Brian Robinson: Becoming a Selling Jedi Master For Your Startup

Listen to our exclusive interview with Brian Robinson:

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One skill every entrepreneur needs is to know how to sell! And that’s what we are talking about with author and sales expert, Brian Robinson.

Brian Robinson is a sales and marketing expert, best-selling author, and coach. He has worked for some of the best-known companies in the world, including Coca-Cola USA and Johnson & Johnson.

Upon leaving his corporate career, he helped launch a successful startup where he was the first person in the history of the industry to sell more than one million dollars in business in twelve months—entirely by phone. He has over two-decades of in-the-trenches, battle-tested, face-to-face and phone-presentation experience that can benefit virtually anyone, from Fortune 500 companies to entrepreneurial ventures.

Brian is the author of the Amazon #1 Best-Seller, THE SELLING FORMULA: 5 Steps for Instant Sales Improvement. Brian and his wife Cindy reside in the Oklahoma City area and have eight children – which could be the topic of an an entire podcast in and of itself!

Learn more about Brian and his work at > http://brianrobinson.me

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Transcription of Interview

(Transcribed by Otter.ai, there may be errors)

Adam G. Force 00:01

Hey, what’s going on everybody? Welcome back to the change critter podcast show. This is your host, Adam force. If you missed the last episode, it’s with Mark Agnew. He runs this eyeglass companies challenging the famous one for one model that was started by Blake Mycoskie. And it’s great to see people continuing to innovate, how they can contribute and tweak their business models for different types of social impact. If you missed that one, I highly recommend going back to check it out. There’s lots of good little golden nuggets in there for you. This week, we’ll be talking to Brian Robinson. And I’m excited because, you know, we’re really focusing in on the sales and marketing stuff and it’s just such a critical part of business and a lot of people in the social impact space are you know, They have a fear of selling, you know, there’s just it’s so tainted from years of sleazy sales. But, you know, we’re changing that. And that’s, that’s a big focus for us, and how do we approach people as human beings today. And so anyway, Brian Robinson is a sales and marketing expert. And he’s also an author and a coach. He wrote a best selling book called The selling formula. He’s done a lot of work with big companies that you’ve probably heard of like Coca Cola, and Johnson and Johnson. So he has a lot of good insights in so we’re excited to see what he has to say about the sales process and and what he’s learned in his experience. And it’s interesting, because just recently, Amy and I, Amy, the co founder, Change Creator here, we were talking and one of the things that we brought up was, you know, how we start delegating things, especially when it comes to sales because we feel like maybe that’s just not our sweet spot. And it’s so important that as founders of companies, we become the number one salesperson because we really, there’s a lot there’s a lot that comes out of that experience and being called close to that process when it comes to understand the narrative identifying opportunities or problems in the, in that process. So we were talking and one of the things that came up was this statement that just kind of came out of nowhere. And it was a nice quote, but it’s important. And we’ve seen it happen a lot, which is you don’t hire a sales team. When sales are lacking. You hire a sales team when sales are thriving. So think about that. Because you know, what we’re trying to say is that if your sales are lacking, lacking, then your systems are not set up, right? It’s not working yet. So you can bring on a sales team spend a lot of money, and they’re gonna have a hard time selling. But if you are able to establish that sale system, then you bring on a sales team and you train them in it, you’re going to be able to really scale the business so it makes a very big difference. People we’ve interviewed have chimed in on that saying yes, been there. It was a very painful lesson. So remember that that’s a good it’s a good little tip and it’ll come in handy down the road. If you’re not following us on Facebook guys, check us out there. We do lots of good content, and we flow everything through there. And then our group is tied to that. So you can take it a step further and the group is the profitable digital impact entrepreneur. So check us out over there. Lots of good content coming down the pipeline. All right, well, let’s see what Brian has to say and get into this. Okay, show me the heat. Hey, what’s up, Brian, how you doing today? Welcome to the Change Creator, podcast show.

Brian Robinson 03:28

Thanks, Adam. doing awesome. Doing great.

Adam G. Force 03:31

Great, great, good to have you. I’m excited because we’re gonna talk about selling today. And you have an awesome book, the selling formula five steps, for instance, instant sales improvement, which is pretty cool. And you know, being transparent, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’d love to just hear your expertise since this is a big focus for us at Change Creator and helping our audience you know, sell more with their social good businesses. So yeah, I mean, I if you can Just like what what do you? What do you have going on these days? I like to just get like the latest of what you have going on.

