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8 Steps to Winning Sales Presentations with Brian Burkhart

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Sales presentations are the culmination of weeks, months, or even years of work. Getting them right is critical. Brian Burkhart, CEO of Square Planet, has a method of sales presentations that's a little unusual but uber effective. In this episode, you'll learn his 8-step process to winning sales presentations.


8 Steps to Winning Sales Presentations with Brian Burkhart:

Full Transcript

Brian Burkhart:
People want to know that you’re vested in the process. They want your energy and enthusiasm to be part of the equation. And so if you say, “This really matters to me, I really want to work with you, I’m going to ask you right here right now. Can we do this business?” Because this is the stuff I want to do. People typically respond very positively to that. So, that’s a big part of it. Next, and I think this is one of those things that I’m even chuckling when I think about it Liston, because it’s just like, come on folks you got to have things like a closing statement. You got to put a little bowl around it.

Brian Burkhart:
Think about it when you give a gift, right? Like happy birthday, Merry Christmas. You’re giving a present. The root word there, present is part of presentation. Like some word play, right? When you wrap up a present, you put the bowl at the end. Well, you got to put a bowl on the whole thing. You have to do a little summary statement, and it’s shocking to me. How many people just wing it? Like, “Okay, I think that’s it. We’re done here.” No.

Liston Witherill:
That’s Brian Burkhart and he is serious about presentations. I’m serious about this, I haven’t had anyone on the podcast who’s consulted on, produced or even executed as many high stakes presentations as Brian has. He’s got a bone to pick with sales presentations, and that is, most of them fall flat. Having sat through some terrible sales presentations myself, I definitely agree, but I’ve given them too. And no, I’m not here to tell you that this is the magic bullet advice. It’ll make you win every deal. What Brian offers is a real system, a solar system, more on those eight planets later, that gives you a process to follow and it starts with the people you’re presenting to. What strikes me most about Brian is his commitment to both process and the emotional side of sales.

Liston Witherill:
You cannot win deals without having some emotional involvement from your clients. At least you’re not winning as many as you could be if you’re not talking about emotion and addressing the emotion and how people can bond to you and your company. You see, Brian can nerd out on the sales presentation stuff. Sure, definitely. He can do that, but he understands the importance of winning over your client’s hearts, as much as their minds. In this episode of Modern Sales, you’ll learn where so many sales presentations go wrong, what to do instead, and the pillars to include when you build your next sales presentation. Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast that’ll help you sell more by understanding how people buy. I’m your host Liston Witherill, founder of Serve Don’t Sell, and I dig through academic research, interview people inside and outside of sales and nerd out on psychology, economics and neuroscience to figure out how people make decisions.

Liston Witherill:
I am on a mission to change the way 100 million people sell so that buying B2B services can feel just as good as a surprise appearance by Jay-Z on the new Jay Electronica album. Wouldn’t that be nice? If you’re listening on Spotify, hit that follow button so that you don’t miss a single episode. If you listen on iTunes or Apple podcasts, no worries, hit subscribe there, leave an honest review. As long as it’s five stars, it helps me get the word out for the show so we can together change the way 100 million people sell. Thank you in advance for your help.

Liston Witherill:
Quick announcement, I’m opening up a workshop to help you close more deals using a highly consultative approach. During the workshop, you’re going to learn the core sales process, work on three skills that will help you make every meeting more productive, not just sales meetings and make your offers more compelling by telling transformational stories to your clients. The workshop is delivered online and remotely in a four week sprint and is made specifically to help you sell more services. So if you’re a business owner, account executive, account manager, consultant, or professional services provider, this is for you. It’s 100% focused on closing, no management, no prospecting here. If you’re interested in joining the workshop or finding out more about it, just head over to servedontsell.com/workshop to learn more about it. That’s servedontsell.com/workshop for more information, and to sign up now.

Liston Witherill:
Now to the show. It takes weeks, months, or even years to get your dream clients’ attention. A lot of that time is spent in courtship emails, meetings calls, LinkedIn messages, responding to minor requests, arranging meetings, arranging calls, arranging emails, adding things to your CRM, and then sometimes you need to make a big high stakes pitch in order for them to turn into a client. Maybe you’re responding to an RFP or you’re locked into an intense bidding war with your biggest competitors. Maybe this client really wants to switch, but they just haven’t been able to overcome the internal inertia to stick with their current vendor. Pitches like these really matter. And yet so many of those presentations are just blah.

