Will Bachman: Hey there podcast listeners, welcome to Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top-tier, independent management consultants. I’m your host, Will Bachman.
Our guest today is Ron Hubsher, the Managing Director of the Sales Optimization Group and the author of Closing Time, The 7 Immutable Laws of Sales Negotiation. Ron’s book is in print but not available on Amazon. He explains what happens when you buy his book from his website and why he doesn’t sell his book anywhere else.
Ron has a multi-faceted business. He does consulting projects to sales organizations, he provides training programs and he gives keynote speeches. In some cases, he delivers his training programs himself. He’ll also license the training program to a client and make money while he sleeps.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Ron discusses several case examples of how he works with clients, and along the way, I learn how a playing card in Atlantic City Casino is different than one used in Las Vegas.
You can find Ron’s firm on the web at salesog.com as in Sales Optimization Group. I learned a lot from our conversation and I hope you enjoy it as well.
Ron, welcome to the show. I am so excited to have you join us today!
Ron Hubsher: Hey Will, thanks for inviting me on, I’m really delighted to be here, so thank you very much.
Will Bachman: Ron, I’ve been following your work for years and following your announcements of your speeches and so forth. I recently attended one of your speeches, which was awesome. And a fan of your book, Closing Time, The 7 Immutable Laws of Sales Negotiation.
Maybe we can just start our conversation about that book. You were telling me that it’s not available on Amazon and that is intentional. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
Ron Hubsher: Yeah, so the book came out a few years after we started our consulting business and our training business. But one of the things I always think is always important about a book is we use it as really great lead gen, so people who buy the book are usually putting interest in the subject. So we want to know who does that. What we had found, we had done research, is that when people buy books, you rarely ever get to know who buys it. They never really reach out and contact you.
I had spoken to people who’d sold significant amount of books beforehand, and I said, hey, did anybody ever call you up? People who I wanted to be like when I first started. I said you sold a whole bunch of books. Has anybody ever called you up and just say hey, come on in? And they kind of said no.
So these people had sold about a hundred thousand books a piece. So I was like, okay, well that’s, you know, I want someone to call me up. So we sell directly from our website and that’s a great lead-generation mechanism for us because people are obviously interested. Sometimes, even if they have a problem ordering from your site, they’ll give you an email or a holler, and that’s just a great way to start a conversation about what they may be interested in.
Will Bachman: That’s fascinating. So, if someone goes through your site and buys the book, then you’re keeping … I suppose you’re capturing their contact info, and then how do you interact with that person after that? Do you have like an email newsletter or how are you continuing that relationship?
Ron Hubsher: Yeah, so we have ongoing contact with them, but the first thing we’ll do is give them a call and say, hey, thank you, really grateful. We want to make sure we’re sending the book to the right place. So we get all that. We just say, hey, do you mind if we ask you a couple of questions? Usually people are pretty excited, right? They’re like, oh, hi. I never ordered a book and anyone called me up about it, especially the company. So, they’re usually really happy to talk.
You can do the research first, right. When we first started selling the book in 2008, I think LinkedIn wasn’t as popular so you couldn’t always hunt down who it was, but now you can always pretty much hunt down who it is and have a nice background conversation. Oh, so you work here or you do this, or you went to these schools. So it’s a great lead-generation practice for us.
Will Bachman: That’s such a fascinating idea. I mean, as opposed to selling a hundred books on Amazon, which I guess you make something on it, right? But sounds like you’re not really in the business to make money as an author, but you’d rather, even if it’s reducing the sales because it’s a little bit more of a hassle to go to your site, you’d rather have ten sales and have ten conversations than a hundred sales on Amazon. Is that fair to say?
Ron Hubsher: You’re absolutely right. Also, from a profit point-of-view, there’s some companies who purchase couple thousand books a year, as well as license or materials. So it does generate a little bit of profit. If you actually look at publishers, we’re probably a pretty profitable publisher, in that regard. You know, that’s not our core business. But we make some money off that, which is always nice.
Will Bachman: Wow, couple thousand books is not bad.
Ron Hubsher: Yeah, yeah.
Will Bachman: So, okay, so we just launched into it. Let me take a step back. Why don’t you give us a kind of quick sort of history of how you got to where you are and just sort of give us an overview of your lines of business today?
Ron Hubsher: Yeah, so I started in 2003. I just thought there was a next level of sales thought leadership that could be put together. So figured why not go out and do it. And my first thing that I put together was how do you build a world-class sales organization. So we created a benchmark of all the things you need to be a world-class sales organization, when you [inaudible 00:05:45] the world into sales and sales management.
