What You’ll Learn

Tom DuBos reveals what it really takes to be a good salesperson and how folks can embrace sales opportunities by seeing them as ways to meet needs.

Guest Speaker

Tom DuBos

Show Notes

Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.


Intro: A production of Pioneer Utility Resources. StoryConnect The Podcast, helping communicators discover ideas to shape their stories and connect with their customers.

Andy Johns: What can you do to be a less reluctant salesperson? That’s what we’ll be talking about in this episode of StoryConnect The Podcast. My name is Andy Johns. I’m your host with WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. And I’m joined on this episode by Tom DuBos, who is the sales manager for NISC. Tom, thanks for joining me.

Tom Dubos: You bet. Happy to be here.

Andy Johns: So we are here at the the NIC Conference, the Northwest Innovation and Communication Conference put on by NWPPA. We are here in Anchorage, and we’ve got a couple of sessions that we’re recording here. When I talked to Tom, he and I got to talking about something else, and he’s got a topic called “The Reluctant Salesperson.” And I thought that was a really good topic to unpack. So, Tom tell us what you mean when you talk about a reluctant salesperson.

Tom Dubos: Sure. It’s somebody that either is just not comfortable with it, or they absolutely hate the idea that somebody might consider them a salesperson. And the persona that I had in mind when I created this talk was the key account managers who have fantastic things that they can talk to their customers about and members and help them in great ways. But they feel icky doing that sometimes.

Andy Johns: “Icky” is exactly the word I’ve heard before. Yes.

Tom Dubos: And so that’s what I tried to do was create a training program and some techniques that would help them be more effective, do a better job for their customers and not feel icky about it. The title I gave the talk, which people, you know, have had a good time with is “‘Sales’ is Not a Four Letter Word” and inevitably somebody does one, two, three…

Andy Johns: One, two three, I was doing some math here.

Tom Dubos: And it is factually correct, and it is metaphorically correct as well. And so that kind of breaks the ice a little bit and sets the tone for, “Hey, we’re going to make you better at your job as a result of this.”

Andy Johns: Got it. Yeah. I was doing the math. And the other day I said something about like that where I was counting to five. I did the math. Someone’s like, Andy, “That’s not math. That’s just counting.” Oh, yeah, you’re right. You’re right there. So. Well, let’s talk about that, because most of the people that listen to this podcast, they’re communicators. They’re member services folks. They’re marketing folks on the broadband side of things or either in electric utility. You know, vendors like you and I, it’s you know, there is a sales component there. But what do you talk about when you’re at a conference like this, it’s utility folks here, whether they’re broadband or electric. How is this message important to them?

Tom Dubos: Because if we’re, for example, whether it’s rate programs or anything that’s exist to benefit their customers, somehow we’ve got to communicate that to them. And there’s no reason you can’t help them help themselves by understanding what’s available to them. And yeah, like it or not, that is, selling skills and teaching people what’s in their best interest is incredibly rewarding to do that. And it’s fun when they have those aha moments because you help them get there.

Andy Johns: And I think that’s important. And I really like the way you said that because we, you know, what I have explained to folks is if somebody comes in and has a need and you don’t help them because you’re afraid of feeling like a salesperson, that’s rude. You know, those are people in your community that are counting on you. And if you’re not helping them because you don’t want to be seen as a salesperson, you’re missing out, and you’re doing them a disservice.

Tom Dubos: Exactly. And there is a component to this that’s the precursor to feeling good about doing this, is you’ve got to believe in what you have to offer. I have no advice whatsoever for somebody who’s selling something they don’t believe in.

Andy Johns: Sure.

Tom Dubos: I am not the guy that teaches, you know, how to sell ice to the Eskimos. Not my gig.

Andy Johns: Sure.

Tom Dubos: But if you truly believe that the program, the opportunities that you’re bringing to them are a value to them, then you have a duty to do that. And you’re shirking your responsibility if you say, “Oh, I don’t want to come off as pushy.” And I guess what that transitions into is like, okay, I agree with the concept, but how the heck do I do that?

Andy Johns: Sure.

Tom Dubos: Something I learned years and years ago, there’s three fundamental principles. And if you get those three right, everything else pretty much falls into place. It’s focus on the customer. Earn the right to advance. And persuade through involvement.

Andy Johns: Oh, I like those.

Tom Dubos: And I did not make that up. I learned it in a course years and years ago, and I have now seen it all over the Internet. So I assume it’s public domain now. I’m not too worried about it.

Andy Johns: Well, let’s, I mean, let’s run through a breakdown. We’re still doing good on time. So the first one you said focus on the customer. Yeah, let’s run through that.

Tom Dubos: Sure. Pretty much self-explanatory, and yet human nature says we’re probably not going to do it if we’re not conscious of it. It means not to be focused on your goals, your objectives, and what your boss wants you to do, but what’s truly in their best interest. And it’s more about listening than it is about talking. And that’s one of my myths of salesmanship, is you think it’s the good talker? It’s really the good listener that is more helpful and more effective at the same time.

Andy Johns: What did you say? Sorry I missed that part. No, just kidding. We’re talking about listening. All right.

Tom Dubos: I thought you were listening. I wasn’t.