Liston Witherill:
So what should you do to create an emotional imprint in your clients’ minds and get them to choose you and your company over your competitors? Well, you should do eight steps that Brian Burkhart calls the solar system. And the solar system is a method to put together your next sales presentation. What are those eight steps? You’ll find out in my interview with Brian Burkhart right after this short break. Hey there, and welcome to sales. I’m back here with Brian Burkhart of SquarePlanet. Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian Burkhart:
Liston, it is great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Liston Witherill:
Now I have to say we’re going to talk about sales presentations and parts at least of your method for sales presentations, and one of them is connection. And one thing that connects us today is it is so sweltering hot in Portland, Oregon, but it’s so much worse where you are my friend.

Brian Burkhart:
I am in the Valley of the sun, sir and it is toasty. Today it’s 112 degrees about 13 degrees over our typical norm. So it is roasty toasty. Let’s go fry an egg on the sidewalk. It’s real.

Liston Witherill:
I hope you have air conditioning.

Brian Burkhart:
Three of them.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah, okay.

Brian Burkhart:
Which everyone does. That’s not me being special. We do small zones because it gets so hot.

Liston Witherill:
So my house here was built in 1936 and traditionally in Portland, we haven’t really needed air conditioning. And so we have these little window units, and so those need to come out of the basement because it’s that time of year. But we’re not here to talk about the weather. We are here to talk about sales presentations and you and I were connected through a mutual friend, Brad, and one thing that he said was you have this really interesting sales presentation method and you walked me through the whole thing. I love it. I think it’s really interesting, especially some of the things that you point out that are different, but before we get into the nitty gritty of it, I do want to say who it’s for, which is complex often competitive B2B sales.

Liston Witherill:
So think about a situation where there’s a competitive bidding process, maybe an RFP process, maybe just you know that the client is shopping around. They’re going to have multiple vendors proposing on this and you really, really need to do a fantastic job of presenting because we know we’re not the one and only vendor. Is that right?

Brian Burkhart:
I think that’s very well said. The genesis of all this comes from my experience working in the world of pitch. And by that, I mean, I’ve had 10 teams on Shark Tank. I’ve had billions with a B of valuations of dollars from series A, and you name the kind of funding of startups and other entities that have gone through us. And also a really interesting confluence of working with presenters in live events, where I’ve seen the notion of having to have a great deal of influence in a big engaging one shot only kind of environment. And so when I put all those things together, when we codified this eight step process, it became very clear that it wasn’t for every sale.

Brian Burkhart:
It’s exactly as you stated Liston, it’s those big boys that you’ve done all the work for a big chunk of time, and you’re now maybe down to two, three firms vying for that final sale. You’ve got everything on the line. You’ve been working at it perhaps a year plus, you get one shot to get this right and to distinguish yourself from everybody else, you better bring a little bit more to the party. And so that’s where this of presentation methodology was born.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah. I’m wondering, isn’t there a lot of things that happened prior to the pitch that could be determinative of how successful you are at the pitch, no matter how much you prepare?

Brian Burkhart:
Of course, there’s so many things that we can get right or that can help get us derailed pretty quickly. It is absolutely a process that has some shelf life, right? It takes time. I think the thing for me that I’ve realized though, and the reason that this became so important to me and my client base is that often what comes or starts, I should say, as a one person job can end up becoming a team job.

Brian Burkhart:
I do a lot of work in financial services, healthcare, technology. Those are the kinds of verticals we live in and it seems like there’ll be a sales person or rep who will be the leader of that relationship. And then when it’s time to do the final presentation, they’ll have six, seven people, almost always their boss and their boss’s boss as part of that pitch. Well, that’s a very different song to sing all of a sudden. And so it really became something that we realized that there was a need for this kind of methodology.

Liston Witherill:
All the bosses and bosses’ bosses listening to this, please don’t show up just so you can put your name on the deal. That is not helpful to the client. We don’t want that.

Brian Burkhart:
Often the bosses are the problem. They don’t know when to zip it, they don’t know when they should insert themselves in the conversation and they don’t rehearse. If you’re going to do a team-based finals sale, you need to rehearse gang. This is non negotiable. And it is one of those kinds of things that more often than not the big guys have this air of confidence that, “I don’t need to do that.” Yes you do. And you’re not in charge. The guy that is in charge of the relationship is the one that runs that finals meeting. End of story.