And there’re about eight buckets of excellence we look for in each one. So there’s 16 in total. And then you can look through and quickly go hey, here’s something you’re doing well. Here’s something you’re not doing. And here’s something you’re doing not so well. Let’s take two or three of these buckets and really drill into them where you can really make geometric returns.
So that’s how we first got into the business. And then from there, we developed other consulting lines, and then a lot of people said hey, if you’re doing consulting, can you do some training? We said yeah, sure, we can absolutely train you. And the training part of business is growing past the consulting side of the business. And usually consulting has to grab budget from somewhere. Training is usually budget-allocated, so it’s a little easier fit for folks. We have X amount allocated, so it’s like sure. We’re happy to help in that term.
And I do a little speaking. We’ll do corporate events. There’s two types of speaking. One is corporate events. So people say, hey, we have an hour at our sales kickoff or we have a conference or an annual meeting. Won’t you come in and speak for an hour, hour and a half. Then we do that, because we don’t want to turn away customers. So that’s something we do.
Then we do sort of like public speaking at business schools, summits, just all kinds of conferences and things like that for visibility. Green Force, just a whole different bunch of places.
Will Bachman: Fascinating. So, definitely want to dive into a bunch of this. Where did the expertise come from? Was this sort of … I imagine it’s not off the top of your head. Was it research-based, based on your own years of experience in sales? How did you come up with the 16 buckets?
Ron Hubsher: Oh yeah, no. So this was research-based. I, actually probably since about age 21, I pride myself on just reading all these sales books. Some of them good, some of them not so good. And it’s actually really interesting, because there’s a lot of stuff that if you actually use in a complex business sales environment, it’ll hurt you more than it’ll help.
So it was a combination of research, our own practical experience, and I had been in sales probably about … I had my own business, really, starting from about age 12 and on. So, depending on where you start your professional career, is it your first job out of college, or even before then? I’ve always been involved in sales and learning about sales’ best practices. I just read a ton of stuff and then I got to speak with other sales thought leaders and get their inputs. So it was research, speaking to other sales thought leaders, and best practices I had learned from over the years.
Will Bachman: Maybe you could tell us a couple case stories, case studies, of some of the consulting work that you’ve done of going into an organization, some of the things that you found in terms of where they were not really optimal in terms of their sales organization and structure, and the kind of transformation that you helped them achieve.
Ron Hubsher: Yeah, there’s a couple. So I can name one of these. It’s a paper company we worked with called Dunn Paper. At the time, I think they were about an 84, now they’re probably about a 90 year-old paper company. And they’d been doing business the same way they’d been doing since, I think it was 19 … oh boy, it was probably 1924. So they may be older than that than when they first started in business, right? They use the same recipes that you create the paper. And they were sort of selling the same way.
What they do, is if you’ve ever eaten at Subway, or one of the hamburger chains. That burger or that sandwich comes wrapped in a piece of paper.
Will Bachman: Yeah, sure.
Ron Hubsher: And there’s about 12 attributes that define any piece of paper. You know, it’s sort of basis weight, the fluorocarbons that are on them. I mean, there’s just about 12 attributes, and then there’s a book that tells you who creates those papers.
And it can be a pretty commoditized environment if you let it. So, in the course, they were bought by a private equity firm and they were looking to really increase revenues. And they had a pretty seasoned sales team. You know, folks who’ve been there 10, 20, 30 years. What we said is, how can we improve the sales process?
So we went through our benchmark and we arrived at a couple different things that we could do to really help them accelerate what they’re doing. The first is we started qualifying all of our opportunities. We’d rate them on a scale of percentage fit with ideal client profile, percentage fit to unacceptable client profile. And they have a very finite universe of … When you make paper like that, you’re sold to a converter. So a converter would take that roll of paper and chop it up into one-foot squares and put Subway or Burger King or whatever it might be on there.
So they’re a finite universe of about 1500 companies. And so then we went through and we started rating the companies and their pipeline and those they should be going after and we put a score of percentage fit to ideal, percentage fit to unacceptable. So there are some clients or some prospects who they’re never going to buy from us and let’s not even bother with them. Right? They’re price-checkers, they’re tire-kickers, they’re not our clients. And then the other people who really lined up to be our clients, but we’re not doing the business we should be doing with them, or we’re not doing business with them at all.
So we put in a couple things. The first is we put in sort of an ideal client profile and unacceptable client profile. We rated all the prospects and customers in their territory and we were able to grow customers by 40%. They went from about 160 customers to about 225 in one year.
