Nikki Rausch of Sales Maven: “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”

Do you know your business could be much bigger than it currently is, but aren’t sure how to get there? I can help!

One of the reasons this skill is ignored is because there is a misconception that only a certain personality type is meant for sales. Many people think Extroverts make better sales people. This has not been my experience. I’ve worked with and managed many different personality types and what I’ve found is that the best sales people are the ones that know how to build rapport with people who have a different communication style than them. It has very little to do with Extrovert vs. Introvert personality styles.

As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nikki Rausch. Nikki is the CEO of Sales Maven, an organization dedicated to authentic selling, Nikki Rausch has the unique ability to transform the misunderstood process of “selling”.

With 25+ years of experience selling to such prestigious organizations as The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, and NASA, Nikki shattered sales records in many industries, receiving multiple “top producer” awards along the way.

Today, entrepreneurs and small business owners from a wide range of disciplines hire Nikki to show them how to sell successfully and authentically, without being pushy or salesy.

Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?

My first professional job out of college was an inside sales position working for a technology company. I started in what was a referred to as a “dialing for dollars” outbound position. That means I had a to make 40+ calls a day to generate sales. From there I moved up and became the National Sales Manager and eventually went to work for one of the largest companies in the world as a Regional Sales Manager. In 2006, I started studying Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) as a way to improve my communication and sales skills. After becoming a Master Certified Practitioner of NLP with over 1200 classroom hours, I found that selling and building long-lasting client relationships came so much easier to me. In 2013, I started Sales Maven, teaching business owners how to improve their sales conversations. In the last seven years I’ve trained hundreds of people how to sell more effectively.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

Before I started my company, Sales Maven, a friend who I met at a business networking event pulled me aside and told me that I should teach people how to sell. I’d been offering her sales strategy advice for about six months and she was getting exceptional results as she implemented it. When she first brought up this idea of having a sales coaching business, my instant knee-jerk reaction was to say, “That seems dumb, nobody needs me to teach them how to sell. It’s too easy to learn.” She then pointed out that it only seemed easy to me because I had been doing it for twenty years. It was a huge ah-ha moment. Over the years I’ve found that the things that come easy to us are often the things we should sell and charge others to learn from us. This is a lesson I now teach my own clients. Once they have their core offer, now I guide them through a simple step-by-step process to sell it.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My exciting new project is the launch of my podcast, Sales Maven. For years I’ve been featured as a guest on other people’s podcasts (over 60 guest appearances) and that is one way many clients find their way to my work. After realizing how many people were listening to my guest appearance episodes, I decided that the best way to serve people who wanted to hear from me was to put out my own curated content. The Sales Maven podcast allows me to focus on the topics and strategies that I know people can easily implement and get results. Listeners have already reached out and shared success stories of how they are incorporating what I teach into their selling process. This is my way of supporting people who may just be starting out and not yet ready to invest in a sales coach.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There have been many people who’ve supported my success. I’ve been privileged to work with amazing coaches and I am surrounded by exceptional business owners who encourage me. One person in particular who stands out is my accountability partner, Julie Fry. Julie and I met years ago when she asked me to speak at her networking group. She had built this fabulous group called Business Among Moms which catered to women balancing business and motherhood. Even though I’m not a mom, she welcomed me into the group. We became friends and then business accountability partners. As an accountability partner we would meet one time a week to talk about what we each accomplished, what we were committing to working on the next week and we would strategize and offer each other advice. In addition to all that she brought into my life as an accountability partner, she also opened doors for me with other successful women business owners. The last two business coaches I’ve hired in my business both came from Julie’s recommendations. It is people like her that show the rest of us how important it is to make connections for others. These connections have been life and business changing for me.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?

I have over 25 years as a sales professional. For seventeen of those years, my primary job was selling technology into large organizations. I’ve closed deals that range from a few dollars to as much as three million dollars. In my business now, I teach people the art of the sales conversation and how to seamlessly move a client through the selling process. It’s been a huge privilege to teach hundreds of people how to sell successfully and boost their confidence along the way. It’s my belief that anyone can learn how to sell and my clients have demonstrated this over and over again.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

First, reach out and connect with the important people in your life virtually. There are so many great platforms available to keep us connected. A few that I use daily are Zoom and Voxer.

Zoom is a video platform. I’ve been able to set up video chats with my friends that I can no longer meet for in-person lunch dates. It’s allowed for us to share about what we are experiencing and support each other.

The second platform that I use daily is one called Voxer. Voxer is a voice communication app. It’s a way to leave voice messages without having to listen to a voice mail greeting or jump through any hoops to check the message. The messages reside in the app and can be played over and over again. This is a tool I use daily with clients and with my loved ones.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versalite topics, is totally ignored?

One of the reasons this skill is ignored is because there is a misconception that only a certain personality type is meant for sales. Many people think Extroverts make better sales people. This has not been my experience. I’ve worked with and managed many different personality types and what I’ve found is that the best sales people are the ones that know how to build rapport with people who have a different communication style than them. It has very little to do with Extrovert vs. Introvert personality styles.