Liston Witherill:
I think that just shines a light on one of the foremost problems in sales generally, which is it’s all about me. And that’s a sure fire way to not really knock the socks off of your clients. So I like that. That’s a great segue. So let’s start with how to open one of these presentations. Well, I can say a lot about what I think are wrong with presentations. I’ve sat through a lot of them, myself. I’ve given some really bad ones. How do you recommend someone open up a presentation for maximum impact?

Brian Burkhart:
This is the first of our eight steps, and it’s interesting thing. It’s based on the notion that there are two C words as in Charlie, two C words that make for the best kind of communication. And those words are conviction and connection. Conviction and connection. At this stage in the sales process, by now, let’s hope that your audience is deeply aware of the conviction that you and your team have for your product or service you’re offering. By this point, that conviction level should be very clear. And so what you need to work on is the connection, especially if there’s some new bodies, either on the receiving end of the presentation, or certainly as we just discussed on the giving end. If you’ve got new people the room, you need to do way better than just some initial small talk. You have to work on actively developing a real connection.

Brian Burkhart:
There’s lots of fun techniques. We talk about simple ones like using an app called Today in History where you can tell some really interesting stories based on the calendar, of 17 years ago today was the first time that a man rode across the Pacific in a rowboat. Well, that’s cool. I know it’s ridiculous, but those little moments, if you can take them, connect them to your message in a really profound way, open with a really cool story, you can now ingratiate your audience in a way that makes them go, “Oh, they care. This is interesting.” They’re actually connecting. Perhaps my favorite is to use the power of the internet and really dive into those that I’m going to be speaking to. I like to find out where they went to school, that kind of activities they might enjoy, the teams they might root for.

Brian Burkhart:
Like for me, my wife and I are ceramic potters. People always think of the movie Ghost. It’s not that sexy, it’s just a bunch of people playing in the mud, but it was in my LinkedIn profile about how we’ve got our pottery studio in downtown Phoenix, and someone pitched me by saying, “Hey, I’m a fellow potter.” And the next thing you know, we spent the first 30 minutes talking about that. Of course, I had a greater degree of connection. Of course, I wanted to do business with them. They took their time to know about me and connect with me at a human level. It seems basic, but it’s shocking what a cursory glance, most salespeople and teams do at this stage of the sales presentation. It needs to be way deeper than just that little top level kind of, “Isn’t it hot out today? It’s not enough.”

Liston Witherill:
Yes. I agree with you. Now, one thing I will say, and I was having a conversation with a prospect this week and I pushed back on them because they were talking about how important liking is in the sales process. I generally agree liking is important, but I think more than anything, it’s a tie breaker. So if my product and service is the same as someone else’s and I’m liked a little bit more, I’m likely to get the deal, right? But if my product or service is not superior or not, at least on par, I think we have a problem. So one thing I don’t want anyone to take away from this is that connection is the absolute most important thing, because it’s a big picture.

Brian Burkhart:
I totally agree. As the guy who was promoting the notion of connecting first, it is to say that if all things are equal, if you can connect at a really human, genuine, authentic level, the likelihood of the business going your way is predominantly higher.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah. And the inverse can be true. And the story I told this guy was, “My wife and I are getting fertility treatment.” And it’s a big emotional decision, right? We did not enjoy any of the sales process, any of the onboarding process. We’ve actually been me in my role as someone who thinks about and writes about and talks about this stuff all the time. I’ve been very disappointed at the way they’ve run that process because the doctor was likable, sure but the process wasn’t very good. And yet we’re still going to go with them because the product is better than all the alternatives.

Brian Burkhart:
I actually had a, this is not long ago. I had four wisdom teeth taken out. I’m 50 years old and I had to get my wisdom teeth taken out, but I had a fifth tooth that was cracked, and when I went to the oral surgeon to get it done, he was Dr. Harvard is what we tease because he went to school and has the big fancy degree, but the process was awful. They ordered me around, there was no bedside manner, if you will. I called her out on it. I said, “I’m only here because you’re pedigree. It’s clear that you were the top guy going, but everything about this makes me feel repelled versus connected to you and your team.” And it was interesting that I found no problem having that conversation after my teeth were bold. I kept it, of course close to the vest before.

Liston Witherill:
What was his response?