Will Bachman: Wow.
Ron Hubsher: We were able to grow their revenues by 21%. It was 21 or 22% in an industry that was growing about 0 to 2% a year. And then you factor in inflation, it’s probably a zero-growth market.
So we put in how you rate and score prospects and then how you’d run your pipeline. We put in a really rigorous pipeline management system in place and forecasting system in place. So that was done on a weekly basis and there was a lot of science and coaching around it. And then we put in the negotiation best practices so they could command price bring-ins and talk about their value story.
And it’s really interesting. Their roll sold at a premium. Typically, I think it’s about a 100 bucks a roll or 50 bucks a roll as a premium, but unless you can talk about the value to your customer about what you provide, you’re always going to be left to defend price. So they, at Dunn Paper, make a more perfect roll, so that when that roll goes into your plant, if that paper breaks right on that spool, if it breaks, that’s tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of machine downtime.
Will Bachman: Sure.
Ron Hubsher: All on a $50 per roll differential, right? It’s almost … The ROI on that is just extraordinary. Or if you have a thin layer of wax on it, you don’t want that wax gunking up your machine, right? Because that’s, again, machine downtime.
So, you know, just by putting two or three things in place. We put the prospect and customer management system in place. We improved processing. We improved negotiation and we improved the way we quantify the value. They were able to grow sales 20, 21, 22% in their first year.
And it’s actually interesting because there’s a year ramp-up, right? You’ll usually buy a trial roll, then you’ll start switching over, and then you go full-ramp in about a year. And the following year, they filled up the mill. They grew up another 9% and your mill is running at full capacity. So they then recapitalized at significantly higher market valuation.
Will Bachman: Wow. What a cool story. I mean, that’ so relevant, I think, to independent professionals as well. The idea of qualifying your leads and saying, I’m not going to chase every lead, but I’m going to figure out the high-quality ones and put my effort there. And these kind of random requests that we get, learn to say no, right? So that is powerful. Love to hear another example.
Ron Hubsher: Yeah, we work with another company called U.S. Playing Cards. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Vegas, Will. Have you been out to Vegas?
Will Bachman: I have. I got to say that I did not gamble when I was there, but I did pass through and I spent a couple days in that town.
Ron Hubsher: Okay. I’m not really a gambler. I’m just a designated loser. Sort of whatever I put out will be gone.
Will Bachman: There we go.
Ron Hubsher: Faster than I ever thought could be possible.
But if you ever play blackjack, whether it’s in Atlantic City or Vegas or in most places in the United States, or indeed worldwide, you’ve probably played with U.S. Playing Cards. Their Bee card is a sort of dominant brand in the blackjack industry. And also, if you ever did Bicycle playing cards, that’s their retail brand. If you ever go to the store and you see those Bicycle brand, that’s what they do.
Great, great folks. Scott Madding is the head of sales over there. Wonderful guy, just an amazing guy, a real process-oriented kind of guy. Just really awesome. So what he wanted to do was he wanted to sort of put best practices into his sales organization. So we worked with him to help his team put a consistent process in place and used our closing time system. And they call it the beehive system, because it’s the Bee playing card.
So they go to casinos, and it’s actually interesting. You would probably never know. This was sort of, you’d have to be in the business, but there’s, I think, there’s over 50 quality checks that a card that goes through a casino makes, just because you always want to make sure that they’re quality cards and no one can game the system. There’s also safety stock you want to have. It’s actually interesting.
So if you’re in Vegas and you’re playing blackjack, that card goes through a card reader and a shuffling machine. If the card gets stuck in that shuffling machine, that could be hundreds of dollars, if not thousands of dollars lost, right, and a ruined customer experience. And they’re all about having a premiere customer experience.
So U.S. Playing Cards commands a price premium, because they’re better cards and they don’t get stuck in the machine. You can quantify the benefit of that. It’s actually interesting. The card you get in Las Vegas is different than the card you get in Atlantic City and that’s due to humidity reasons. So they make different cards and this is the level of manufacturing detail that they get into and that makes them so wonderful.
Will Bachman: Oh man, I gotta say. I love this detail. That is something I would never have guessed that the cards are different.
Ron Hubsher: I never would have guessed that either. But that’s the kind of thing that goes on. I think they’re about 150 year-old company. I forgot the exact age. I should have boned up on my research before I talked. But Scott Madding’s over there, great guy. Great guy.
So we put a process and discipline in place where we do discovery call, where Scott’s team put those discovery calls. They discuss value, and if you don’t know the value you create, you’re always going to be left to defend price and you’ll be destined to sell at low margins.