Also, often people who excel at a certain skill struggle to teach others to do something that has become second nature to them. Sales is a skill set that once you learn it, you apply it to all areas of your life so people often “forget” that when they are successfully communicating, they are utilizing a sales skill or technique. When you don’t understand how you get exceptional results, it’s hard to teach others how to do it too.

This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?

What you most want to avoid is behavior that your client finds off-putting. Some people may appreciate an aggressive sales person where as others prefer someone to take a more relaxed approach. I teach my clients to take their cues from the customer. Notice the customer’s behavior and adjust your own behavior to put them at ease.

If you find that a prospect is pulling away from you, it’s often because you need to change what you’re doing. Learning how to recognize body language and subtle cues prospects give and then adjusting accordingly will make the sales conversation easier.

The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?

The stage I’m the best at is Closing. My unique approach to closing sales starts with my Five-Step Selling process called The Selling Staircase. By breaking the sales conversation down into these five steps it ensures that the prospect is engaged and interested at every step in the conversation.

Step One is Introduction: Prospects are being introduced to you/your business for the first time. Make a positive first impression.

Step Two is Curiosity: Engage with your prospect in a way that causes them to want more/ask questions. Be on the lookout for Buying Signals and act on them immediately.

Step Three is Discovery: Learn about the prospect, what’s their biggest struggle/need/want. Ask the right questions.

Step Four is Proposal: Clearly lay out an offer/proposal that meets the prospects needs.

Step Five is Close: Use closing language and then Zip It! Allow for your prospect to respond first. If an objection is raised, be ready to uncover and overcome the “real” objection.

It’s your job to lead a prospect through each step without trying to automatically skip ahead to the Close. When you skip steps in the selling process, people get turned off by your approach. It’s like walking up to someone on the street and getting in their face and saying, “Do you want to buy from me?” The person may be so taken aback that they get confused or angry that you’re approaching them out of the blue. Build rapport and be sure to lead a prospect from step to step to step and then you’ll get to the place where you exchange product/service for money.

Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

One of the fundamental strategies that I use and teach my clients is how to use your existing connections to open doors to your ideal clients. The way to do this is to reach out to a contact and ask them if they would be willing to make an introduction to someone in particular on your behalf.

Here is an example of what you might say:

“Hi (insert name),

How are you? What’s new with you and your business?

There have been some fun things happening recently for me. (Insert a sentence or two about something you’ve done recently).

The purpose of reaching out is to ask you for a favor? Starting (insert time frame) there’s a new program launching. The focus of the program is (insert info). This seems like something your friend (insert name of the person you’d like an introduction too) might benefit from. Would you be willing to make an introduction on my behalf to (insert name again)?

Attached is some additional information about the program in case you’d like to take a look at it.

Please reach out with any questions or anything I can do to support you and/or be a resource in some way.”

In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?

People often struggle to handle objections because they falsely assume an objection is rejection. That is rarely the case. You actually want to hear what the objections are from a prospect. Until you know what the objection is, you have no way to overcome it. Learning how to be curious when objections arise will make overcoming it easier.

To be better at handling objections, you must first uncover what the real objection is — sometimes prospects don’t reveal that right away. A tip is to use what’s known as a conditional close questions.

Here is how it works. The prospect voices an objection, then you say, “If I were to demonstrate to your satisfaction that (insert their objection) could be taken care of, would you be interested in moving forward and working together?” You may need to adjust the Conditional Close language to fit the objection but that is the basic layout.

So for example a prospect says, “I can’t afford it.” You might say, “If I were able to offer you a payment plan, would you be interested in moving forward and working together?”

If the prospect says, “No, even with a payment plan, I can’t afford it”, then this person is not a legitimate prospect. In these moments, I do what I call, “Bless and Release”. Thank the person for their time and then end the conversation with a statement like: “If anything changes in the future, please know you’re welcome to reach out to me as I’d appreciate the opportunity to earn your business.”

However, if the person says, “Tell me about the payment plan” then you know you still have a chance to earn their business.

A few years back a woman said that exact objection to me, I issued the Conditional Close question and she said, “Even with a payment plan, I don’t think I could afford it.”

I said, “I understand, if at any point in the future something changes, please know I’d love to earn your business as you are an ideal client for me.”

She then said, “Well, tell me about this payment plan.” I explained the payment plan option and then asked for her business. She said, “You know what, I want to be able to handle an objection just the way you did with me, so I’m hiring you.” She then paid me in full.

When someone voices an objection, be willing to check it out and get curious. It may be what’s needed to earn the sale.

‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.

Here are five things you should do in order to move someone through the sales process so you get to the close.

