Podcast #10: Felicia Simmons is one of the best Territory Managers in her company (and probably the country).


For this week’s podcast I interviewed Felicia Simmons.  Felicia is a Territory Manager and a recent recipient of her company’s “Top 10” award–an award given to the top 10% of salespeople nationwide.  In other words, she’s very, very good at her job.  In this podcast we talk about empathy, new business, and the best practices she utilized in order to be one of the best (as well as what to do with your career after that happens).  I hope you enjoy it and thanks for listening.



Selling is Storytelling


“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” — Hannah Arendt

The first 30 seconds of Star Wars Episode IV.  The first ten minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The music in Jaws.  Unforgettable ways to tell incredible stories (which may be both dating myself as well as admitting that I’m a fan of 70’s classics).  Any  film maker’s goal is to tell the best story out of pride or artistic sensibility as well as to keep the audience talking about the film and seeing it repeatedly.

Storytelling is the best and most underutilized method of selling something.  It’s narrative, engaging, educational and immersive.  Storytelling replaces the obvious “feature, function, benefit” method with collaboration and the tacit participation that occurs between the storytelling and the listener.  As such the listener becomes part of the production, co-creating the meaning.  It’s also enjoyable to listen to a well told story.

If you’re looking for a better way to sell your products, try replacing the traditional pitch with a five step storytelling process:

Start by asking yourself: “How are people using my product?”  Consider the various ways in which they are not only using the product but enjoying the product.  For example, they may have purchased the product in order to save money.  But how does saving money make a person feel?  Responsible?  Smart?  Safe?  Remember, people don’t buy products, they buy how products makes them feel.  Start with the feeling.

Next, when have your customers experienced a “moment” when they know they’ve made a great decision buying your product?  Was it when they came home from a long day at work and their home feels perfectly calm and cool?  Was it when they opened a utility bill and realized they’d saved money that month?  Was it when they opened their phone and accessed the product remotely?  Every customer has a moment when they smile and silently say to themselves, “This was a really good decision.”  Isolate one of those moments and use it to introduce the conflice.

Conflict is the basis for action.  The second step in storytelling is to identify the problems that your customer wanted to resolve before meeting you.  This is the conflict: The customer wanted X and had to resolve Y in order to accomplish their goals.  Be specific.  Use a true-to-life scenario.

Third, how did the customer find you and your product?  What brought you together?  Why were they interested in your product or your company or yourself?  Clearly there’s something preferential about this process and this is your chance to highlight that preference (not in a boastful manner, please).

Now it’s time to let go of the “FFB” part of the story and replace it with a description–not of valves and motors–but choice and reason.  Remember the old adage: “People don’t buy a two-inch drill bit, they buy a two inch hole.”  Talk about choices your customers have made and the reason behind those choices.  The reasons will be logical and emotional.  Here’s what they won’t be: technical.  Furthermore, this illustrates the correlation between price and value without you having to do the tedious work of explaining it to the customer.

Finally, your story will have a resolution.  This is the impact of using your product.  Ideally it will be expressed in terms of a return: time, money, convenience.  It’s always positive.

As a young salesman I was taught to sell benefits rather than features or functions.  It’s still ok advice assuming that you’re familiar with the product and use it on a regular basis.  Selling the benefits of a new car makes sense because the customer most likely has a base line for conceptualizing improvements.  Selling benefits is more difficult if the customer doesn’t have prior experience with the product.  At that point benefits become esoteric–so we look for comparisons (gas mileage, dimmer switches, etc).  Comparisons are fine but they still assume the customer is interpreting them accurately.  Stories are the best.  Based on real-life scenarios an inexperienced customer can project himself in to the narrative.  Told well, stories carry emotional heft that’s otherwise lost by comparison or data.  Stories are immersive in that the customer will project himself in to the conflict.  And we all appreciate a story that ends well.  There’s relief.

Before you sit down for your next meeting consider the audience.  You’ve hopefully gained their attention.  Ask yourself: What are they most likely to be interested in?  Another one-dimensional product pitch or a four-dimensional, well told story that illustrates the product without committing the error of defining it.



Editorial Update/Correction: E-Commerce for contractors is happening right now. My interview with Justin Riley.

Your comfort zone

CORRECTION: My original blog post had an incorrect URL for Mr. Riley’s e-commerce website.  I have included the correct address here:


Thank you and apologies to Mr. Riley.

I’m very excited to share this interview with you.  The guest is Justin Riley.  Justin is at the forefront of contractor-driven e-commerce sales.  In the podcast we discuss his journey in to the e-commerce world, the lessons he’s learned as well as how  e-commerce is re-shaping his sales and customer service model.  With all the current “sturm and drang” regarding this topic I encourage you consider the impact that e-commerce will have on your company in the near future.