So they do a value conversation with every one of their clients, and talk about yeah, what is the value of having a better gaming experience? What is the value of having less breakdowns when things are going through the card reading machine? Right? You get to play more hands. Your customer is more satisfied. When the machine goes down at the tables, some people drift off. Certainly you lose a bunch of hands and that downtime, which it could be hundreds, thousands of dollars. And, we have that value conversation. And then use a real-
Will Bachman: I’m sorry. Were those like just rhetorical questions? Or were they trained to actually go through and help the client quantify those different things? Like hey, downtime-
Ron Hubsher: Not rhetorical at all, man. Not rhetorical at all. We could show you the calculations that they make. So these are questions-
Will Bachman: Okay, so these were like hard numbers, all right.
Ron Hubsher: Yeah, you can quantify these into hard numbers, right? And you can easily see that it’s worth paying the premium for U.S. Playing Cards. And it’s a real discipline process, right? It’s a sort of seven-step process, including negotiation. And they’re growing at seven times the market rate.
Will Bachman: Whoa.
Ron Hubsher: So they’re taking business away from their competitors at a remarkable rate.
Will Bachman: And other than this thing that I never would have guessed, which is design for different humidity levels. You just look at a playing card. It doesn’t seem that technologically sophisticated, but what are some of the other differentiating features that they would be selling?
Ron Hubsher: Additionally, there’s 52 points of contact. So 52 points of checking. There’s a thing called edge sorting. I don’t know if you saw that Phil Ivey recently lost a lawsuit about over $10 million. So if there’s imperfections on the back of the card, a real sharp professional can notice those imperfections. Like they’re very small, but a pro can notice that.
So Phil Ivey took, you know, I think it was some English baccarat table to the bank to the tune of 10 million, because of micromillimeters of difference on the pattern of the back of a card, okay. So those are the things that are out there, right? And needless to say, there’s business risk and there’s personal risk. So the person who is running that gaming table probably doesn’t have a very bright future in the gaming community, right?
Will Bachman: Right.
Ron Hubsher: So you want to make sure you’re working with the best cards.
Will Bachman: Huh. Okay.
Ron Hubsher: And that’s one of their safety inspection features. So the whole bunch of others. My apologies. I should have, you know … There’s probably a whole bunch of others that we go through, but those are sort of the high-level ones.
Will Bachman: No, that’s really cool. So, that’s amazing. So talk to me a little bit about your process. So if you’re doing a consulting assignment and we can get into some of your training, but a consulting assignment, sort of what does phase one look like? Do you go out in the field with the sales reps? Do you look at the collateral? How do you kind of get started in terms of a diagnostic to understand the current state and the opportunities?
Ron Hubsher: Yeah, so we all go back to our benchmark and, you know, in crafting what we’re going to do for them. We go through sort of our sales benchmark. So, benchmarks are great, but people don’t want a benchmark. They want results. Or at least sales, right? You know, hey, that’s great. We’re short here, we’re this there. It’s like, that’s nice. It’s a beautiful pie chart. We can throw darts at it, who cares. Right? And that’s the wonderful thing about sales. We need to deliver results. You know, we can’t just hi and wave and throw put on a PowerPoint slide. We need to deliver results.
So what we do is we start sort of doing a benchmark. We say hey, where do you think you’re good? Where do you think you’re bad? And sort of as part of our consulting, we just sort of say, here are the two or three high ROI buckets, you know, from a high level, that we’re going to invest in. And by the way, we’ll do more full benchmark that comes complimentarily. But just going through it at a very high level. Here’s where we think the high ROI buckets of opportunity are. So we sort of go through those 16 buckets and say let’s pick two or three that you think. So you may have made a prior assumption that these are two or three … those may be a … two or three. One may change, one may not change. So we go through that and that’s how we develop what the consulting project’s going to look like.
Will Bachman: When you get started, what would some of the kind of key sources of insight be? Would you do kind of interviews with front-line sales reps, or actually observe them in practice? How would you get a sense of the current state from direct observation or is it more just based on interviewing the head of sales? Like, how do you go about that?
Ron Hubsher: That’s a great question. We interview all layers, from front-line folks, top-line folks, and mid-line people. And people, you know, feet on the ground. So we interview them to get a baseline. And that’s sort of how we do it.
Will Bachman: Yeah. Let’s talk about your training kind of business line if you will. How does that work? Is it you kind of come in for just the one-off, one-time thing? Or is it a program where people sign up and you have a series of trainings over time? Talk to me about that a little bit.