Brian Robinson 04:06

Yeah, so very exciting. Our company, little less than two weeks ago just released out of beta. We’re, by the way, we’re a digital marketing company. We provide in lobby digital signage for a lot of businesses around the country. And we’re the first company to release that service on the Apple TV platform. So you can just navigate to it now find our app works 24. And we offer that service via that app. And there’s some incredible capabilities there. So our whole company’s stoked about it.

Adam G. Force 04:40

So you guys decided to make an app I think, you know, there’s it’s one of these bridges that people are scared to cross sometimes and I’m wondering what what led you to to commit to that.

Brian Robinson 04:53

We provide equipment to play the video content in our clients locations. We work with a lot of banks, credit unions, medical facilities, and the cost of obtaining that equipment, maintaining it. And all that goes with that, plus our whole force of service technicians. It became a reality that if we could provide an off the shelf hardware piece of hardware and it was integrated with the Apple device, then would be a game changer. And just out of the gate, it is absolutely a game changer. It’s changing everything about the way we think our clients think about the service the way they view us. Was it easy? No. It was a challenging road. And we had a good year and a half of development in it with our partner. And but it worked. And we just had to work through the the different components and pieces of making that happen. It was well worth it though. And it should be

Adam G. Force 05:54

I can I can definitely appreciate that. And I know what goes into creating these things. So kudos to you Guys, we’re getting that done and kind of pushing through.

Brian Robinson 06:03

Thank you. Thank you. Good team, we got a great team.

Adam G. Force 06:06

Awesome. So before I get into just the topic of selling and trying to get all the little nuggets I can from you just give us a little overview of the book, like why did you write it? And what are people supposed to take away from the selling formula?

Brian Robinson 06:23

Sure. My background was corporate sales with Johnson and Johnson and Coca Cola USA for a total of about 20 years. And I was in four different divisions. And Johnson and Johnson and I journal quite a bit. So I was sitting outside journaling, and I started to write down what what was it that I did consistently in my selling. And I kept bumping up against these five steps. And I recognized that, gosh, if I could help decrease the learning curve for somebody that’s challenged with sales or as in sales. And kind of questions in their gut, what am I missing? That’s why I wrote the book. And it’s, it’s kind of we talked about prior to the show, it’s kind of a velvet glove approach to interacting with your clientele.

Adam G. Force 07:14

Yeah. Okay. Got it. Got it. So I guess where I get curious is, you know, we are, you know, we’re helping people who are in the let’s just say the first five years of business. This is most common for our audience. And I’m wondering if in your mind, you have any thoughts on the difference in selling during that time? I mean, here we are in startup world, versus you know, we got the Johnson and Johnson’s, what are the differences in similarities? Any thoughts on that?

Brian Robinson 07:44

Yeah, great question. I discovered because I’m, I was involved in the startup several years ago, that I’m now with, and I compare that to what I do with Johnson and Johnson. The difference is With the entrepreneurial approach, truly, if you don’t sell you don’t eat. So you better have some response, you better close some deals. And so in the j&j world, at the end of the day, if you didn’t close a deal, it wasn’t live or die. It might hurt your numbers a little bit. So that’s the dramatic shift that occurred in my world when I went to straight commission sales and start in the startup. So what I found is the five steps if I can share those with you real quick, fire away. Yeah, the first step is to connect with your prospect and set the agenda. And what I found to be fascinating is after a full year of high level sales coaching, my number one takeaway is in this step, and that setting the agenda with your prospect, and that simply sounds like this. Hey, Adam, with your permission, I’d like to go ahead and set the agenda for our conversation today. Is that okay? Yeah, well Who wouldn’t say that’s okay? And you just tell them it’s three steps. And then I go into the in the book I talk about what you should potentially say. And what it does is it brings everything to attention right away in the prospects mind because they know you have a plan. And most people just show up. And you know, I’m gonna say, throw up. And that’s not a good plan, right? The second step is to interview the prospect. And this is critical. I discovered that questions really are the key to life. And if you take the time to craft clear, cogent questions, and literally have a sheet of questions with you pull it out when you’re having the conversation with your prospect. They respect that you’ve taken the time to do that. And it also takes the pressure off you to think about what you might have to say, yeah, and so that works really well. And then third is present your solution after you’ve Of course diagnosed the challenge. you present the solution based upon the answers you received. And then you give your pricing and your guarantees, and close the deal.

