5 Tips to Becoming a Great Storyteller, and Other Business Advice from Steve Rigby
I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Rigby, Founder and CEO of New Wings Consulting and the author of Circle Selling and the soon to be released S.M.I.L.E. Steve was a National Trainer for three of the nation’s top-ten homebuilders. He now consults for all industries helping sales professionals better serve their guests.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I’d be happy to. If your question is directed at what I do in training or “growing people” with our consulting firm, that story began in September of 1988 when I walked into a conference room at the Lewisville, Texas Holiday Inn. I was there to attend a six-week class on new home sales and that morning I witnessed the most extraordinary trainer and speaker light a fire in all of us privilege of being invited. I knew by the first break of the very first day that I wanted to do what this gentleman did. His name was Rolly Stirman and because I both embraced and applied what he taught, as the weeks went by, I had the honor of actually helping teach portions of the last few weeks. Rolly later mentored me as I moved into sales management, as well as when I became the national trainer for that homebuilder. To pay tribute to Rolly, he carries the lead role in my second book, S.M.I.L.E.
Now, if your question is directed to what I do as an author and speaker, that story began in 1990 when Rick Andreen — a rookie salesperson on my team in Dallas — bought us each a copy of Dr. Stephen Covey’s newly released “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” A few pages into the book, I knew (as did Rick) that Dr. Covey had a lot he could teach us. So, we incorporated the philosophy and lessons of that book into our training, as well as attended many of the Seven Habits workshops his organization offered. Over time Dr. Covey’s teachings spread to all of our homebuilding operations across the nation. After one of his talks, I Dr. Covey was kind enough to invite me to lunch. What an incredible human being! That book changed my life. I still have the original copy that is torn and tattered and falling to pieces. I show it to all my classes. It is a treasure. Dr. Covey’s writing style very much influenced the way I wrote my first book, Circle Selling.
The story continues with another world-renowned author and speaker who also played a similar role in my life and career. When I became a manager, I had no formal management training. So, I went to a bookstore, and in the business section and stumbled upon Ken Blanchard’s “One Minute Manager.” I read and applied what I learned from it, eventually purchasing and reading the enter series of books based on this philosophy, including many of his other books:“Raving Fans,” “Gung HO!,” and “Whale Done” to name a few. These books are also showing wear and tear. Those books, along with “The Seven Habits,” helped our sales team almost triple our sales over a 3-year period. Oh, and not by coincidence, our margins also increased, as did our conversion ratios, customer satisfaction, and referral sales. And lest I forget, our turnover in sales professionals decreased! Results aside, what I enjoyed most about Ken’s books was his ability to get his message across through storytelling. When I began entertaining the idea of writing my second book, S.M.I.L.E., I chose to write it as a parable. I guess I did okay with it, as I just received a glowing endorsement on the book from—you guessed it—Mr. Ken Blanchard himself! Life is good!
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
That’s a tough one because there are so, so many. But to answer your question, let’s try this one:
In the mid-90s’s I accepted a position with another national homebuilder to become the architect of a sales training program I was charged with creating from scratch. I traveled to their divisions, met with the sales teams, assessed strengths and weaknesses, evaluated challenges in the marketplace, looked at how their competition was being taught. Sensing what was needed, and what was missing, I reached out to a number of resources in search of a platform — really more of a philosophy or mindset, if you will — on which to create a program that would bring out the best in everyone; a program that would help them become better versions of themselves. One day I received a training video from one of those vendors. It featured a photographer from the National Geographic. Really? I rolled my eyes at having been sent a piece about how to take pictures. I put the tape in a return envelope, sealed it up, but for some odd reason, did not mail it. Weeks later a little voice inside my head told me to view it. Boy am I ever glad I did.
My jaw dropped as I watched Dewitt Jones — the Geographic photojournalist — talk about the power of vision and values, of passion and purpose, of patience and persistence in everything we do. He shared how we can tap into our creativity by falling in love with what we do. He stressed the importance of caring, and of making others feel important. His message was precisely what I needed! Two decades and several more video pieces later, I feature his timeless and profound messages at the beginning, middle, and end of every class I conduct. He has been an inspiration to thousands of sales professionals as a result of his love for what he does.
As for my books, he’s featured in both. I wrote about my initial meeting with him in my first. And my second? Dewitt chose to write about me in its foreword. Again, life is good. I’m a blessed man.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Having excelled for two years applying what Rolly taught me, I accepted a sales management position with another division within that company in Dallas. I was put on their payroll with a nice salary, plus an attractive bonus package and was given the opportunity to wrap up one final month in sales and would receive full commissions on those. So, I projected all the money I could make for those 30 days and turned up the selling burners. The result? For the only month in my new home sales career I scored a goose egg. I had put making dollars ahead of making a difference, and my guests saw right through me. I laughed at my foolishness afterward, but in hindsight it was a sad story. Not for me — I deserved what happened. It was sad for the families who either delayed purchasing a home or may not have ever purchased because of the terrible experience I gave them. I included that story in Circle Selling, and tell it to every single class. They don’t need to make the same mistake I did.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I began honing my writing skills not through books but through songs, having spent some time in Nashville learning the art of songwriting from some of the best writers in the world. Though I’ve had a number recorded — by some pretty famous people — I discovered I need far more than 3 minutes to tell my stories. Thought they take more time, books are much easier to write than songs. That said, I still pull out my guitar every now and then, and dream of penning a tune that may touch someone’s heart or make them smile.
At this moment, I’m toying with the idea of writing a series of children’s books based on a talking parrot — the character of Rolly from my last book S.M.I.L.E. Oh, and I can’t take credit for that idea. One of my students suggested it over dinner one evening. I’m going to take her advice.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
You ask good questions. I admire that in others! The people in history who inspire me the most are those who create things that have never existed before: sculpturists like Michelangelo, artists like Da Vinci, architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, authors like Mark Twain, inventors like the Wright brothers. I stand in awe at the creative genius within people, individuals who can do something that’s never been done before.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from?