Ron Hubsher: Yeah, so trainings, it’ll vary depending on what the customer wants, but I always sort of look at our training as consulting, because we don’t do any generic training, right. We don’t say here’s standard objection handling. Here’s whatever, you know, here’s negotiation. We customize it to the customer. And we do that by doing a series of structured interviews. And then we learn the customer’s business and we put a skin over everything that we do, for a lack of a better term. So it’s really hyper-customized.
So we’ll like … The way I always explain it is all human beings have the same amount of muscles and the same number of bones. You want someone who’s left-handed, wears a chapeau, and has green hair. I’m sorry, yeah. Wears a green shirt and has brown hair. Someone else wants someone with tan pants, wearing a polo shirt, and eyeglasses, right.
So the fundamental infrastructures will change. The outside or skin … the fundamental infrastructure does not change. The skin on it does. And so every page of what we do will be customized to that exact customer. The structure of the presentation won’t necessarily change, but each and every page will, so it’s an exact, perfect fit for that customer.
And then, depending on what customers are ready for, we do everything from … We always like having multiple activities, having a process rather than an event. Some people just want events and you gotta give them what they want. So the nice thing that we do is we have some really sticky things that they’re tools that people implement and get great success.
Will Bachman: Like what?
Ron Hubsher: Oh, we have like, for our negotiation program, we have our closing time quick sheet, which people license and use and they usually get great success. So, typically when we do training, we do pre-work training and then post-work. And oftentimes, as pre-work, they’ll read our book and we’ll have success stories going into the training. So they’ll say, hey, read your book, loved it. I use these three principles, man, and I closed, you know, two million dollar deal. So we’ll walk into a training, well, someone said, hey, you know, I’ve already used this. This works. So that’s really fun and really great.
Will Bachman: And with the training, talk to me about the range of topics. Do you have sort of a menu people can choose from of sort of standardized, typical sessions, like you said objection handling? Talk to me a little bit about that.
Ron Hubsher: Yeah, so there are three big … there’s many more, but I always just think about them in three big buckets. And if you have these three big buckets covered, you’re pretty good. There’s question-based selling sells. So how do I go in and ask my customer a lot of really good questions and help me understand where they’re at and how [inaudible 00:24:15] assess the opportunity? Then there’s sort of opportunity management. So how do I put a series of meetings together and win the opportunity, right? So there’s an opportunity to consulting work or whatever that might be, competing against two, three, four companies. What does that map look like? What information do I have? How do I win that?
And then there’s negotiation. So now that I’m the number one choice, how do I win profitable business and create a great long-term customer as opposed to get my margins right down to the [inaudible 00:24:43] and maybe work on a nonprofitable deal? You don’t want to have winner’s remorse.
So those are the big three. Now there’s other presentation skills, there’s a whole bunch. But if you have those three, those are the three biggest legs on the stool. You’ll be in pretty good shape.
Will Bachman: Yeah.
Ron Hubsher: And within those, there are certain modules that we go through. So it’s further modularized. And then we just go through and we say, hey, which do you want, which do you not want. And most people want everything that we offer in there. I mean, they’ll say hey, which should we emphasize and which should we de-emphasize and we go through that and it becomes really super-customized, and then we put the skin on it, so it’s a hyper-customized experience.
So if you look at any training that we’ve done for two different companies, they would look … The page numbers would probably be pretty similar and the content on the page, the actual information on that page would be very different. Right, so if you’re …
One of our clients is Western Digital Corporation. They make hard disk drives, right. So if you want to talk about complex. Yeah, so you can look at a playing card which is complex technology, which you would think is not complex technology, yet there’s points of differentiation. And then you can look at a hard disk drive, for example. And any product can be commoditized. You can break a hard disk drive into two attributes. What’s the form factor? It’s a 3 1/2 inch drive and it holds 500 gigabytes of data. Okay.
You can get it down to that level of commoditization if you let it as a sales person, right. And as a sales person, you always have to look for your points of differentiation and have to articulate them and understand how that applies to the risk criteria of your buyers.
Will Bachman: Let’s talk a little about if you were … I mean, our audience here is independent professionals and if you’re talking to independent professionals about how to apply some of those sales skills, maybe what sort of suggestions do you have that maybe independent professionals aren’t necessarily optimizing their sales approach? So, in terms of question-based selling skills, what might independent professionals pick up from your lessons learned on that piece?