Adam G. Force 10:07

So I’m going to just jump in on this and kind of unpack a couple things going through my brain. And you know, you kind of started with this conversation with the with the potential client. But this is in a particular world, where you’re sitting down with somebody and having this conversation, whether it’s, you know, over the phone or in person or whatever it might be. What about people in the e commerce world who are trying to sell these products, you know, in ethical fashion? And, you know, how am I thinking, how is my thought process around selling today, different than if I’m not going and having quiet conversations like that?

Brian Robinson 10:44

So you referring to a more of an email approach or some of the social media approach?

Adam G. Force 10:49

Yeah, I mean, I’m getting there. That’s kind of where I’m going because you have to look at it. And because in our world, we got to say, well, not everybody has that kind of business, right, where I’m gonna go and say, Hey, client, let’s do some work and I want to close this deal. So now there has to be a conversation, I think, kind of translated from that in person, but now done digitally. So we have a different product. It’s a different dynamic. So if I have an e commerce store, and I’m trying to sell these things, how do we get the same conversations going and starting to flow? And this is kind of like what we talked about a lot. And it’s just these, I think there are core fundamentals to selling like you mentioned. So we’re just kind of starting to translate this stuff into like a digital environment, if you will. Mm hmm.

Brian Robinson 11:32

I really think the best way to frame that answer is with one key word and that’s curiosity. If you can convey a sincere, authentic sense of curiosity, with the questions, you ask that open, potentially open the dialogue with your prospect, that’s the key, instead of coming off as I know the answer to your problem. How about do you have a challenge like this? Is this something that you face What’s your 2am issue?

Adam G. Force 12:01

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And that’s kind of like starting the conversation with them. So they can start feeling like you there’s something to relate to, like you understand you kind of get in their head a little bit, right? And you’re talking to them out. You know, you’re you’re asking these questions, but you can frame them up in ways where they’re like, yeah, that is me. And in a kind of start saying they start seeing themselves in this conversation.

Brian Robinson 12:24

Right on. Yeah, I totally agree.

Adam G. Force 12:26

Awesome. And so I guess I’m, I’m curious, have you had some interesting feedback and stuff on this book that you had?

Brian Robinson 12:35

Yeah, as a matter of fact, I just had a conversation last week, gentlemen, and I spoke and he said, he bought the book for his entire sales team. He’s with a medical startup. And he had them read it. And they’re actually going to apply these steps. Yeah. In their sales conversations. And so well, that that felt great. ,

Adam G. Force 12:57

Yeah, that’s pretty awesome. Yeah. And you Got a sorry, go ahead. You had something Oh, that’s

Brian Robinson 13:01

okay. When one of the one of the other things that I keep getting feedback on is the pre call preparation, the pre call mindset or mindfulness. Yeah. And that’s something that tends, in my view to be overlooked. And that’s simply taking some time to think about your prospect before you ever pick up the phone, send them an email, or get get in person with them. And it’s just taking some time to like and care and be grateful for them. And really kind of throw that picture in your mind that this is somebody you really want to serve. Yeah, and it changes the whole dynamic.

Adam G. Force 13:37

Right? Yeah, I can see that I can see that. And I think you know, today I one thing that stood out was I was I learned about the the guy that founded Costco a little while ago, and he mentioned that so many people suppliers want to distribute their product through Costco, right. And one of the things he mentioned was he said, you know, let’s say you have a laundry detergent. It’s a saturated market. There’s all these different people who are, you know, have different laundry detergent. So how does he decide which ones to work with? And he said, it’s not always about, you know, the price differentiation and all those things, because there’s a lot of common ground. So that differentiate it differentiation only goes so far when it’s saturated. It’s a saturated market. And he said, so the number one I know number one determinant about it is, I go with the person who I like and trust the most. Mm hmm. Yeah. Does that resonate with you?

Brian Robinson 14:33

Totally. Yeah, totally. It’s, at the end of the day, it’s a like, and trust world with selling. Yeah, yeah. You know, some people are just strictly transactional. I don’t think that’s the vast majority of people though. Now, because we really want to connect with others.