  1. Ask questions during the discovery process that lead a prospect to hiring you. For instance, ask questions that you need the answer to in order to lay out a clear proposal, don’t waste time asking questions you only need the answer to once the person hires you. A few months back, I worked with a client that was struggling to get people to keep discovery session appointments. When I looked over her process, I found that she was asking people to fill out a questionnaire before the discovery session. The questions she was asking were fairly invasive. When I asked her about it, she said she would need that information once they started working together. I asked her to rethink her process and only give the questionnaire to clients once they hired her. With that little change, her success rate went up significantly and her prospects were showing up for the discovery sessions.
  2. Don’t sell during the discovery session. When you do this, you may miss finding out the information you most need to earn someone’s business. I had a client last summer that was struggling to close business. He sent me a recording of an initial meeting he had with a client. His process was to ask a client a question, let them answer, and then start into a sales pitch. He followed this format through-out the whole discovery session. When I pointed it out to him, and explained the importance of getting through all of his initial questions without selling, he found the appointments went much smoother. Clients were more revealing about how to earn their business. His close rate went up.
  3. Ask permission before launching into your sales pitch. After you’ve done a great job on the discovery process, now is the time to explain how someone can get their needs met/problem solved by hiring you. The way to easily move someone to this step is to say: “Based on what we’ve talked about, I do see a way we might work together. Would you be interested to talk more about this?” When you get a yes from the prospect, you have prepared them to listen to your offer. In my many years in sales, this step has been crucial to the closing process. People who end up hiring me often report how easy it was to go through the process with me and how it felt good. You want your prospects to feel good through the sales process so be sure to show them respect and ask permission before you launch into a sales pitch.
  4. Once you’ve laid out your offer/a way to work with you, be sure to issue close language. Close language could be something as simple as saying, “Are you ready to move forward?” Or “Based on the options we discussed, which is the best fit for you right now?” Often sales people get to the end of the sales process and they forget to issue the close language or they say something like, “Here’s how we can work together, think about it and let know.” This is one of the worst things you can say as you’re telling your prospect, “No need to make a decision now”. Once a woman heard me talking about issuing close language and she said to me, “Nikki, I sell to adults so I don’t need to issue close language, if they want to hire me, they’ll let me know.” To which I kindly explained that is not the case. Many people won’t make a decision to hire you until you issue close language so you need to say it every time in every sales situation.
  5. Zip It. Once you’ve issued close language, your job is to be quiet and wait. Let the prospect be the first to speak. If you keep talking you may be guilty of what’s called Selling Past The Close. It’s a way you talk people out of hiring so don’t do it. As a young sales professional, I had an amazing sales mentor who taught me this. I was in his office one day asking his permission to offer a prospect a discount in order to close a sale. I had prepared this big speech as to the reasons why this discount was a good idea. As I started my speech, he said, “Go ahead and give the customer the discount.” But, I wasn’t done with all of my reasons so I kept talking. He finally held up his hand and yelled, “Stop talking, you’re selling past the close. I already said yes. Now, get out of my office and go close that deal.” It was one of the best sales lessons and I still hear his voice today telling me to stop talking when I feel compelled to share a bit more information.

Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?

I love this question. In order to keep moving in the direction of closing the sale, as the salesperson, your job is to make it easy for the prospect to make a decision. That means, always getting your next time scheduled to talk before ending your current meeting. So when as prospect says, “I need to think about it.” You say, “Great, about how much time do you need? Let’s go ahead and schedule a circle back call now so I can answer any additional questions that come to mind and we can decide about best next steps then. Do you have your calendar available?” Then you schedule a time on both of your calendars. This way, when you follow up the prospect is much more likely to take your call vs. ignoring you.

Sometimes, it’s hard for a prospect to commit and so you need to decide how many times you’re going to circle back. Generally, I’ll continue to follow up as long as the prospect continues to schedule time on their calendar. However, if they are just not willing to make a decision, I’ll say at the start of a circle back call, “At this point, we’ve had quite a few follow up calls. The purpose of today’s call is to ask any last questions you have about working together and then make a decision, we are either working together or we’re not, either way is okay and we’ll decide that today.”

I used that exact language with a prospect last year who just keep postponing making a decision to hire me. She was a bit surprised by my language and said, “Are you saying that if I don’t decide today, I can’t work with you?” To which I replied, “I’m saying at this point, if you’re not ready to move forward then we’ll stop scheduling these follow up calls and you’re welcome to reach out to me when you are ready to hire me.” She ended up hiring me on that call and is still a client today.

As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?

In my opinion, you should take your cues from the prospect. Pay attention to their preferred style and communicate with them in a way that makes it easy for them. All of the styles you’ve listed are acceptable ways to communicate with a prospect. However, if your prospect prefers text, don’t send them an email because you prefer email over text.

Not too long ago someone was trying to sell something to me. I told her the best way to communicate with me was via email. She told me she prefers to talk on the phone. I explained to her that I don’t answer my phone unless we have a scheduled time on my calendar to talk. She ignored my request and kept calling and leaving voice mails for me to “follow up”. I decided not to work with her because she made it clear that she didn’t respect my preferences and I always vote with my wallet. I don’t give my money to people who don’t make it easy for me to work with them.

Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement it would be based on my all time favorite quote: “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.” — Anonymous

If people would learn to be more flexible in their behavior and way of thinking, they would have more influence in all of their conversations. Instead of showing up in their relationships trying to make others think, act, and believe what they believe, they would put people at ease. This type of flexibility doesn’t mean you still don’t have your beliefs, it just means you’re ok with others having theirs. People are attracted to those they feel comfortable being around even when you have different opinions.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me here:

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

Nikki Rausch of Sales Maven: “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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