Ron Hubsher: It is very structured. Usually, so what I have found, is that independent consulting professionals, usually pretty bright folks, pretty inquisitive folks. They just don’t know the process and the magic behind it. I don’t want to call it magic. They just don’t know the process behind it.
Let me just scratch that. It’s not magic. They think it’s magic, or they may lead people to think it’s magic, because sales is just sort of misunderstood, but it’s just process and discipline. They don’t know what the process and underlying structure is behind it. And they don’t know if they’re doing it right or wrong, so they lack the confidence. They think oh, it’s the sales guy, you know, someone who’s a gadfly, just shakes a lot of hands, take people golfing, but there’s a real structure to it. And most people that are analytical can pick up sales really easily. So we work with accountants, engineers, and they can often be your best sales folks because they’re naturally inquisitive.
So you just have to give them a structure and a framework around asking questions. That’s the first leg of the stool. And then the second is having an opportunity management system. So how do I map out an opportunity and make sure I’m in the dominant position to win? And then the third is negotiation. And it’s all just process and discipline, not anything magical. As long as you have reasonable social skills, you can be a really excellent sales people.
So most people … Yeah, actually, when I think about it, most independent consultants that tend to … that you would know, Will, can make geometric strides by taking opportunity management, question-based selling, and negotiation classes. The difference in the confidence would be enormous, now that I think about it.
Will Bachman: David Fields, who has a new book out, The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients, has one section in there about the context discussion. That’s probably something that I should have been doing the last 15 years in my consultant life, but I picked it up from that book, and he talks about six questions that he asks. One is help me understand what’s the catalyst or the situation. What are the desired outcomes? What’s the indications of success? What are any kind of threats or risks? What’s the value if this is successful? And then some parameters, right, where geography, fees, budgets, etc.
So that’s kind of one approach to the set of questions. Do you have a different approach or any questions that you would add to that? Or advice to independent professionals who have a lead, a live lead. It’s a real client, it’s a real situation and we have been approached, so we’re under consideration. What are some questions that we should be asking of that client in that question-based phase?
Ron Hubsher: Oh yeah. So, I don’t want to overcomplicate or undercomplicate it, but it’s probably about 33 questions you need to know on how you’re going to effectively win that deal. Some are sort of client-oriented. Others are sort of what do we need to work together. Some are risk-oriented and you’re going to want to know what’s in it for them. Who’s on the buying team? There’s a whole bunch of stuff you’re going to want to know.
It’s actually interesting because a lot of people … you know, there’s nothing with those questions. Those are all good questions. But that’s just a small set of things you’ll need to know. Those are good client facing questions, but there’s other stuff, like hey, what obstacles can get in the way when you’re looking to implement. Why, why, why, right. There’s just a ton more you want to know. So those are good six questions, and nothing wrong with them.
Will Bachman: What are some of the most important questions that are also commonly neglected or not asked out of those 33 that you mentioned?
Ron Hubsher: So yeah, you really need to break it down, right? So the first is their problem, right? So everyone’s good at talking about their problem, and people want to talk about their problem. What’s the pain? What happens if you don’t solve it? You’re going to send the pain chain. There’s also the pleasure chain you gotta examine. Most people don’t get the value, which I think was one of those questions in there. I wasn’t-
Will Bachman: Yeah.
Ron Hubsher: … sure if it wasn’t. And then it’s not just value what they tell you. It’s the value of your expertise going down and saying oh, but what about this, what about that? So it actually expands out the value, because people will tell you the value they think it is, but usually there’s complete either pain chain or pleasure chain and you want to walk down both. Because oftentimes, you’re biggest thing is you’re going to lose to inertia, or no action. So you need to quantify the value of action, the value of inaction, right. And you need to know those.
And then, walking down what their issues are, that’s great. We, as consultants, we like that. We’re kind of trained, smart people. Tell me more. I’m interested. Yeah, okay, awesome. And tell me more. We’re inquisitive people by nature.
Will Bachman: Sure.
Ron Hubsher: Which is great. And then it’s sort of how we going to work together? What’s your timeline? Who do we need to get on board? What obstacle can get in the way? Oh, well, the big thing is someone’s going to … it’s budgeted, not budgeted, right? These are the tough questions you’re going to want to know and just sort of sales 101 in a way, but people are scared to ask that.
You gotta know, because your time … Will, I know you. You’re a hyper-intelligent person with little discretionary time. You gotta be able to make wise investments, right. So you’re going to want to coach them up and say, hey, who do we need to get on board? Who’s thinking about this? What obstacles can get in the way? All kinds of questions that you want to know. And we’re oftentimes scared to ask that. What’s the ideal budget? You always want to know the compelling event. What happens if you miss the compelling event date? What happens if you don’t?
