Go the extra mile if you can. If the client asks a question that may not be in your field of knowledge, get the answer.
As 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 Michael Rossman, Director and Co-Founder EnergyBillKill.
Michael Rossman is an American entrepreneur and a seasoned banker. He is currently disrupting business-to-business services in Europe, having recently launched a new platform in the UK -EnergyBillKill.com and MachFast.com. Michael’s banking experience spans Europe and Asia with global European and American banking groups across finance and strategy. He was instrumental in scaling an emerging markets small business-banking platform and was a co-founder of a UK challenger bank venture, Copernicus.
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?
I was disappointed that small businesses were getting a raw deal after the 2008 financial crisis. I decided to change that through innovation & technology. Having raised c. GBP 1M in the last few years, I am building a business services platform that helps micro & small businesses to save time and money.
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?
Never make assumptions that you can’t validate. In a final stage interview at an investment bank, a recent top graduate was asked the final question. ‘If she woke up in the morning & discovered 1M dollars in her bank account, would she still take the job?’. The answer ‘If I woke up & discovered 1M dollars in my bank account, I would be exceptionally upset. What happened to the rest of my money?’.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, we are building a marketplace for business services that save money and time for small and micro-businesses. Our first showcase is EnergyBillKill.com. It is the UK’s first business energy savings app. We are not charging any fees to the micro and small business owners. Small businesses spend circa GBP 6billion per year on energy and get a raw deal. Almost 1M are at risk of being ripped off according to the UK’s Citizens Advice Q4 2019 report- and that was before COVID-19. Our goal is to expand to other services. UK’s SMEs spend GBP 60bn+ on services. In most cases, they get a poor price point and intermediaries like brokers take up to 20%+ (in many cases for simply filling out paperwork). With our apps, all it takes is a few clicks.
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?
There are so many people who helped me along the way that it would be a disservice to many if their names are not mentioned. Family comes first, and my parents are exceptional people, as were my grandparents.. Outside my family, I have been privileged to be mentored by so many wonderful people. Some had guaranteed my college loans. Others got me to run a marathon (a chubby kid from New York). Yet, others believed in me enough to invest in my company. At school and university, there were so many teachers and professors who took their time to broaden my mind and changed the way I think. Perhaps that is what unites many people who have inspired, coached, and helped me. I would say that what unites them is the old Socratic statement- ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
I believe in great products and transparent value propositions. The best salespeople I have worked with never sell. They believe so much in what they are doing. This belief combined with a product that sells itself are super powerful. There are many salespeople who can sell ice to eskimos. Raising GBP 1M for a start-up is not as easy as one sees in the movies — perhaps that is my most recent qualification.
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?
I think humor, empathy and communication are key. I stopped counting the number of funny messages that people of all ages in all sorts of circumstances circulate. Communicating every day with your family and friends is important. I have heard so many stories of people reconnecting after many years of lost contact. Ultimately, I believe that COVID-19 will be defeated. Staying positive to the greatest degree possible is great. The Italians singing from balconies, musicians doing concerts from their homes, and families doing musical renditions — all are pretty awesome.
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 versalite topics, is totally ignored?
Everybody can be a salesperson, but you have to believe in yourself and your product/service.
I am not sure it is necessarily about formal education. Knowing the right thing to say at the right time is a skill that we can learn through experience. At the same time, elocution lessons, debate, theater classes, music, can help develop these skills. Good salespeople are often able to say the most important things with very few words. If one were to teach sales, in an academic setting, then perhaps a more ‘art’ than ‘science’ approach is a good start. The art of public speaking, ability to talk to strangers, and being positive/empathetic would be part of the course.
This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”, 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?
The evidence to date suggests that ‘selling without selling’ is clearly powerful on the internet- with all the content generation, reviews and micro-influencers.
The Internet has democratized information. It is very easy for people to look up whether your proposition is the best thing since sliced bread or not. Trust and validation for your service are critical. I believe if you inform and empower the customer to make an informed purchasing decision then you are halfway there. At the same time, giving too much choice to people may overwhelm. Some folks just want to buy something fast and get going, but many more are now used to price comparisons, reviews etc. at a click of a button.
