Professor Patti Pokorchak: “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!

Objections are BUYING SIGNALS! Embrace them. Think of your last major purchase — didn’t you want to be sure you were making the right decision?

If they were not interested, they’d say ‘let me think it over’ to which you ask ‘what do you need to think over?” Maybe there’s something that’s not quite clear in their minds and you can explain that concern away with a guarantee or some testimonials.

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 Patti Pokorchak of Small Biz Sales Coach.

Patti Pokorchak was NOT a born sales person. Yet she sold millions of dollars worth of products and services to major organizations in 25+ countries in two languages and even sold IBM equipment back to IBM at a surcharge. Patti now teaches entrepreneurs how to go from Sales FEAR to Sales FUN. She is also a Professor of Entrepreneurial Sales at Ryerson University.

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?

In my twenties, I was forced to learn how to sell at IBM as part of their 6-month Basic Systems Training program. I needed to make money to leave IBM and go traveling in Europe, and Sales was where the money was. I ended up working for eight years in sales and marketing in five start-ups in Europe. At IBM, I made $150,000 at the age of 25, two years out of grad school, despite being the least likely sales professional.

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

IBM did not treat me well the first time they hired me with only a diploma in Business Computing. I never had any formal training, yet I was expected to operate various mainframe computers. Later when I was working as an IBM distributor and I had some graphic interfaces that IBM had promised to a major account, I sold IBM equipment back to IBM at a surcharge. People really do not forget how they are treated.

I pissed off Bill Gates when he was just a skinny nerd with a limp handshake. A few years later he was the loudest person in a trendy West London bistro. He had gone corporate in a suit and beefed up. I was unemployed and single and I had heard that he was looking for a blonde wife. I passed on him and Microsoft.

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

I’m working on an intro to sales book based on my decades of going from a shy geek to outgoing professional sales person.


S= Service

A = Adventures

L = Leadership

E = Entrepreneurial

S = Success

If you have no sales, you have no business so learning how to sell your products as an entrepreneur is vital to your success. And learning how to sell is not rocket science. But if you don’t know that you have to ask for the order and then shut up — then you’ve been losing sales because of that. A life coach who attended one of my workshops closed a $3,300 deal THE NEXT DAY once she realized that she had to ask for the order.

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?

Doug Brownlee, Sales VP hired me in London, England to sell the world’s most expensive technical training ($40,000 for a four day course and my target was to sell one a week) and was THE best boss I ever had. He knew exactly how to push my competitive sales buttons to get me motivated and fired-up to prove him wrong, laughing to the bank as I overachieved my quota by 50%.

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

I may have been the least likely sales success, but I have sold millions around the world. If I can learn how to sell, then anyone can. I now make learning how to sell FUN and easy based on 40 years of practical hands-on experience. I sell things that have never been sold before using my marketing skills to determine whom the ideal client might be — that makes me a Sales Pioneer.

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?

Use the free video conferencing apps like Zoom, Skype, or Houseparty to stay connected. Seeing familiar faces and having great conversations makes all the difference. Find some games to play together, either the old-fashioned board or card games or online ones to make the hours fly by with some good belly laughs thrown in. Make sure you read only good news and watch funny videos to laugh as much as you can. The world will be a more tolerant gentle one — I hope.

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?

That we still graduate business students without this essential business skill is a CRIME!

Learning how to sell is NOT a spectator sport.

Sales MUST be taught by someone who has had a minimum of a decade or more of real experience in sales — that’s not negotiable. It’s not something that you can know only in theory, you have to have won in sales in order to teach it properly.

Just because you can talk does not make you a sales pro. The stereotypical backslapping extrovert needs to learn how to shut up and listen and ask better questions.

Over 40 years ago I was beyond annoyed to have an MBA in Marketing and zero knowledge about sales. My first sales role-play left me speechless with absolutely NO skills or techniques on what to do. Knowing this had to change is what led me to where I am today.

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?

YES, my secret sauce has been to be curious and caring. I was a shy insecure geek when I started out in sales. Being aggressive or salesy is just not me. I am the most laid-back sales professional and my clients just think I come in and chat to them while picking up the purchase order.

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?

I love prospecting for new clients once I have nailed my ideal target client. Then it’s like dominoes, clients fall down in front of my proven successes and great ROI with similar organizations.

I helped start and run a software company that specialized in custom-made bar code systems. I only got paid when the company got paid so I decided that we needed an off-the-shelf system for about $5,000 (the government credit card limit by coincidence — not!) that was readily available without needing costly and time-consuming customization. I sold the first one over the phone based on a paper spec sheet — the MVP- Minimum Viable Product before The Lean Startup wrote about. I got the purchase order without ever seeing the client nor doing a demo for them. It was the first of hundreds of sales.

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?

In person networking at events where your best potential clients hang out is the easiest way to get know and get clients. It’s harder to say no in person. But don’t try to sell prematurely. Networking events are like speed dating — you want to see if there’s a spark of interest and chemistry, then follow up to take it to the next step.

Then always remember to follow-up the next day and see what the next step is — coffee or phone date? Then what. Always have an intention for the meeting or call and try and get it, like a commitment to a longer meeting or in-person meeting. Small baby steps leads to success in sales, not giant leaps though occasionally that might happen.

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’?

Objections are BUYING SIGNALS! Embrace them. Think of your last major purchase — didn’t you want to be sure you were making the right decision?

If they were not interested, they’d say ‘let me think it over’ to which you ask ‘what do you need to think over?” Maybe there’s something that’s not quite clear in their minds and you can explain that concern away with a guarantee or some testimonials.

Fear of rejection is what usually stops a sales person from asking for the order. But can’t get to a decision unless you ask and don’t waste time if someone does have the budget or authority to purchase.

Anticipate and prepare for your most common objectives and pre-empt objections — such as if you’re always being told you’re too expensive. If you bring it up, and have the right response and test to see if you’re in their mental budget range, then there won’t be a huge issue when you negotiate the price.

‘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.

If you ask better and more questions during the discovery phase, you will close more sales. That’s why scripts do not work as I have my part to play but the prospective clients do not know theirs and go off script. Improv (a la Second City) training is a great way to learn how to be in the moment, listen actively and think quickly on your feet — all important sales skills.

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?

Most people fall DOWN on the follow UP! Selling is a mindset, skill set, process and discipline. ALWAYS be prospecting is my mantra. Everyday no matter how busy you are, send out 5–10 emails and call 5–10 people or else you face the dreaded roller-coaster ride of feast or famine.

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-person is the best way to ask for the order as it’s harder to say no face-to-face.

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. 🙂

That women are truly equally represented and respected all over the world. That we have equal rights and an equal voice in how the world is run — peacefully, without any wars.

How can our readers follow you online?

Just Google Patti Pokorchak — I’m the only one in the world. Found mainly on LinkedIn, Facebook [email protected]

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

Professor Patti Pokorchak: “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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