And again, your biggest competitor first is going to be inaction, and then second, is another competitor, right? So you need to think about that. Then you also need to think about questions that preemptively position you, right. So, what are the questions I want to ask that’s going to make it lead to, in my case, a Sales Optimization Group decision. Or in your case, a Will Bachman decision.
Will Bachman: Sure.
Ron Hubsher: And people aren’t typically trained in that. So they ask a bunch of good questions, understand the client’s pain. They have no idea how they’re going to win the opportunity. Or even set themselves up to win the opportunity against inertia and inaction and then against competitors.
Will Bachman: I love that point. Let’s just expand on that a little bit more. So, for an independent professional, what are some of the smart questions to ask that can help position him or her to win the opportunity?
Ron Hubsher: Right, and that’s going to vary. I always look at what your competitive advantages are and rather than telling people your competitive advantages are, you can ask them. Say how important is … Will, what’s one of your EV competitive advantages? I think I know, but give me one if you have one.
Will Bachman: Oh, I’m scrappy.
Ron Hubsher: You’re scrappy.
Will Bachman: There we go.
Ron Hubsher: Okay, so I would just say, how important is it that the company you work with, or the organization you work with, is going to roll up their sleeves and be as passionate about making this work. Not just delivering a slide presentation, but making this work, as you are. Right? And they’ll say, oh, that’s absolutely critical. Okay, tell me more. Why is that critical to you? Well, I got to make this thing work in the field and I gotta drive it down through the marketing organization. I gotta drive it through the … Great. Wouldn’t you think it’s really important … Would that be on the list of critical success factors, great.
And then I’d get a list of critical success factors and I’d say exactly why. Let me show you why, when I worked with these guys, we were able to take this plan and were able to produce X amount of dollars of revenue. Right? You said that was on your critical list of success factors. What are your thoughts? Right?
So you want to populate the critical success factors with your EV competitive advantages. Rather than say, I’m Will Bachman. I’m a really smart guy. I’m scrappy as all heck. Because everyone says that, right? So you want to set that up and not as a … not by telling people, but by questioning people and then ask them their opinion of that thought is. How would you feel about a guy who drove X dollars of revenue in his last project? Oh, that would be really important, great. Can I show you how? Can I put you in touch with this person?
Will Bachman: Wow. I love it. That’s cool. So that’s your training sessions and it sounds like it could be just a one-off event?
Ron Hubsher: Yep.
Will Bachman: Or it could be, sometimes, it’d be more of a series of events. I want to ask you. It sounds like you started consulting and then you built the training practice based on that. What kind of advice would you have for an independent professional who is doing execution right now and is thinking about setting up more of a training revenue line? What’s it take to create that?
Ron Hubsher: I wish I had some … Well, first advice is you should definitely do it, because you need some scalable parts of your business. And we have parts of our business that are super scalable and people license our training. So that’s a pretty nice piece of business. So they license our content and you’re no longer trading hours for dollars.
Will Bachman: That’s great.
Ron Hubsher: Then training is kind of similar. That’s a scalable piece of business. You can have other people do the training for you, which is really excellent. I know sales training a bunch. So I know what works for sales training. Other types of training … Well, there’s probably universal things. So you always have to have people involved and they’re adult people, so you don’t tell them. You let them experience it and you learn from them. And just you need a structured framework. That’s what I’ve found.
Will Bachman: Is the sales process different? Or how is the sales process different when you’re selling a training program versus selling a consulting project?
Ron Hubsher: So in a consulting project, the biggest thing is probably just trying to get budget from folks. And it just takes longer. It’s a longer sales cycle. And in training, there’s typically budget allocated. It’s a known product, right? So people are sort of, okay. We’re supposed to do training. We all get a good pat on the head if we do that. So that’s good.
Where consulting, you know, people always feel a little exposed. So it’s sort of like, oh, things probably aren’t going right now. Hm. What does that say about me and my position? Right? So consulting and one of the things we always talk about is when you’re looking at a deal, you want to look at business risk and personal risk. Though in a consulting project, people may say yes, absolutely, we need to do this. There could be a bunch of people who are scared that they’re going to look bad. In training, no one looks bad. Everyone looks good. So, in that respect, it’s an easier sell.
Will Bachman: Cool. So this question was suggested to me by a good friend and listener, Sue Gath, who asked me to ask you what has changed? You’ve been doing this for a while, since, I think, 2003, you said. What’s changed over the last 14 years in the consulting and training world that you’ve seen it? Any difference in either how you go to market, how you execute the work? Just curious what trends you see.