I’m a little unsure as to what you’re asking but I’ll take a stab at it. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy most the books that tell a story. Andy Andrews has become one of my favorite authors. I’m captivated by his stories that move us, while at the same time teaching and inspiring us. That’s a rare talent that few possess.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
Sales may be one of the most undignified professions ever. And done the wrong way, it can be one of the toughest too. In Circle Selling, I tell a story of being asked to speak to elementary school kids on career day. Because I’ve been in sales most of my adult life, I naturally chose to discuss the profession I knew best. With class, after class, after class I asked the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up. Not one, not a single one, said they wanted to become a sales person. I was shocked!
But I got their attention when I asked what the shoes and clothes they were wearing, the cars or busses that transported them to school, the desks they were sitting in, the food they ate, the TV’s they watched, the video games they played, or the homes they lived in all had in common. The answer? They were all sold by a salesperson. In Larry Wilson and Spencer Johnson’s book, “The One-Minute Sales Person,” the true value, the true worth of a salesperson was captured in five words, PRODUCTION MINUS SALES EQUALS SCRAP! The economies of the world are dependent on the products they produce and the services they provide being sold. I quote a study from Forbes Magazine that estimates the average American salesperson keeps 33 men and women at work — 33 people producing that one product — and is responsible for the livelihood of approximately 130 people. That’s pretty big!
So, back to my books, over and over my readers echo that same words, that my books make selling a noble and honorable profession. They make it something they can feel good about, something that adds value to the lives of those they serve, something that makes life less difficult for others. I like hearing that! Not for me, but for them.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
To read great books written by great authors on subjects similar to what they want to write. An aspiring author can hold in their hands, model, after model, of what they’re wanting to create. The template — the example — is right there in black and white!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’m not sure about me being a person of great influence. To me, I’m just a person trying to make life a little less difficult for other people. I recently co-wrote a song with Richard Leigh (one of the best Nashville writers of all time) titled “I Like People — Walking, Talking Churches Without Steeples.” If people really saw themselves as walking, talking churches, they might choose to act and behave in a manner worthy of that notion. Who knows, the might be inclined to always look for the good in others, to be more understanding, more compassionate, more caring, and more loving. A world where LOVE replaces all the other four-letter words we so often hear today! Now that’s an idea worth considering!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why?
I take it this is about becoming an author so I’ll answer it from that context. And with your permission, rather than speculate on the 5 things I wish someone had told me, I’ll answer this as if someone just asked me for the five things they’d like to know from my perspective.
- Find something you can become passionate about — that you can get behind and believe in.
Example: For years my students had been encouraging me to write my first book. I knew I should, I thought I’d learned a lot I could share, but I didn’t have anything new or different to talk about that might excite someone, including me. One blistering day in Phoenix, while conducting a class on behavioral styles, I had drawn a circle on the board that was divided into four different colored quadrants that tied to the four styles. Then, out of the blue (which happened to be one of the colors), I began discussing the strengths of a good salesperson as it related to these four quadrants, and all the sudden I had it…an idea that to me was as hot as that summer day. So I took that and started writing my first book based off that circle.
2. Learn everything you can about it.
Example: I have already invested 20 years in learning about and teaching behavioral styles. There was and is always more to learn but I had a comfort level with that subject that I could work with.
3. Look for a unique way to communicate that message — to bring it to life.
Example: When presenting the idea from my Phoenix class, to a Colorado group, one student offered that he viewed the selling experience as a dance that occurred on these four different colored “dance” floors. He further added that sometimes the salesperson would take the lead in the dance, and at other times the guest — or dance partner — might assume that responsibility. He further clarified his thoughts be sharing in his mind, it didn’t matter which floor you started on, and which one you ended up with, as long as you covered what was important on each, and that everyone had a great experience. “How cool was that!” I said to myself. (Did you get Colorado and cool? I hope so.) With that simple but profound explanation I now had the visual model for Circle Selling — A Revolutionary Approach to Sales Success.
4. Begin with a single word, followed by another, and then another. A book is written one word, one sentence, one paragraph, and one chapter at a time.
Example: I simply envisioned writing a book, the same way I would read one — one word at a time. Did I ever have to rewrite some of it? Sure. Did I ever crumble up pages and have to start over? Absolutely! But each draft began to bring clarity to the message. Each rewrite got me closer to what I had envisioned.
5. Be willing to let your story create a life of its own. Once you really get into it, it’s almost as if the book will tell them what to write. Songs certainly do that for songwriters.
Example: This point really came to life in S.M.I.L.E. Writing a parable with an imaginary storyline was a totally different experience. As an idea would come to me for each of the letters I’d run with it, but I never got too locked in to just one way to tell the story. For example, the “I” in S.M.I.L.E. stood for Identify the Individual, which tied back to behavioral styles from my first book. And because of the “I” in individual, my initial idea was to reference individuals as examples. Logically, it made sense. However, as I was creating this piece it hit me that the main character in the book — Rolly — was represented as a Parrot (Hey, I know it’s far fetched but you have to admit it is different). So with that in mind, I started looking for other birds that would represent the other styles, and chose to have the learning points for each of the birds revealed at a bird sanctuary at the zoo.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Malcom Gladwell. He is a brilliant author with a fascinating mind. I’ve read all his books and recommend them to all my classes. He must do an amazing amount of research as he knows something about almost everything! He’s got to be one interesting dude!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Also, my new book S.M.I.L.E. is now available for pre-order here.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” series in Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.