In our episode we’ve got something special. This is an interview that I did with my client, my good friend, John Curry. He is a master salesman. We talked about sales mindset. This is one of the best episodes that we’ve put out of this podcast and we put out some great ones. I know you’re going to get a ton out of this. We run a little bit longer than we normally do on the podcast, but it’ll be worth listening to. You’re going to walk away with a real education in selling from John Curry and I.
John, glad to have you back with me. I want to talk about something that you are exceptionally good at. For folks who haven’t heard of you before, and I would imagine that’s most people. John is among the best sales people in the country, probably in the world. He has been consistently for 30, 35 years at the tip top of the insurance annuities and investment business. He would call it retirement planning. Has won all sorts of the leading industry awards and has trained some of the best salespeople in that business over the course of the last three decades.
I’ve been blessed to know you, to watch you, the conversations that we have which people are going to get a flavor for about sales have transformed the way that I sell and the approach that I take. It has made a tremendous difference in my own business. I know that people are going to get a ton of value. This is one of those things that you get, you listen to and you save it down on your computer somewhere and you take notes. The things that you’re going to hear are going to change the way that you approach sales.
John, watching you sell, which I’ve had the fortunate experience of doing and becoming one of your clients. I’ve experienced on the other side of the table. I’ve seen it from both sides. When we get together for breakfast or for something a little stronger than that, we’re always talking about stories around sales and you’re sharing the things that you’re doing. You’ve got this artful way of doing it. At one point, you described it as purity of intent. That’s a mindset. Tell me a little bit about that mindset of purity of intent.
A salesperson is more of a consultant than someone who’s pushing a product. You identify what your client needs, what they want, and you help them get it. When you’re sitting across the table from your client, the intent is “I’m going to help you get where you want to get. If my product or my services that I’m selling will not get you there, I should have the moral backbone to say, I’m not the right fit. My product or this service is not what you need. If I have another product or service I can offer that or I can refer you to a competitor, they can help you.”Number one purity of intent is making sure that I take care of my client.
I used to say that I was a shepherd taking care of my flock. You’ve heard it said that many times. Now, what am I? I am a sheep dog watching out for my sheep. Not that my folks are weak or meek, but I’m using this from the standpoint of a retired army officer who talks about in his book. He uses the metaphor of sheep is out there, they’re totally oblivious to the threats around. That’s the majority of the people. You have the wolves over here that want to attack those sheep and kill them. Take their stuff away from.
The wolf could be a metaphor for the stock market crashing, death, disability, pick something, lawsuits, wherever. You have a very small fraction of the population for the sheep dog. The sheep dog can be mild and meek like a sheep or it can be ferocious like a wolf. If you mess with his sheep, he will rip that wolf apart. I am a financial sheep dog. I’m not going to do anything to hurt my sheep, my clients. I will attack anything and anybody who is hurting my client. That’s purity of intent.
You couple that with something very powerful because we all know we’ve been across the table from prospects or on the phone with prospects. This is going to sound bad, but they lie and they don’t always do it intentionally. Sometimes they’re lying to themselves.
We all lie. Every time you walk into a store and you look at a television, the salesperson comes over. You know you want to buy the TV and they say, “Can I help you?” What do you say?
“I’m just looking.” You lied like hell. You went in there to buy a TV and you know it. You are afraid that guy is going to try to push you and sell you. We all lie. It is a defense mechanism that we all use in order to protect ourselves. Once the person says, “May I be of service? If you have any questions, let me know.” Now we feel comfortable, you don’t feel threatened and now you’re open. If you want to be a good salesperson, number one, be open to people. Be willing to walk away. Tell the truth, be open and be service-minded, not sales-minded.
That’s a great point because that’s a difficult thing to do. For most in sales, they’re in a position where they’re likely to get rejected at some level, most of the time. The tendency becomes, especially if you haven’t dealt with your mindset and put yourself at peace with whatever the outcome is the outcome is. You don’t get tied up in, “I’m going to make the sale.” If you haven’t gotten to that place, then it’s easy to want to protect yourself as the salesperson from the rejection.
No one likes to get the word ‘no’.
You end up closing the offer than opening up. How have you dealt with that? You started in this business and I would imagine in 1975, you probably didn’t come out of the womb with this ability. Did you?