Ron Hubsher: Just things are faster and choppier. So it used to be that things were a little more predictable because they went through a certain timeline, but now things are just faster and choppier. Things change so much more quickly. So people are in and out of roles more quickly, so it’s not unusual that, when you start a project, the person who initiated it is no longer with the company, no longer in that role, no longer whatever. So, it’s just choppy, right? And that’s-
Will Bachman: And the replacement’s like, how did you get here? What are you doing?
Ron Hubsher: Yeah, what are you doing? Like oh, okay. That actually happened to me on a recent deal. The person who introduced me to the firm was just like oh. I’m no longer here. This is the person you need to speak to who I had no relationship with and I was like, oh, okay. We continued on that deal and won it, but that’s not unusual. And then like every 18 months, things change.
So you gotta be quicker. You gotta close deals faster. And deals close with a typical rhythm. If a deal’s been open for an X amount of time, just take it out of your pipeline, because it’s just going to be open and you’re going to spend a lot of time. You put it on a back burner. I wouldn’t forecast it. And I’ve always been that way, but that time frame is shorter now.
It used to be sort of any deals greater than six months or nine months, I’d say, yeah, take it out of your pipeline. You know, certainly your forecast. And there’s a difference between your forecast and pipeline. But I wouldn’t spend an inordinate amount of time. Like things will close in a certain amount of time or they won’t. Or otherwise, it’s just sort of like not important to them, not on the back burner. Things have shifted. Some of those things happen a lot more quickly.
Will Bachman: To what degree do you see some real commonalities across sales forces? Are they just very heterogeneous or are there kind of one or two deficiencies or gaps that many, many firms have?
Ron Hubsher: It depends on their level of maturity. Negotiation, that’s one thing every firm can without a doubt do better on. So when you look at the trainings, like most mature companies have done some question-based selling. They’ve done some opportunity management or they have people who are familiar with that. When it comes to negotiation, they’re typically deficient. And it’ll vary across the number of sales folks that you have. So we work with companies that have thousands of sales folks who are considered the leaders in their industry, like Xerox, ADP, for example. We work with them and they’re considered leaders in the training space. And then there are much smaller companies that we work with as well. So it would go across the portfolio of companies. It typically varies by maturity level and size.
Will Bachman: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay, cool.
Ron Hubsher: Does that make sense, Will? I don’t know if that made sense or not.
Will Bachman: No, it does. It totally does. So I see we’re coming close to the end here of the time we had set. I wanted to ask you. How can folks find you online?
Ron Hubsher: Yeah, if you just go either to LinkedIn, Ron Hubsher, or Sales O G, for Sales Optimization Group, or Sales Original Gangster, depending on how you want to look at it.
Will Bachman: Sales O G.
Ron Hubsher: You got it.
Will Bachman: Awesome.
Ron Hubsher: And anyone can give me a call. 650-520-9849.
Will Bachman: And if you want to buy the book, you gotta go to the website because Ron has discovered it makes sense to call every book buyer.
Ron Hubsher: Yeah, if they look reasonable, right?
Will Bachman: Yeah.
Ron Hubsher: So, it’s sort of someone who looks like, okay, you know, they’re interested. But we give them a call. We give them a courtesy call. We give them the happy call, confirm their address, and make sure we mail it to the right place, or FedEx it to the right place. So you’ll just get the happy call. And then, for those who are targeted, you know, where it makes sense, where it can make … you know, where we think there’s an opportunity for a longer-term commitment or a longer-term contract, we try and have a much more in-depth conversation. But we’ll have a conversation with everybody.
Will Bachman: [inaudible 00:41:29] I would not have thought of doing that. It just seems genius. Ron, thank you so much for joining. This was a huge amount of fun. I learned a lot.
Ron Hubsher: Well, thank you. I always learn something from you, so I’m really grateful.
Will Bachman: Thanks for listening to this episode of Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top-tier, independent management consultants. The mission of Umbrex is to create opportunities for independent management consultants to meet, share lessons learned, and collaborate. I’d love to get your feedback and hear any questions that you’d like to see us answer on this show. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s U-M-B-R-E-X dot com.
If you found anything on the show helpful, it would be a real gift if you would let a friend know about the show and take a minute to leave a review on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. And if you subscribe, our show will get delivered to your device every Monday.
Our audio engineer is Dave Nelson. Our theme song was composed by Gary Negbaur, and I’m your host Will Bachman. Thanks for listening.