Adam G. Force 14:49

Yeah, there may be circumstances and you can win like that here and there. There’s these transaction things. It’s just a great deal. But in the long run, I don’t know that those methods are sustainable. And there’s gonna be some kind of burnout through trying to compete on things like price like that. I think you start to fall apart after a while.

Brian Robinson 15:06

Totally agree. I’ve seen it happen in multiple industries, too. Yeah, if the old the old adage is if you live by price, you’re gonna die by price.

Adam G. Force 15:15

Exactly. I mean, you just can’t you cannot continue to compete that way. It’s just it just wears out. It can be difficult and then you can you don’t really have differentiation at that point. You just have a momentary blip of differentiation.

Brian Robinson 15:31

That’s right. That’s right. It is momentary.

Adam G. Force 15:33

It is momentary.

Brian Robinson 15:35

Yeah, well said.

Adam G. Force 15:36

Interesting. Interesting. So tell me a little bit more about the formula. I like to hear the way you’re approaching things and I guess teaching and I started in my mind everything we do is digital, right. So like, one thing that we’ve done, I’ll just share this before you get into some details is you know, I Change Creator we talked about how important it is to before you Sell digitally, to get on the phone with people who are who you think are your correct customers. And even if it’s zoom over zoom or Skype and you do like a video call, and and talk to them and sell your product to them on the spot. Mm hmm. And then, you know, the fascinating part of that is, through those conversations we were because you know, everyone that everyone knows do market research to get to know your audience, but it’s super different when you actually try to start selling to them. Because the conversation dynamic changes, all of a sudden you have a sales narrative being built for your digital environment. Mm hmm. Yeah, I’m just curious, like, just to share that because, you know, we’re talking about learning to sell in person in order to sell digitally. And I’m curious on your thoughts of just how important it is to be able to do that as a founder.

Brian Robinson 16:51

Oh, it’s critical. And then it really brings me to a point in the book about the questions you ask. And I’ve discovered a very powerful way to build your questions. And it’s very simple. Just take a sheet of paper or an Excel spreadsheet and make three columns. And then put in your first column, the key feature, right out next to that in the second column, the benefits related to that feature, there’s going to be multiple benefits. And then in the third column, write the key questions that would elicit those benefits. And you’re going to wind up having this fanning out from features all the way to questions of bullet points, and then take the 20% most important benefits and use those questions in your narrative. And here’s an example of that. This is this is in the book, but I’m just gonna read this. I think it’s very helpful, perhaps for your listeners. Yeah. So imagine that you’re selling pre made home cooked meals for two to six people. And what you do is you simply have the first benefit is it saves up to 16 minutes per meal, including for food purchase prep and cooking time. Another benefit is just pull it out of the freezer and put it in the oven. So there’s two benefits you’ve written down for that. Yeah, so three questions. Number one. And the third question is most critical. Number one, on a weekly basis, how many dinners Do you cook for your family? You could see asking that right. Yeah. Question two, how much time does it typically take you to make a dinner for your family? Yes. Okay. That’s a fair question. But the critical question gets down to the emotional piece. If you could just pull your dinner out of the freezer already prepared and put it into the oven without having to think about it. How would that affect the frequency of your family meals?

Adam G. Force 18:39

Yeah, yeah. Right. How does it affect you in general, like your time you free up time, there’s more time with maybe the family. So there’s, I think that’s a powerful point.

Brian Robinson 18:49

And that’s where you want to ultimately go as you craft your questions is into that space where it really affects the individual and could affect their life, their family. And so on.

Adam G. Force 19:02

I love that. Yeah, I like the three column approach that’s kind of organizing your thought process a bit for these conversations. And, you know, I’m one of the things that we’ve gotten really into is, you know, telling stories to people to help them like when they have an objection, you might say, well, we don’t, we don’t like frozen food. And that in that example, you gave, right. And so this, that and the other because of certain reasons, so would you do you find yourself in these conversations with clients to say, Yeah, well, you know, my friend Susie, it’s amazing, Chris, she felt the same way. And but here’s what she found out, and then you tell a story that demonstrates something that kind of like, overcomes the objection that they just had.

