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Guest: Jerry Swain, a multitalented business leader and entrepreneur who recently joined the team here at CEO Coaching International.
Episode in a Tweet: CEO Coaching International’s Jerry Swain used these lessons from IBM’s legendary sales training program to craft a world-class sales team and his own new BIG business.
Quick Background: After a highly-recognized career in tech sector sales management – including working for IBM at its peak – Jerry Swain jumped off the corporate track and became an entrepreneur. He started, of all things, a high-end specialty chocolate company that ended up receiving four buyout offers before Jerry finally sold to a strategic buyer.
On today’s show, Jerry Swain discusses the lessons he learned from IBM’s world-class sales training program, and how he applied that wisdom to his own BIG entrepreneurial ventures.
Transcript: Download the full transcript here.
Key Insights from Jerry Swain on Smarter Sales Strategies
1. Start your day off right.
Like many top CEOs and leaders, Jerry Swain sticks to the same routine every day. He’s up at 4:35 in the morning, hits the gym, goes through his workout regimen, and then he comes home and calls, texts, or emails everyone he knows who has a birthday or anniversary that day – close to 1300 messages every year! What a great idea for a CEO looking to own his key business and personal relationships.
Then Jerry writes in his gratitude journal and spends the final 20 minutes before his kids wake up prepping for the day. “That sets the tone for the day,” Jerry says. “I feel like I’ve gotten my workout in, I got some spirituality in, and I’m ready to tackle the day.”
What does your morning routine look like? How can you add some discipline to it so you start your day right?
2. Process before product.
Jerry remembers that on his first day of training at IBM, his classmates kept asking when they were going to learn about the products they’d be selling.
“And they told us, ‘You’re not. You’re going to learn about the process of sales. The customer-tailored sales call. You don’t need to know about the product, you need to know about the customer’s business, what’s bothering them. And if there’s a match and a solution that we have, that’s how you’re going to make your sale.'”
IBM broke its sales process down into six steps:
- Build rapport
- Understand needs
- Present solutions
- Handle objections
Each one of these steps keeps the focus on what the customer needs to improve his or her business, and how your product or service can help. The thing you’re selling only matters to the extent that it solves a problem your customer has.
3. Don’t talk, ask questions.
An integral part of the IBM process that Jerry perfected was mixing open-ended business questions with personal questions that allowed him to understand the customer’s needs.
“The premise of the whole sales call was IBM didn’t want you speaking at all,” Jerry says. “They wanted you asking questions from the very beginning. ‘How long have you been involved with the business? Tell me about the journey that you went through. Do you live in the area?’ You may see something on the wall, they have kids, grandkids, love sports, you might comment about that. And you kind of see what lightens up their eyes and their face when they start talking about it.”
These types of questions help build rapport and trust, which can change the dynamic of the conversation from a sales call to a problem solving solution. And that shifts the advantage on the call to your salespeople.
4. Combine what you value with what you enjoy.
After turning an unprofitable IBM territory into a very profitable one and moving around in the tech sector, Jerry started to feel the entrepreneurial itch. A conversation with his father one Christmas got Jerry thinking about breaking into a totally new business space.
“As we started talking, he was asking me lots of questions,” Jerry recalls. “And he finally said, ‘What do you like doing?’ And so, I started telling him about the projects that I was looking at. He stopped me, and he said, ‘No, don’t tell me what you want to do. Tell me what you like doing.’”
As Jerry talked through that question, he arrived at a set of core values that would be critical to his eventual business: close contact with customers, innovative marketing and branding, and a philanthropical spirit. Then his father remembered how much Jerry enjoyed making chocolate peanut butter balls for friends and co-workers at holidays, which had been the centerpiece of some parties and fundraising events that really brought people together. By combining the values that were important to him as a businessman with something he loved doing personally, Jerry created his new company, called Jer’s Chocolates.
5. Drill down into your niche.
Of course, liking chocolate wasn’t enough to get Jerry’s new venture to BIG. So, Jerry jumped into his new business space with both feet. He started attending chocolate industry conferences. He took some brutally honest industry feedback to heart and refined his branding and packaging. He analyzed data on whom the big players in his industry were and weren’t serving, and zeroed in on an emerging group of consumers: millennials who wanted to buy boutique products with a story behind them. He studied the flavor profiles of the most popular chocolates in the United States and tweaked his recipe. He started small, selling gift boxes that were so successful that he was able to scale up the business and add new products to his catalogue.
And through all the ups and downs that come with starting a business, Jerry never stopped asking questions and never stopped learning.
“What took me the first four years in the company to do, I can do in four months now,” Jerry says. “It was one of those processes where I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. As I went through it, I kept going back to IBM: asking lots of questions, trying to learn.”
1. Find your routine. Stick with the habits that get you ready to make BIG happen every day.
2. Don’t sell, connect. Your customers don’t want stuff, they want empathy and solutions.
3. Master your space. Knowing the ins and outs of your business is just the start. Never stop learning, refining, and growing.