Andy Johns: We’re just good talkers. So. All right, so your second step.

Tom Dubos: Earn the right to advance.

Andy Johns: Okay, tell me more.

Tom Dubos: It’s a process. You don’t just say, “Hey, I’ve got this great program, and just take my word for it. You know, sign up for it.” You explain why it’s in their best interest, because you focused on what’s important to them, be it reliability is a key or cost is key. We’re barely surviving in our business. And if, in fact you have something that helps meet those objectives, then, you know, you’ve reached the, you know, the magic finish line. You’re able to deliver something. But you don’t get there until you’ve earned that right by learning about their business. And I have a story that I go into about when I was a rookie salesperson and out of fear, I started asking a lot of questions because I was so afraid they would expose me because I didn’t know enough to be an expert.

Andy Johns: Okay, everybody’s got to start somewhere.

Tom Dubos: As a defensive posture, I asked a lot of questions because I figured I couldn’t get in trouble that way. Well, lo and behold, they started sharing information that helped me diagnose what was wrong going on in their business. And I was able to explain, if you do this, this and this, that facility is going to run a whole lot better. And sure enough, they saw that. They proved it out, and it was like I was a hero. And I was, you know, focused on the customer. I was earning the right to advance, and I didn’t even know why. But dumb luck wins sometimes.

Andy Johns: Hey, well, and asking the questions. Yeah. I think that’s an important plate. And then the third step…

Tom Dubos: Is persuade through involvement.

Andy Johns: Okay.

Tom Dubos: You won’t believe nearly as much of what I tell you as you’ll believe what you tell me.

Andy Johns: Oh.

Tom Dubos: So back to that “it’s more important to listen.” And you’re actually, especially if you’re dealing with a committee decision or a multi-tiered decision, is the chances you may not even be talking to the person that has the ultimate authority to say yes to what you’re suggesting. And by you telling me why that’s a good thing, you’re rehearsing to sell it to the next level that I may never get access to. Be that the general manager, be that the board where the ultimate decision takes place. And so not only do you believe it more, you’ve rehearsed it now, so that when you go to the board meeting, which I’m not allowed in, then you can say, well, if we do this and this and this, these are the benefits that we’re going to have. And so it’s both helping you flush out in your mind why it’s important, rehearsing that and then letting you finish the task of winning over the true decision maker.

Andy Johns: I think that’s really good advice all the way around there. How have you seen, and it’s clear attending this conference that Tom is an institution here. Everybody knows Tom. But how have you seen attitudes towards sales change since you were the rookie salesperson that you talked about earlier? Is it, I’m sure there are fundamentals that have stayed the same, but are there, you know, have attitudes changed over the years, either in our industry or elsewhere about the sales process?

Tom Dubos: I guess that’s a classic yes and no. I think that the basic principles of being transparent, being honest, and really keeping their best interests at heart don’t go out of fashion. The ways that we communicate and the things that we talk about, I think that changes with the time, but the principles don’t.

Andy Johns: Got it. We’ve covered a lot of different ground here, but what’s some advice that you would have to somebody, let’s say they’re somebody who’s moving into a role with a little bit of a sales responsibility. Maybe the company started to do broadband or something like that. And there’s somebody who is concerned about that icky feeling that you were talking about. What advice would you have for them? You know, whether it’s internal things with self talk or outward facing things. What’s some advice that you would give somebody who’s facing at least some level of sales coming in and doesn’t want to be icky?

Tom Dubos: Well, I mean, at the risk of being redundant, I’d start with step one focus on the customer. And it isn’t intuitive. We are all naturally somewhat selfish creatures at heart, but if you can put aside what the objective of your business is, put aside what your boss wants you to do today and really understand. I’m a huge Stephen Covey fan and a big part of focus on the customer is that seek first to understand, then to be understood. So very consistent with that rock solid principle is that if you do that, it’s hard to go wrong.

Andy Johns: I think that’s sound advice and not just sales, but all sorts of other spots of life too.

Tom Dubos: In the longer talk I do on this, I introduce it by asking, you know, “Who’s in a sales role?” A few hands go up. “Okay. How many of you are either a manager, a parent, a coach?”

Andy Johns: Right.

Tom Dubos: You know, rattle off a few other roles. It’s like, “Well, congratulations. Every single one of you is employing sales skills, whether you know it or not.”

Andy Johns: Absolutely. I think that’s well said. Well, Tom, I appreciate you joining me. I know there’s a lot going on at the conference, and I’m sure there are other folks that would like to say hello. So I appreciate you taking the time to join me.

Tom Dubos: Thanks so much. I had a great time sharing some of this, and hopefully it does some good.

Andy Johns: I think. So. He’s Tom Dubos. He is the sales manager in NISC. I am Andy Johns, your host with Pioneer. We’ve got a few more episodes we’re going to be recording here at the NIC Conference in Anchorage with NWPPA. Until we talk again, keep telling your story.

Intro: StoryConnect is produced by Pioneer Utility Resources, a communications cooperative that is built to share your story. Our associate producer is Sarah Wootten. StoryConnect is engineered by Lucas Smith of Lucky Sound Studio.