Brian Burkhart:
He actually was very appreciative. I think that he didn’t necessarily have people that would be honest and tell the truth that way. I did it in a, I wasn’t complaining. It was more of from one business owner to another. Let me help you because you’re missing an opportunity here.

Liston Witherill:
Yep. So second in the process for sales presentations, you say you have to reveal your core beliefs. And personally, this one really hit home for me because I think I’m very motivated by my core beliefs and a lot of the work that I do has it embedded into the work. But I often don’t come out and say it directly to clients. So what do you mean when you say we have to talk about our core beliefs and why is that so influential?

Brian Burkhart:
This is a big one, Liston. We could spend a long time on this. I actually wrote a whole book about this. This is a big deal, and essentially what it comes down to is it’s deeply rooted in science. It’s this thing called cognitive psychology theory that tells us our beliefs lead to our actions. Let me say that again. Our beliefs lead to our actions. If you believe your body is your temple, you’re only given one and if you abuse it bad things happen. If you take care of it, good things happen. There’s a good likelihood that you’ll eat right and work out regularly and avoid things like drugs and cigarettes, et cetera. Your belief absolutely will dictate your actions. And so if you think about it from a standpoint in business, if we know what we stand for, if we know what we believe, it can help dictate our actions.

Brian Burkhart:
The core belief of my main company SquarePlanet is make waves. We exist to make waves. We believe in making waves. I’m out here in Phoenix, there’s no water. The waves I make are not of the aquatic variety, it’s about helping our clients really rethink their message so it stands out. So people remember, so they act on those messages. There are lots of people, lots that maybe hear that I’m all about. Hear the notion of making waves and they say, “Man, that is for me. I need that kind of spirit. They’re my guys.” Of course, on the flip side, there are other people who go, “Oh no, no, no. I have to keep things very much close to the vest, status quo. I want to make no waves.” By knowing clearly our core beliefs and then stating them loudly and proudly, we find the exact right people to work with.

Brian Burkhart:
What typically happens in a sales process is no one’s ever taken the time to figure out what it is they stand for. They have no idea what they believe, and so now science is turned on its head. Actions are left in many ways to chance. And so if you can help really make it clear to the prospect, what it is that your firm stands for, and these are evergreen kind of things. These don’t change every time. This is the kind of stuff like, Whole Foods doesn’t decide all of a sudden that, “This week we’re going to sell Oreos. No, these are really cemented, firmly, deeply rooted things that your whole company is anchored to.

Brian Burkhart:
I am not tomorrow going to suddenly just be easy and commonplace. I’m always going to make waves, and I’m looking for clients that agree and believe the same thing. When that happens, it’s done. We’re good. It’s over. No one else comes close to winning. It’s locked. We’ve got the business. And more often than not, it’s shocking. If you really stop and think about it, do you know what your company’s core beliefs are? Different than the mission, different than the values, different than even things like a brand promise. A core belief is that set of ideal principle things that we stand for. And once that’s really codified and clear changes the game.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah. The name of my business is Serve Don’t Sell. And so really underlying that is I believe our purpose and the meaning of life comes from serving others, and that it’s not religious. It’s just sort of a practical thing that I believe and know to be true. And so I always say, “Sir, first, if you’re not serving someone, even if it’s against your self interest, then you’re doing something wrong in your business.” You’re just not spending time with the right people or there’s something off, and so we have to serve first. Now let me ask you this though, my guess is if I say that to a lot of people, even though I know they don’t practice it, they would probably say, “Yeah, of course well everybody knows that.” I mean, is that true of serve first or even make waves? Or can it be so different and so impactful than it actually does make a difference for the client?

Brian Burkhart:
That is a heck of a question. I would tell you that I think authenticity must be a huge part of this equation. And it’s something that people have a pretty good BS meter we can sniff out disingenuousness at a fairly high level. That’s a tough word to say, disingenuousness, by the way.

Liston Witherill:
Yes, you nailed it.

Brian Burkhart:
Thank you, and it’s interesting because things like the moment that I cave, when I acquiesced to a lousy the idea. My client knows that they’ve won up me and I’m no longer making waves, I feel miserable. It feels awful. I know that I just caved and didn’t stick up for my own values for the things I believe in, and I’ve done that. I mean, that happens all the time. We’re humans, we make those kinds of mistakes. Our foibles and flaws are real. I think the way it really typically works, if you’re saying, let’s say that you’re selling to me, Liston, and you’re saying that you’re all about service. If I just sort of shake my head and say, “Yep, you’re right.” Where it gets really interesting is when you start dropping examples of how you serve first. If you don’t see the other party volley back, it’s bupkis.