I was struggling like you would not believe. When you get it, it’s like most things in life. You have to work on developing rhinoceros skin. Think about being a politician. Half the people hate your guts. I use the analogy all the time when I do sales training. If I chose to run for Governor of Florida as a Republican, all my democratic friends that love me, what are they going to do? They’re going to distance themselves a little bit. I’d still be friendly at Rotary Club, Economic Club of Florida, Tiger Bay, whatever I go to, they’re going to be nice to me, but underneath they’ll be going, “He’s a damn Republican. I can’t vote for him. We can’t give him and I hope he doesn’t ask for any money. Because of our friendship, I’ll have to give him something.” Likewise, if I ran as a Democrat, my Republican friends would do the same thing.
We have these barriers, we’re divided. We’re more divided today than ever because if I’m a Republican, I don’t want to deal with you because you’re a Democratic senator, vice versa. I look at it as being how do I straddle that line to be able to get everybody to be open and willing to learn more? If we have the ability to do that, we don’t get as many no’s, but visualize being a politician and half the people hate your guts before they even know you. They hate your guts. That’s not half, I use the analogy 40% hate you, 40% love you, 20% don’t know. My way of dealing with it is this. I’m going to offer my services and I’ve already programmed myself to say the majority of the people are going to say no. If you say no, you lost my link. I feel badly for you. I actually feel sorry for you if you’re not my client because you’re not getting me and the team around me to take care of you.
It’s really easy and I know what people are thinking who are listening to this.
Sure. That dude can do that now because of where he is.
How do you get there? I get that you got to go through it, but for somebody who’s trying to go through it and slog through it.
It’s simple. It’s one word, mindset. Decide today that no, simply a little tiny word of two letters, big deal. Decide now. It’s two little letters. That’s it. It doesn’t throw a punch. It doesn’t throw a kick. It doesn’t throw an elbow to your cheek like in martial arts. It’s just no. If you want to have some fun, do this. You want to role play for a second with me?
Steve, I’m going to ask you to make a financial decision today. I’m going to ask you to make a decision that’s important for you and your family. When we get to that point, when I ask you what they call, “The closing question to make a decision,” I’m going to ask you to say yes or no. No is good. Yes is good. The only thing that’s not good is the word maybe. Let’s practice. Say no.
Say it again please.
We know you’re capable of saying no. Say yes.
One more time.
We know you can say yes. When I ask you this question, do you want to purchase X, Y, or Z? Can you give me a yes or no answer?
If you say no, it’s okay. Can we do that?
C: I feel sorry for you if you’re not my client because you’re not getting me and the team around me to take care of you.
I’ll reach out and I’ll shake his hand. Good. Let’s make a deal. I’m going to go through my product with you or my service and then I’m going to ask you, “Would you like to have it?”What have I done? Tell me how you feel right now? I’ve taken away the sting of the no. I’ve taken the pressure off of you so you’re not sitting there trying to make up some excuse for you, “I’ve got to go home and talk to my wife about this.” I’ve given you permission to go and tell me no. That’s a different attitude, isn’t it?
It takes all the pressure off of you, the buyer. It takes all the pressure off of me, the seller. Early on in my career, probably a year, maybe two years max into it. I started reading and studying everything I could about sales. One day I just came with the attitude, “Most of this stuff that’s written is a bunch of crap.” Just have a conversation with your client, “I want you to buy some life insurance.” Long term clear, this mutual fund, this annuity, whatever. What do you know about? Most people will say, “I don’t know anything about it.” “Would you to learn more?” Just be yourself, be authentic, and all of a sudden people go, “I like this guy. I want to learn more.”
That’s a critical; it’s just being authentic, being a human. If you look at the books that are out there, a lot of the sales training out there, you’ll see a lot of advice that will suggest doing what you described. However, even though it’s out there, I don’t ever experience anybody doing it when I’m buying.
Nobody treats me that way and I’m just jumping to tell you what happened to me just recently. It happened the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I went over to Best Buy to buy two televisions. I want one for my conference room; I want one for the house. The guy said to me, I can almost quote it, but I’ll paraphrase it.“I don’t need to tell you a lie. I’ll tell you like it is because I’m not a commission salesman. I don’t get a commission if you buy.” I was offended and I said, “I’m not buying this TV.” Put him back on the shelf and I told his manager I thought about it.