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?
The biggest challenge is to tell a compelling story briefly and impactfully. People have very short attention spans and generally do not like hard pitching. For example, during our latest fundraising round with investors, we first wrote a 5-page memo with a great amount of research, detail, data, statistics — it was detailed, but missed the point. The key was to tell a brief story, why our start up is a compelling proposition.
It narrowed down from lots of data to a story line (pre COVID-19): “Imagine you got soaking wet walking down the street, you can quickly run into the nearest supermarket- you can fit yourself out — shoes, umbrella, clothes and grab some lunch. When you run a small business, there is no ‘supermarket’ that can get you services at a great price and quickly. There are lots of painful forms and brokers. We are building a marketplace that makes life much easier for small business owners and managers on the one hand and service providers on the other.”
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?
I always recommend Scientific Advertising- a book written in the 1920s by Claude Hopkins. He is the father of modern-day advertising and marketing. Primarily it outlines how to be brief and to the point. How to identify and sympathize with your clients or potential clients. The reason this book is so interesting, is that very few things have changed. In fact, Facebook is really Scientific Advertising in the 21st century. The bottom line is, that what worked in the 1920s still works- we just have different digital tools.
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’?
People get defensive- don’t. One of the greatest phrases I ever learned was: “I agree with you 100%, now let me tell you why I may not agree with you 100%.”
‘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.
- Gentle follow ups if the transaction/purchase is being contemplated
- Regular updates that are relevant to the decision making. for example, for EnergyBillKill.com that would have energy prices going down or reminding customers that their business energy fixed deal is about to expire (if no new deal, businesses pay very high rates).
- Reference another customer directly — who is happy to chat or give a review to your product service
- On-line reviews
- Case studies
- Pick up the phone. My old boss used to say, if you don’t call me, it is not important
- Wait. In German, it is called Sitzfleish. Sometimes doing nothing may be the best strategy, but I personally would put a time limit on ‘doing nothing’.
The one point I would make is that be proactive — the worst possible attitude is — ‘it will either happen or not happen, there is nothing I can do about it.’
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?
- Value- you must know what your client values (price, research data, technology, speed, personal touch etc.). Pick one of those values and regularly update your client focused on the value that is relevant.
- Work closely with the marketing and product teams to give feedback on improvements (big or small). Clients value tremendously if they ask for some improvement and it has been done.
- Inform- be the first on the phone/email to your client if there is a development that may impact their business and it is in your domain of expertise/product knowledge.
- Go the extra mile if you can. If the client asks a question that may not be in your field of knowledge, get the answer.
- Speed — I know many people who do not consider speed important. They prefer to postpone and procrastinate. Clients sense this and potential customers sense this. They need to know that they are really important to you. I once flew across Europe ahead of the Icelandic volcano to see a client in Eastern Europe because they had a very important product/service meeting where my expertise would help. I did not have to go, but I did- and now the client invested in my new start up — many years later.
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?
- Personally, I don’t like cold calling- but I appreciate that this is the bread and butter of many businesses.
- Text messaging is very personal, unless you are social friends with the person, a text message is not particularly a good way to communicate. However, it can be very powerful if you are dealing with time-sensitive matters and you need to ping the person (based on their request).
- I prefer calling on a pre-arranged time if possible and/or email follow up. It is important to be able to sense how people prefer to communicate. Some like a simple 3-sentence email “We are ready to go. Here is a summary of what we discussed. Please let me know when we can catch up.”.
- Others may prefer to be taken out to lunch or dinner (if it is an Enterprise-level product).
- Yet others may need buy-in from colleagues (making a demo presentation and enabling your potential customer to look ‘smart’ in front of their colleagues is how McKinseys of the world make a lot of money)
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. :-)
Education, health infrastructure and social safety nets. Basic minimum income is one that appeals; universal minimum healthcare (vaccination) and free child-care/education. Capitalism only works well when as a society we are able to support and help out those who do not get the economic rewards that markets create.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!