Brian Burkhart:
But guys like me, I lead with being generous first and foremost. People talk to me all the time about how I’m constantly giving everything away. I mean, even things like my sales methodology, I give the eight steps away for free here, take them. I’ll send you the PDF, go for it. It’s that notion of serving. I deeply agree with you, and so both of us can have a volley of examples back and forth. When that doesn’t happen, they’re lying to you.

Liston Witherill:
Well, so I want to go back and reference the disclaimer that I gave at the beginning of the podcast, which was this method is for these larger or higher stakes sales. I’m actually going to challenge you on that. I think that what you’re proposing here could be true and useful for any type of sale. It just may be condense slightly, but this is super useful.

Brian Burkhart:
There’s nothing to challenge. I couldn’t agree with you more. The only reason that I’ve been looking at this larger market, it’s because a big part of it is when we step in to help people build out these parts and consult along the way. My price is pretty real, and so what I’ve realized is that while the methods… and that’s why I give away the eight steps, here you go, take them and let everybody have them, right? But for that component where we jump in and help, you got to pay for that. And so it’s just not for the small-ish sale necessarily.

Liston Witherill:
So let’s turn to the one thing. Of course, this was a popular book. There was a book named The ONE Thing, and I don’t think that’s what you’re referencing, but it’s also a quote from Curly as you pointed out in the pre-interview from City Slickers.

Brian Burkhart:
City Slickers. Yeah. Curly, the cowboy.

Liston Witherill:
Which by the way, I recently watched that movie on an airplane. Fantastic movie. Still holds up.

Brian Burkhart:
It holds up after all these years, right?

Liston Witherill:
Most of it, yeah. Some of the jokes, I don’t think you’d hear today, but it does hold up. So tell me what we mean by The ONE Thing. I’m thinking about it in the context of, let’s just be slightly meta here and say your pitching this sales presentation consulting work that you can do for a client, there’s going to be thousands of little things and decisions that need to be made in order to execute on it. So in that context, what do you mean by The ONE Thing?

Brian Burkhart:
I’ll give you a real life example. This was roughly one year ago, more or less right now. Here in Phoenix is an incredibly cool company that’s had a tremendous amount of news and publicity. Some negative, but predominantly positive. It’s a company called Nikola Motor Company as in Nikola Tesla. The founder really is this kind of amazing almost Steve Jobs like kind of guy. What they created is a hydrogen powered electric truck. So think Big Rig, and it’s a pretty amazing technology. About a year ago, we were in the running for about a million and a half dollar project to do the public release of their new vehicles. This was going to be a big deal and a million and a half dollars, that’s not nothing, that’s a pretty sizable sale. And when we went to go visit with the folks at Nikola, the people that we were against were almost always firms based in Detroit, who had a tremendous amount of experience revealing cars. Their clients were Audi and GM and it was a whole different kind of deal.

Brian Burkhart:
We were the small local vendor who did a bunch of work in healthcare and financial services. We had never revealed a truck before, but the thing that was so important, the thing that was so different, the one thing that we shared was our notion of make waves, deeply coincided with Nikola’s wanting to make a dent in the world. And there is some reason to believe that this is a blur between core beliefs. I get that, but in this particular case, the example I want people to walk away with here, is that we could have talked about any number of things. We could have talked about how being small will be most nimble. Being local will be the most price efficient. You don’t have to travel back and forth. We could have gone through a number of things and say, “That’s the biggest value that we can provide.”

Brian Burkhart:
But what we really leaned into was this notion of we see the world the same way. That like-mindedness, yes, it’s close to the notion of core belief, but in this case, it was both. Our core beliefs matched and it was the one thing that separated us from everybody else. I’ve told you this story before, one of my clients is a Chicago based technology firm called Kin and Carta. They’ve got offices on three continents, about 800 people, really cool stuff. They were pitching Mary Kay, the cosmetics firm. I actually don’t even know it has not yet been released about who got the business, but it was a couple million dollars worth of digital disruption technology. And the one thing that we had my guys lead to the folks at Mary Kay with, was the notion of female empowerment. Our team, our Kin and Carta team is led by some incredible female CEO types.