I drove less than two miles. Went into Walmart and they happen to have a bunch of TVs on sale and I bought one almost the same television, a bit larger size, 55 inch to 50, for $298 each instead of $397. What was I thinking? The dummy is basically insulting what I do for a living that if I make a commission, therefore I have to lie, cheat or steal to do it. That is bullshit. If you were an honest, ethical person and you have an honest to goodness product to change these people’s lives then take the attitude, mindset, whatever word that you’re going to help as many people get that as possible. That’s the difference.
You can develop that from day one. You know how quick it is? That quick to say, “This is my mindset. I know I’m good at what I do. I know my product is good and that’s what good politicians do.”We’ll go way back to Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, George Firestone, all these guys who did stuff and people criticize and you’ll never make it. You’ll never make Henry Ford. Did they listen to people who said no? Of course not, but it’s very few people in our history and that’s the kind of stuff I read. I read about people from 100 years ago what they had to fight and deal with and I love biographies and autobiographies. That’s another way of developing the attitude and the mindset that what you’re doing is right. It goes back to where you started with at the beginning of this discussion, that is purity of intent.
If I’m trying to make $1, you can smell it. If I’m truly looking out for my client and me, it’s a two way street. I can’t just help you and go broke. Which I have a problem with, because I’ll be honest with you, there are many times I spend way too much time with clients, I don’t charge for it. I’ve done a lot of unpaid consulting in my life. Probably still will because that’s my nature. If I’m in front of you and I can help you, I’m going to do it. I’m not going to let you walk away unhelped if I have the power to help you.
As I listened to you, the thing that comes to mind is, and this has helped me tremendously over the years, is what I call the Surgeon’s Posture. It helps you distance yourself from the outcome. I want you to imagine, if you’re going in to see a surgeon.
I did, a heart surgeon.
Yes, you did. I had a shoulder issue a couple of years ago and I thought I was going to have that surgery. I went in and saw an orthopedic surgeon. Knew him, he’d already done surgery on my wife’s shoulder. I was familiar with what was ahead and it was not going to be fun. He comes in and he’s got the lab coat on, he’s got x-rays. We’ll talk about your lab coat in a minute. He came in and started to examine me and he’d moved my arm around. He’s listened to my description. The guy never smiled.
No bedside manner.
It wasn’t even about that. That’s what I like about this image. He never smiled. He didn’t completely believe everything I told him. He took that as input and he went and verified. He verified through examination, through further questions, in my case physical tests and MRI. I’m thankful that he didn’t take my word for it because his goal was to figure out what I needed, help me get what I needed and the best way to get there. Turns out the best way to get there wasn’t to sell me a surgery. We all know that medicine, especially surgery, surgeons they’re in business. That’s how they make money.
However, he had this posture that he was passionate about it. He didn’t care what the outcome was other than that the outcome was the best possible outcome for me, given my goals and given my current condition. I take that now as I go into every sales conversation with a potential client. Take a moment and say, “I’m the surgeon. My job here is to dig into this problem. This person needs help or they wouldn’t be here. It’s my job to go in and figure out what that is. Whatever the help is, whether it’s help I can deliver or they need to get someplace else. My job with this other human being, with his business that they’re running, is to figure out what the problem is.”
That’s what an ethical person does and make no bones about it. People in the medical field, surgeons they’re in sales. They position themselves to be someone of authority also they’re in sales. An ethical surgeon would do just what yours did. “You don’t need surgery if you do these things,” because he knows if he does the right thing, that story gets out but that’s who he is. On the other hand, I won’t even come close to using a name, but we had a surgeon who was basically kicked out of the medical profession here about ten years ago. He was recommending everybody had the same type of surgery even though you didn’t need it. That’s illegal; they took away his medical license. He was selling surgeries to make a buck.
Since taking what I call the Surgeon’s Posture, sales have gone through the roof. Sales are dramatically different than they were before I did that. That’s a little bit counterintuitive because you think, “If I’m not pressing, I’m not trying, I’m not ABC, always be closing, it’s malpractice in sales. By backing up, almost leaning back instead of leaning into the prospect, imagine yourself leaning back, being a little bit skeptical. I’m not sure that you’re the right fit. It’s interesting what happens when you give the prospect that space. When you have the mindset where you can, you’re open enough and confident enough to give them that space, they lean into you.