Thanks for listening,


Please note: there are a few scratchy parts of this interview because I was recording because of my phone connection at the time.


Empathy, Listening, and the Small Business Roller Coaster.

life of an entreprenuer

Very few B2B professionals that I’ve worked with have owned a business.  It matters in that this inexperience may truncate an understanding of the volatility inherent in small business.  As Phil Knight wrote, “For an entrepreneur every day is a crisis.”  That’s an important thing to keep in mind.  It should change the way you sell.  When you ask for a customer’s time you’re asking them to not do something else–and there’s a cost associated with that detraction.  Talk a whole lot less.   Listen for understanding and respect that their agenda (stay alive and grow) may be different from yours (buy my products).  Don’t ask glib questions.  Ask well-prepared questions and take excellent notes.  Follow through like your life depended on it and honor 100% your commitments.  Don’t show up empty-handed to a meeting.  Swag does not a meeting make.  Share provocative content that improves their business in some way.  Be incredibly easy to do business with.  Learn how your customers make money.  Thicken your value by deepening your empathy and improving the quality of your engagement.  Go on the roller coaster ride with them instead of standing on the sidelines.  That may not having anything to do with features, functions, or benefits.  But it will eventually.

In-N-Out Burger Beats Google (and nearly everyone else)


The apotheosis of burger meals.  The double double with fries and a medium drink.  Costs you about seven bucks.  Simple ingredients, simple philosophy: Great food + great people = Great results (total sales in 2016 estimated between 640mm and 700mm).  This year In-n-Out Burger was rated the 4th best place to work in 2018.  Only Facebook, Bain & Co., and Boston Consulting were higher on the list.  It beat Google (who has a regular series of happiness meditations, free food, and insane salaries).  It beat all the heavy-hitters.  The closest fast food competitor on the list is Chick-fil-A which landed at #72.  Here’s the complete list of results:


In-n-Out practices Richard Branson’s philosophy: “Clients do not come first.  Employees come first.  If you take care of your employees they will take care of your clients.”  Here’s how In-n-Out takes care of its employees (and what the service industry can learn):

  1.  Progress.  Build a workforce of managers.  The right type of employees won’t chop onions forever.  In-n-Out looks for and hires people who want to improve personally and professionally.  That means that they’ve had to create and design career paths for their employees.  80% of their managers began at the bottom of their ladder.  Moreover, people are less likely to leave a company if they know there is a path–advancement.  The opportunity to advance is a form of hope.  Hope is fuel.
  2. Compensation.  From the very beginning In-n-Out has always prided itself on taking care of its employees in terms of above-average compensation and job security. In an industry in which a significant number of employees live at the poverty line In-n-Out understands a simple fact: Well compensated employees can pay their bills, save a little, are happier and loyal.  Moreover, progress and compensation are joined at the hip.  In-n-Out managers are reported to earn six figure incomes.
  3. Flexible Scheduling and Benefits.  From day care to co-parenting plans to second jobs, In-n-Out is known as a company that works with employees to find  schedule that accommodates their other demands.  According to Glassdoor this is one of the most appreciated benefits.  They also offer a 401K, profit sharing, paid vacations and free meals.
  4. Organizational Expectations.  In-n-Out clearly defines their dress codes, customer service expectations, food handling, and the enthusiastic customer-centric attitude that has kept the company profitably expanding for over 50 years.  Do them expertly and a person can have a rewarding career with In-n-Out for a very long time.  A set of standards that are relative leaves a company’s brand open for interpretation (and aren’t really standards at all).

You may be reading this and thinking “My company does ALL of those things!”  It’s true that the service industry can offer a nice career to a person.  This is something that we keep a very well hidden secret.  We talk about a shortage of great employees but don’t hold ourselves accountable enough.  In order to make the trades attractive and deliver world-class service we have to start asking ourselves:  Am I hiring people that want a career or am I hiring people who need a job?  Am I building a workforce of managers?  Do my employees understand the performance expectations required to advance?  Am I profitable enough to pay above average wages?  Are there non-traditional benefits that I should be considering?  Are my customer service standards set clearly communicated, modeled, and reinforced or do I tolerate certain deviances?  Does my team know the purpose of my business (the real one, the deep one, the one that isn’t cliched)?

In-n-Out is the 4th best place to work in The United States.  It’s a family company that understands a simple truth: The quality of your Customer service is a reflection of how your employees feel about working for you.  That’s In-n-Out Burger’s secret sauce.


Podcast #8: Pat Minegar, The Obi Wan Kenobi of the HVAC industry.


Pat Minegar is the owner of A-1 Heating in Boise, Idaho.  Pat is a thoughtful and wise business owner.  In this podcast Pat shares his experience developing high-performing teams, leadership, and mentoring sales managers.  It’s a great interview and I hope you enjoy it!