Brian Burkhart:
Their leadership at the highest levels are women, and they are unbelievable. Some of them best people, not just females on the planet. I would walk through fire for those ladies. And Mary Kay, they’ve always been about female empowerment. So forget about the technology. That’ll constantly change. Who cares about the price? Let’s not worry about service team or what the final product is going to be. Let’s talk about the notion that we are here to empower women. That was the one thing, and it went incredibly well. They reported back to me after the pitch, that was the best they’d ever done in their entire history because they follow this methodology and lean into that notion of that one thing that separates us from everybody else, it’s smart, hard and important, but you got to do it.

Liston Witherill:
And so essentially if I understand correctly, it’s almost like a core theme of the presentation. It answers the question, why you? It answers the question, how are you different from the competition? It answers the question, how will we be approaching this from start to finish?

Brian Burkhart:
Yes. One little way to think about that, it’s if I’m the one pitching, I like to teach this to our clients. It’s why us now. Add that word now to it, because why us, that should be evergreen and stand the test of time. But for this specific time and place, this one particular opportunity, why us now. If you can answer that one little antecedent to it, you’re in business.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah. There’s a pretty well known sales trainer, John Barrows, who talks about in his cold emails. He always includes why me, why now? And if you can’t include that, then you don’t even have any business emailing someone.

Brian Burkhart:
That’s exactly it.

Liston Witherill:
Okay. That’s interesting. I like this idea of having this core theme and why it’s especially relevant to the client. Let’s turn to problems. So right now we’re going in order just for the listener. It’s hard to give you a roadmap during a podcast, right? But basically we’re going in order through Brian sales presentation methodology, and next up is diagnosing the problem. So this is an issue near and dear to my heart. Tell me, what do you mean when you say a lot of people get this wrong and what we really need to do is diagnose the problem.

Brian Burkhart:
I don’t think any of this is going to surprise you, Liston, nor will it surprise those that really are good students of the sales game. I live not too many hours away from the Grand Canyon. And if I was on the edge, I could yell whatever little phrase I wanted to, and it would be echoed back to me. That’s great. It’s kind of fun, but that’s not really what we want to do when it comes to a sales presentation. It happens a lot. We will ask lots of good probing questions. We’ll get into some stuff, and the method that a lot of people employ is they’ll say what I heard you say was, and they’ll list or echo all of the things that the potential client stated. That’s great, but that doesn’t necessarily diagnose the problem. And what I want people to do is take that whole notion of what they heard a step further.

Brian Burkhart:
It’s things like if you heard your car making some funny noises and a light went on, on the dash, and if you let go of the wheel, it pulled one direction. You would feel all these symptomatic things. You’d have some tells that something’s up, but you may not necessarily know exactly what it is. So you’d go to the mechanic, they put it up on the lift, they do what they do, and they say, “Liston, the problem is you’ve got a broken X, Y, and Z, and if we change the A, B and C, you’ll be good to go.” “Bam, do it go.” That’s a very different animal than them saying, “You know, you’re right. It does go to the left, and you’re right I did see that light on the dash and you’re right it does sound funny.” That doesn’t help you. You want them to diagnose the problem and fix it.

Brian Burkhart:
It’s truly one of those things where echoing and saying, “I’ve heard you.” Yeah, it’s got its place. It’s important, it shows you care. It shows that you did your initial probe to get to the problem. But then you’ve got a responsibility to that client to say that you heard it, you took all your years of experience, your knowledge, your team’s experience and knowledge, and you figured out that’s the solution can be X, Y, or Z, based on the notion of this thing, the problem that you diagnosed. It’s deeper than just a simple echo. Does that make sense?

Liston Witherill:
It does, and the way that I would say it is usually when we’re collecting problems from our client, what they’re giving us is symptoms or the effects of whatever’s happening and what we need to do is get to the cause. What’s the root cause?

Brian Burkhart:
That’s exactly it.

Liston Witherill:
Where is this coming from? And the truth is, I think whether you’re a business owner or a service provider or a salesperson, you should be an expert in this area. You’ve dealt with more clients than your client has dealt with this problem, right? So you should be able to pick up on patterns where it’s pretty clear to you based on your client’s feedback, what’s actually going on, what’s causing it and therefore what the solution could be. And that’s how you would determine whether or not you can help someone or not.