It’s having the courage to admit when your product is not the right thing or your service. I have a different take on that than you do, and mine’s a little harsher. I have a lab coat and it says, “John H. Curry, The Secure Retirement Doctor. I’ll walk in sometimes with that lab coat on and a stethoscope. Especially I’m dealing with a medical doctor, just for shock effect, have fun. Look back as a seasoned experienced salesperson, 42nd year since 1975. If you sit down in front of me, I visualize not only being a surgeon, I visualize a specific surgeon, a heart surgeon, because of what I’ve been through with my heart surgery. Triple bypass to be exact. I look at you and I go, “You have a problem.” In my case, it was three blocked arteries. One 10%, one 90%, 100, the 90% percent they called the widow maker. When my cardiologist said, “John, you know what they call the widow maker?” I said, “I got a damn good idea.” “You’re not going to Orlando in July, in the hot sun on my watch because if that gets just a little tiny bit more blockage, you’ll be dead when you hit the ground. That’s why we call it widow maker.”
What did he just do? He visually graphically painted the picture for me. That was a big weekend coming up because I was going to speak at a professional association, unveil a seminar program or I knew that was going to make $50,000 that Thursday and Friday before the weekend. Did a nice weekend at Disney with my wife and my grandson, then another conference where I suspected another big pay day. I didn’t get to do that because I did open heart surgery. The visual I have more so than ever was the fact that it’s not my problem, it is your problem. I have the power, the ability, with my knowledge, my wisdom, my skill to help you get rid of that. If you choose to be in denial, because I could have told the doctor, “I’m going down to Orlando to Disney World anyway. I think you’re wrong. I don’t need your advice.”The way he presented that though, I knew he was loving and caring, but he was fumbling. Most salespeople have been taught to suck up and kiss up. People don’t want that. They want the surgeon’s attitude like you described.
They want a leader. They want someone who will tell the truth, identify the problem and help them understand the problem. No one likes to be browbeat, nobody. If I develop a relationship with you, will you know that I have the purity of intent? That I’m doing the right thing for you? I can be like coach Hemsley with me in high school, grabbed me by the face mask and say, “Give me your best,” but if I don’t care, then you don’t care. I can’t do that. That’s what you described. It’s looking out for protecting the person that you’re working with and doing the right thing. Don’t do it in such a way that you’re pushy. Let them identify with you that there’s a problem. This is a mindset. There are not 50 people on the planet strong enough to change my willpower on this one. It is not my problem. It is your problem. I am the solution to the problem. If you don’t buy that, that’s okay. I’ll feel badly if something happens to you for talking about why.
In 1982, in May of 82, my wife’s brother committed suicide, left behind a young widow and two little kids. August 2nd, same year, three months later, my brother committed suicide, left behind a young widow and two little kids. I tell people I was in the life insurance business until then. Then the life insurance business got in me. I still sell life insurance, proud to do so. If I just still sell the product that’s not wrapped, identify everything. What do you want? What do you need and help you customize. You have to co-create. I still saw a lot of life insurance. Most people, my business would love to sell what I sell but the product isn’t to them. It’s identifying what you want. Do you want to take care of your family in the event of your early demise? Do you want to plan for a secure retirement? Once we’re in sync with what the client wants, selling the product, it’s not even a sale. It’s like, “Do you want to do this?”
I know you run across people who come into you and are dead set against buying what you’re selling. In particular, what’s talked about by some of the “financial gurus” who have written books and show up on the morning news shows. They don’t want anything to do with whole life insurance. People will come in and tell you, “Whatever we’re going to do here, I’m not buying whole life insurance,” and then you figure out what they want. You diagnose the problem. You get enough trust and they understand that you’re in it for their good and only they’re good. They walk out of there buying a metric ton of whole life insurance if that’s the right solution to them and they’re damn happy to do it.
My point is because you take this approach, you’re able to get people to do things that at the beginning of the relationship they tell you they absolutely are adamantly against doing. Then they realize because of the approach that you take that this thing that they were vehemently against is actually the solution they’ve been dying to get. They walk out happy to have it. No pun intended, but they walk out happy to have it and not only happy to have it, but now have a deeper relationship with you as a business owner than they had coming in. That’s the point of everything we’ve talked about is that if you take this approach and you can train yourself to have this mindset as you approach sales, you can get people to do things. I don’t mean manipulate them into doing it. That’s not what we’re talking about at all. You can get people to do things that at the outset they will tell you they absolutely are not going to do.
C: The real issue was not buying your service. It was buying speed, which means that they were able to get paid faster.