Brian Robinson 19:45

That is a brilliant approach. Adam, I referenced that in the book. And you’re absolutely right. What you’ve done in that case is you’ve pre created social proof. It’s third party and it’s not you telling them it’s the story, selling them Really what it boils down to, let me give an example of this a live example. Our car company sells, in addition to digital signage on hold messages for the phone system. So somebody put on hold, though, hear those messages, etc. And they’re custom. I had a client call me he’d been with us six years, and he wanted to cancel our service. And my knee jerk response was, Oh, my gosh, what do we do wrong? And he said, Nothing. I really think people listen to on hold messages, Brian. And I said, Well, let me try something. And Adam, we are involved in conferences all over the country, and we provide a driver for giveaway, it’s worth about $300 in a drawing, and we do this everywhere. I had an extra driver in my office and I said to my client, well, let me try something. I’m gonna go ahead and write five messages. And let’s see if anybody even responds. We’re going to give away a driver on hold. So an example of one of the messages was, we don’t even know if you’re listening to this, but if you are, please tell the receptionist you heard this message when you come off hold and wait. into a drawing for a free $300 driver in 17 days 97 people signed up to win that driver Wow. He kept the service that story I just shared is that is to your point it’s a story I share with people that that think nobody listens to on hold messages and nobody can argue with that because it’s a true experience.

Adam G. Force 21:23

Yeah I love it and that is the key don’t tell demonstrate and that demonstration provides such clarity around the idea it’s powerful and then you’re not just like telling someone something you know where they have no context almost right.

Brian Robinson 21:39

Exactly.

Adam G. Force 21:41

Now the context is there. I love that and it gives value to what you say. I was I was I heard a story about there is a couple of days in Coney Island. This guy’s like I brought my wife to to Coney Island to see this art or no was she brought him to an art display. And there was this guy that did this famous picture of a pig swimming in the ocean. And she’s like, Well, what do you see here? She’s like, well, I see a pig swimming in the ocean. Right? no context. And then the artist, or photographer came over. And essentially this guy started this company for meat purposes on this island, but he didn’t think far enough ahead. And he, you know, didn’t plan on how to feed these pigs. And so long story short, I’m really kind of rushing through it. But long story short, what happens is the he had to a restaurant on another island. So anytime they had all the food scraps, they’d get in a boat, go over to pig Island, and out in the water, they dump all this food and the pigs learned over generation after generation, they’d have to swim out to get the food. So now when they see boats coming, they say, hey, it’s feeding time. And that’s how the photographer was also able to get such close up photos with the pigs and everything else in pig Island. And so at the end his story now the guys like Here’s I want this picture. It’s a great talking piece. It’s a great, you know, like all this stuff, so he added so much value to it. But without that story, there was not a not value where he would want to buy it.

Brian Robinson 23:11

Guess what, Adam? Yeah, I have fed those pigs in the Bahamas get to hell. I’m not kidding. And the weird thing about it, we fed them hot dogs.

Adam G. Force 23:21

There. Yeah. That’s pretty messed up, man.

Brian Robinson 23:27

But it was hilarious. You jump out of the boat and they are they’re just swimming out. It’s so funny. And so fun.

Adam G. Force 23:32

That is cool. That is after hearing that myself. Like, I want to go experience that and it is a cool conversation. Yeah, man. That’s good. That’s good. So um, yeah, so I guess, I guess Tell me a little bit more. I’m curious. One thing that people forget is okay, great. You learned how to talk the talk and walk the walk and you’re able to get clients great. You made the sale. But what about the big, important part of your business, which is post sale and renewals? Mm hmm. I think people forget that part of it.

Brian Robinson 24:11

Well, we’re, you’re right. And we’re fortunate in our industry, we have clients, service representatives, that they’re tasked with reaching out to our clients every 30 days. And so they’re constantly getting touched. So to your point, when renewal time happens, it’s not like I showed up and then come back a year or two or three later and say, hey, guess what, it’s time to renew. And they’re like, Who the heck are you? Yeah. They’ve said, Oh, I’m sorry. I haven’t been changing our content as much as I should. But Kelly always reaches out to me and there’s She’s so good about that. And, wow, I don’t have to work as hard nearly as hard as if I showed up once every x number of months or years, right?

Adam G. Force 24:51

Yes. Yeah. And so I’m gonna just put that into context for people listening is you have a system that works for you. Meaning like, you You don’t have to work as hard because of those very simple light touch points every 30 days. Mm hmm.

Brian Robinson 25:07

And it’s all part it’s automated as well, but we escalate it to a personal contact. If after six days from that automated response, we don’t get anything. Yeah.

Adam G. Force 25:16

And that’s it. I just that’s just a piece

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