Brian Burkhart:
There’s one part there that I think is worth noting.

Liston Witherill:
Please.

Brian Burkhart:
I think you’re going to agree with me. We have not talked about this in the past, and so if you disagree, let’s definitely have this conversation. One of the things that is really powerful is if a potential client states what they think of the solution should be, and after hearing all the different symptoms, you come back and actually say, “Well, I hear you, but I think the right way to resolve this is this and it’s something divergent. That can create a really strong connection where they believe and trust in you, that willingness to buck the trend of the client’s conversation or talking points can be very, very powerful. I think it’s one of those kinds of things where you’re not trying to be a jerk. You’re not trying to say, “You’re wrong. I’m right.” What you’re just trying to do is the right thing. When you can authentically give people a solution that will fix their problems, solve their need. You’re looking good, and that’s all part of that.

Liston Witherill:
In practice, what you’re doing is you’re collecting your clients’ pain points and then you’re asking them, “What do you think is causing this?”

Brian Burkhart:
For sure. I think it’s one of kinds of things where the more you get them talking and the more they become free with words and ideas, the better job you can do of diagnosing. But by being that pointed, what do you think is causing this? You can get a ton of info. So, that’s definitely a skill that’s a little bit different than my eight step methodology. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on that, but I think we all know in sales, probing questions go a very long way.

Liston Witherill:
Totally. So got to ask open ended questions and also shut up and listen, and try to turn the conversation back to yourself. So I agree with you. So sort of the underpinning of The Challenger Sale, I’m sure you’ve heard of that book.

Brian Burkhart:
Oh, yeah.

Liston Witherill:
Was like, look for ways to push back and challenge the way your client thinks, which I think goes a step in to me in the wrong direction where the goal is to disagree, just to play this like power dynamic. I don’t think you’re suggesting that, but I don’t want anyone listening to this to think like the whole point is to disagree with the client. I do agree with the idea that if you have a divergence of opinion from the client, you have to tell them and you have to be kind about it, and you have to explain yourself and communicate well, why you think your opinion is different and why you think it’s the right one. But I don’t think it’s a good thing to do it just because, “Hey, in every sale we need to disagree with the client. At least one time.” I’m not saying you’re suggesting that, but I don’t want anyone to take that away.

Brian Burkhart:
Boy, I am not. I mean, sincerely, when you look at it from the standpoint of, I say this, my job is to make waves, right? I didn’t say my job is to be a jerk.

Liston Witherill:
Right. Exactly.

Brian Burkhart:
Really what it’s about is trying to come from a very deep place of love, of authentically caring about the client and their end solution when I challenged people or make waves because I care. The difference is very palpable. They can tell, I’m not trying to be disobedient and difficult, I’m trying to make sure that whatever the final thing is because it reflects on them way more than it does on me, I want it to be amazing. And that’s just an attitude and a way of being, but every now and then it can get a little bit dicey, a little bit challenging, but that’s not a predominant way of going to market. No.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah. So let’s talk about closing out the presentation. In the pre-interview you mentioned that a lot of salespeople will come to these presentations. They’ll do their song and dance, right? Give their presentation however much preparation or lack of preparation went into it. And then they’re sort of left, hoping that things go well. How do you close one of these presentations? So you’re not so much relying on hope as you feel like you’ve done everything that you could have done.

Brian Burkhart:
Well, it starts way before you ever get in the room, in that case the virtual room. Even things like these eight steps, it’s a very easily repeatable framework. Just having that basic structure of knowing, “Okay, let me start filling in the eight spots.” That alone is going to help put in a position where you’re in a greater level of power, of confidence of being able to sell something in a way that maybe you didn’t always have if you’re trying to reinvent the wheel every time. So it starts just by following the framework. But I think what you’re really asking about is the eighth step, which is the closing step, which first and foremost includes quite literally asking for the business. Still shocking to me. I do realize how difficult it is, I know it can feel pushy, but you’ve got to ask for the business.

Brian Burkhart:
There is just no ands, ifs or buts about it. You can be subtle, you can use different words and phrases, but you’ve got to ask. The thing about that for me, and I think it’s kind of interesting is that people want to know that you’re vested in the process. They want your energy and enthusiasm to be part of the equation. And so if you say, “This really matters to me, I really want to work with you. I’m going to ask you right here right now, can we do this business?” Because this is the stuff I want to do. People typically respond very positively to that. So, that’s a big part of it. Next, and I think this is one of those things that I’m even chuckling when I think about it Liston, because it’s just like, come on folks, you got to have things like a closing statement.