I like to ask this question. If you tell me what you’re not going to do, I am not doing such and such. Most people in our field of selling would hide from that, they’d run from it. May I ask you a question? What if we discovered that the very thing you don’t want is the ideal thing you should have? What do we do then? Why don’t we have a conversation? Suspend judgment. At the end of our conversation, if that particular thing you don’t want is the right thing, let’s then do it. If it doesn’t fit, let’s not do it. You don’t run from the problem. You lean into the problem, you lean into it, and nine times out of ten, the person goes, “John, you think I should do this?” “I think so. Doesn’t matter what I think. What do you think?” I want you to state for the record exactly what type of engineer you are.
I’m a geomatics engineer.
Explain that. Take them all at one sentence, explain it.
Geomatics engineers are expert at measuring things on the earth, mapping those things and measuring them down to the millimeter. We’re sitting here in Tallahassee, Florida, and I could measure something from here to Atlanta or Washington DC down to the gnat’s rear end. I’m professionally trained to do that.
Can we agree that the most unlikely person to be a good salesperson would be a damn engineer like you?
How is it that you had become such a great superstar on the sales side yourself? Explain that to our audience.
Early in my career I had a great opportunity out of college. I was the tenth employee at this firm. After four years I was asked by the founder to take over for him, become the CEO. Here I am at age 28 and there’s this firm that’s doing okay. Doing fairly well, stable revenue and all that but we had big plans to grow it, but none of us knew how to sell anything. None of us knew how to market anything. Here we are, we’re probably not to pat ourselves on the back, but we had one of the best teams in that industry at the time. We just didn’t know how to get it out in front of people and get anybody to want to buy it. Nobody ever wants to buy what we were selling. We were a need, not a want. It’s not like we were going out with the next iPhone, where people are waiting in line camping out in front of our doorstep for it because it’s cool.
They reluctantly purchased your product then?
They had need for it to complete their ultimate goal. They needed it. Like every other industry, we were commodity. There were 50 firms that would do it for less than what we would do it for. We were successful at getting multiples of the market rate and the way that we did that was a combination of things. It was marketing. There’s an important mindset to marketing that is missed that will make sales much easier.
It’s a prelude to sales.
If you fix that part, the sales get easier. We got better at marketing and at that time that meant mostly me speaking and being prominent in the industry. We were positioned well. The other part of that was taking the time and having the guts to understand what a client was trying to achieve. Not going in and selling them the service that we had. If we were working with a land developer that wanted to develop a 5,000 unit development in southeast Florida, going and understanding that the real important thing to him or to that firm was speed. They were spending in some cases $25,000 to $50,000 a day carrying costs.
Here’s what you did. You separated yourself from the pack because you identified what the real issue was. The real issue was not buying your service. It was buying speed, which means that they were able to get paid faster. What you did by identifying that and you were able to justify your fee because they got paid faster. That folks is what sales is all about. It’s not about the obvious need in front of you. It’s not having the ability and the desire to study. Which you do, you still do. You read, you study, you learn, you dig deeper and deeper and deeper so that you’re bringing value to the table that your competitors don’t even think about.
They don’t even think about it. I told you I was going to pick on you a little bit at the beginning of this thing and I wanted you to share that because what I see in you is that you are a perpetual constant learner. You’re growing. You’re not in that fixed mindset. You’re constantly growing and learning about the sales process, the marketing side. I’ve learned a whole lot about marketing from you. I’m a master salesman. I appear to know that, but also I had to work on the marketing side to help me make the sales easier. Thanks for sharing your story.
My pleasure. As a prelude to our next episode, we’re going to talk about the mindset shift you need to make in marketing. If you’re struggling at this point getting the number of clients that you want, everything we’ve talked about today will help you. We’re going to make the sales piece much easier for you. Tune into the next episode and we’ll cover that. Until then, we’ll see you soon.
Have a happy and prosperous life.
I hope you enjoyed this interview that I did with John Curry. John shared some amazing things and I hope that it’s been beneficial for you. I have a favor to ask. I’m on a mission to help as many people in professional services get better at selling and get comfortable at selling as I possibly can. Listening to this interview will help people. I’d for you to think of one person right now, one professional who is trying to grow their business. I’d for you to stop what you’re doing and share this podcast with them. Send them an email, tell them to go check it out, or send them a link on Facebook. Please share it with them. Do them that favor and help them. I greatly appreciate it and I know you’ll be doing some good in the world. Thanks.