. Make a list of questions to ask your customer. Continually revise your list. Here are some questions to get you started:

What is your decision-making process?

Who else is involved in purchasing decisions besides you?

What is your timeframe?

What is your budget?

When does your new fiscal year start?

What is most important to you?

When will this fit into your schedule?

What challenges are you facing?

How can I help you?

Of course, it’s important to make your interaction conversational, so you’re not peppering the customer with one question after another. Paraphrasing your customer’s answers will help break up the questions and also build understanding in the fact-finding stage. You’ll close more sales by building understanding at the beginning of the selling process than by trying to force a close at the end of the selling process.

2. Direct the conversation. Start with a brief, strong benefit statement, followed by a focus on the customer’s needs. For example, “This product has saved customers in your industry up to 30% in production time. But before we get into the specifics, I’d like to learn more about your business.” Then ask questions. Even though you’re directing the conversation, allow the customer to do most of the talking. The more information you find out, the more you can determine what questions to ask and how to move the conversation forward. Paraphrase your customer’s words to build understanding. Then pivot to the features and benefits of your product as they relate to the customer’s needs. Next, use a trial close. This type of close asks for an opinion rather than a decision. You can use a trial close to test the waters to see if the customer is “cold” or if they’re “hot” and ready to buy. Here are some examples of trial closing questions: Is this the type of insurance policy you’re looking for? Would this product’s features satisfy your needs? Will the timeline we’re offering fit within your deadlines for the project? If the customer’s opinion is favorable, then it’s time to ask a closing question — a question that asks for a decision to buy.

3. Ask customers to visualize and explain. You could ask them questions such as these: In a perfect world, can you describe exactly how you’d like this (problem solved) or (need handled) or (requirement fulfilled)? What is your vision for success? If the customer responds with specifics, they just told you exactly what they need in order for you to close the sale!

4. Listen closely for buying signals and use them for opportunities to close. If the customer asks does it come in green?, rather than saying yes, ask would you like it in green? If the customer asks can you meet our deadline for delivering the product?, rather than saying yes, ask a closing question, such as when would you like delivery?

5. Know your closing questions. Keep a running list of questions to close the sale. Include different styles of closing questions, such as choice closes (Would you like it in blue or green?), assumptive closes (Which months would you like to include in your schedule?), and closing on a minor point (Would you like your logo included on the printing?).

I learned a lesson about closing questions early in my sales career. After an in-depth conversation with a customer, it seemed time to close. I couldn’t figure out what type of closing question to ask. Should I use a choice close or an assumptive close? Should I try closing on a minor point? Finally, not being able to figure out what type question to ask, I simply asked, “Would you like to move forward?” The customer exclaimed, “Yes! I would. But I was waiting for you to ask.” Lesson learned: If you can’t think of what style closing question to use, forget technique and just ask!

Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?

Build trust. Each time you contact someone, you have an opportunity to show you’re a person of your word. I can’t tell you how many times sales reps have said they’ll follow up with me and never do. It erodes any basis for building trust. Set up little commitments and follow through. Tell the prospect you’ll email them an article and send it. Tell them you’ll call in a month and call.

Add value. Don’t always try to sell. Show that you’re interested in the customer’s success and challenges. Send an article that addresses a problem they have. Let them know about an upcoming event of interest. Share a podcast geared to their industry.

Have a plan for multiple contacts. It’s not likely you’ll close the sale on the first contact. Have a plan for what you’ll do each subsequent time you contact the prospect. What email will you send on contacts 2, 5 and 6? What phone message will you leave on contact 3 and 4? Of course, each “touch” needs to be customized to the individual prospect. Make sure to add value on these contacts, as discussed in the previous point.

Ask about their timeline. A simple question such as what is your timeline for (fill in the blank)? can help you clarify the customer’s commitment for moving forward.

As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?

Regarding closing the sale, it’s best to communicate in person, by phone, or by video chat. If the customer isn’t ready to buy, you have the opportunity to ask questions that can be answered immediately. Of course, you won’t always have the opportunity to talk with the customer, so you’re better off asking questions via email or text than not asking at all.

All the methods you mention are great for follow-up, since it typically takes multiple contacts before customers are ready to buy. And here I’ll share a story about a college friend of mine who took the idea of making multiple contacts to an extreme — but it worked! She sold to CFOs of large corporations. This was in the days before email, and she worked diligently to reach prospects by phone. One executive never returned her calls. She decided to use a methodical approach, and she began calling him regularly — every Wednesday at 3 p.m. He still didn’t take her calls, but she kept calling for a full year, every Wednesday at the same time. She ran the risk of alienating the prospect by calling this frequently, but she figured she had nothing to lose. Finally, after 52 weeks of calling him, she mailed him a one-year anniversary card — one year since she had started calling him! He finally called her back. And she landed a huge, lucrative contract. While this type of follow-up might not fit every salesperson’s personality, it’s a great example of the power of persistence.

Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Studies show that becoming mindful can help people become more compassionate — both to themselves and to others. Imagine if the business community became more compassionate! I would love to see a “mindful moment movement,” times each day of someone’s choosing, when they bring their full attention the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced anytime by noticing what you experience with your five senses. For instance, as you breathe, notice the coolness of the air as you inhale, and its warmth as you exhale. As you wash, notice the smell of the soap. As you eat, notice the flavors of your food. As you walk outside, notice the beauty of the flowers or the sounds of chirping birds. These mindful moments can take as little as a few seconds — all you need to do is to pause and notice the here and now.

How can our readers follow you online?

Right now I’m focusing on creating weekly episodes of my podcasts Mindful 180 and Mindfulness for Sales Professionals. In addition to listening on their favorite app, people can find the sales podcast on mindfulsalespro.com and the Mindful 180 podcast on joyrains.com.

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

Thank you so much!

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