Brian Burkhart:
You got to put a little bowl around it. Think about it when you give a gift, right? Like happy birthday, Merry Christmas. You’re giving a present. The root word there, present is part of presentation. Like some word play, right? When you wrap up a present, you put the bowl at the end. Well, you got to put a bowl on the whole thing. You have to do a little summary statement, and it’s shocking to me, how many people just wing it? Like, “Okay, I think that’s it. We’re done here.” No, there’s a conclusion at the end of a book. There’s a way that TV show or movie ends, same with your presentation. You need that closing summary statement. People fail on that. And then the one that hurts me the most is the simple followup.

Brian Burkhart:
I think there is just such a lack of discipline on so many different people when it comes to the followup in a very personal way. I always suggest the most cursory thing in my mind is a handwritten thank you note. And even in the age of virtual, we can find people’s home address, you can ask. I mean, you could say, “I want to send you a thank you note.” That’s an okay thing to say. You have to follow up and actually do it. It’s an implied contract. But if I said, “Liston, I want to send you a thank you note. Would you mind giving me your home address?” You’re going to say yes 9.9 out of 10 times. People don’t, and so that little final followup, and there’s lots of ways to be creative around that big necessary steps.

Liston Witherill:
So asking for the sale. So I agree with you. I think that one thing that I’ve observed is a lot of people are lacking enthusiasm, right? Who wants to hire someone who just seems lukewarm on the project or on working with the client? Like no one wants that kind of person, right? So I think having enthusiasm is really important. One thing that I’ve seen though, is on the notion of asking for the sale. I would separate out, on the one hand I want to tell them directly. I want to do this work. Here’s why I think I’m going to be great at it. Let’s get started, right? That’s a little bit different than prompting someone for a yes or no response. And what I’ve seen is let’s take the situation we started with, you’re giving a presentation, there’s five decision makers in the room, probably senior executives.

Liston Witherill:
If you ask them directly, especially in a competitive situation, are we going to do this or not? And obviously there’s a crude way of saying it, but if you ask something like that and you’re prompting them for a response, what I find is in a room of multiple people, they’re going to really struggle to respond because they want to sort of build a consensus first. Do you find that also? Or do you not let that stop you?

Brian Burkhart:
Yet again, we fully agree. I think it’s a terrible way of doing it to say, “I want the business right here right now. Will you sign on the dotted line?” I think it’s that more subtle of, “I want to do this work together. I hope we can.” That is still asking for the business. The language is different, but the minute you ask them to make the decision right then and there, they instantly become defensive and you’ve done probably a bad thing there.

Liston Witherill:
Right. That can be seen as off-putting.

Brian Burkhart:
Absolutely.

Liston Witherill:
All right, sir. Well, you have been very kind to share this methodology. I really appreciate you pointing some of these things out. It’s been super, super actionable. If someone wanted to follow up with you, learn more about Brian or SquarePlanet, what should they do?

Brian Burkhart:
A couple of easy things, one is just go to squareplanet.com. I always say this and people giving me this quizzical look. I say, “Think round earths.” Yeah, squareplanet.com. Second, you could by all means, buy my book called Stand for Something. It is an Amazon bestseller in a bunch of different business categories, which won’t get into this, but it will help deeply with that notion of core belief. It’s all about that core belief. And then of course, LinkedIn. Just check me out Brian Burkhart at LinkedIn, I would love to connect with people. And if you do, by all means, let me know and I will gladly send you the eight steps. We have a cool little PDF. It’s my pleasure to share that, and if people want additional help, you’ve been better.

Liston Witherill:
Awesome. So dear listener, I want you to test Brian. See if he will actually send you that PDF.

Brian Burkhart:
I will gladly send it.

Liston Witherill:
Connect with him on LinkedIn and ask for it. Brian, thanks for being here.

Brian Burkhart:
Liston, you’re the best. Cool off, go find an AC you’ll be fine. A couple ice packs in her forehead and neck. You’ll be all right. 112 brother, I got you.

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Check out the four sales fundamentals every top performer masters, how to use value-based selling to increase your leverage, and how to improve your remote selling skills as the world becomes more virtual.

And check out the SDS method if you want to improve your sales process.

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