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PODCAST 104: Embracing Authenticity to Connect and Drive Revenue with Shari Levitin

This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we speak with Shari Levitin, CEO of Levitin Group.

Shari runs her own sales consulting and training firm called The Levitin Group and is a best-selling author. We talk about how to make sure that your training and coaching is effective, the value of authenticity, and what is (or isn’t) coachable.

If you missed episode 103, check it out here: PODCAST 103: Accurate Data Will Set Your Funnels Reviews on Fire with Todd Abbott

What You’ll Learn

  • How to ask the better questions to connect with buyers
  • Using video to be real and authentic
  • Why authenticity matters
  • Leading during a global pandemic

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. Show Introduction [00:02]
  2. About Shari Levitin & The Levitin Group [1:33]
  3. Asking Better Questions [7:15]
  4. How Much of Sales is Coachable [13:35]
  5. Your Customers Want Authenticity [18:44]
  6. Sam’s Corner [33:11]

Show Introduction [00:02]

Sam Jacobs: Hey, everybody. Sam Jacobs. Welcome to The Sales Hacker Podcast. Today on the show, we’ve got Shari Levitin. Shari runs her own sales consulting and training firm called The Levitin Group. It’s a really great conversation about how to make sure that training and coaching really sticks and is effective. She’s a great speaker and just really fun and interesting.

Now before we get to the interview, we want to thank our sponsor. Our sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform that enables sales reps to humanize their communications at scale, from automating the soul-sucking manual work that eats up selling time to providing action-oriented tips on what communications are working best. Outreach has your back.

Now, without further ado, let’s listen to this interview with Shari Levitin.

About Shari Levitin & The Levitin Group [1:33]

Sam Jacobs: Today on the show, we are incredibly excited to have one of the top influencers on LinkedIn, Shari Levitin. You might have seen her videos where she’s holding a shotgun or skiing down the side of a mountain in Park City, Utah. She’s the founder of The Shari Levitin Group, which has helped create over $1 billion in increased revenue for companies in over 40 countries. She’s the bestselling author of Heart and Sell: 10 Universal Truths Every Salesperson Needs to Know.

She’s contributed to Forbes, CEO, Max Magazine, Quotable, Inc Magazine, and The Huffington Post. She’s received dozens and dozens of awards including from Sales Hacker itself, Top 10 Voices in Sales for LinkedIn in 2018. She’s a guest lecturer at the Harvard extension programs and a number of other things. Shari, we’re so glad to have you on the show. You’ve been mentioning that you’ve been doing a ton of videos on LinkedIn. Tell us about how you got here.

Shari Levitin: In 1997, I launched The Levitin Group. Goal number one was to make my name synonymous with training on a worldwide basis in the hospitality industry. Goal number two was to scale my efforts. Now this is before we had automation tools, before we even had internet. Scaling at that time meant video tapes, audio tapes, train the trainer, live programs.

When things really shifted for us is when we were providing live training, audio, video. Of course, I’m dating myself and then we realized that a core competency was creating and scaling training programs for major corporations.

From there, once 2008 happened and a lot of people left hospitality, we’re getting emails from people all over saying, “Wow. Your training program really works. We’re using it to sell bridges or to sell software or to sell real estate or all different types of things.” That’s when we really spread out into different verticals.

Asking Better Questions [7:15]

Sam Jacobs: What are the core concepts that you’re promulgating in the training? It sounds like it has something to do as you mentioned with authenticity and re-humanizing the sales process. Walk us through the tenants of it.

Shari Levitin: With information overload and everything that’s going on today, how we interact with customers has obviously shifted quite a bit. There are some interesting statistics out there that first-generation smartphone users have lost their empathy by 40%.

We look at different ways of connecting, different ways of asking questions and building consensus. Different ways of listening, real listening skills, which 98% of the reps think they do but don’t do.

Sam Jacobs: When you say ask different or better questions, give us some examples. I’m always interested in better questions.

Shari Levitin: When we talk about questions, we use a fun metaphor. We call them skin, bone, heart and connective tissue questions.

Skin questions – Surface level questions, things you would find out on somebody’s LinkedIn profile. Most reps literally just ask these skin questions.

Bone questions – Better sales reps ask bone questions, which are problems that the customer’s having now. Of course, then digging into the implications of those problems.

Heart questions – What the best salespeople do is they get past the skin through the bones and into the heart of their customers. That’s harder to teach reps. How to find not just the problems but the emotional reasons, the what’s in it for them, the objectives.

Connective Tissue questions – Looks at the ecosystem within how the customer operates. One of the biggest reasons people aren’t making decisions is because gaining consensus is so difficult and prioritizing. It’s asking questions that get to the root of how does your organization make decisions? How do we provide a framework for you to make sense of all of the information that you’ve acquired in all your departments? Really be a sense-maker, not just a deliverer of information?

How Much of Sales is Coachable? [13:35]

Sam Jacobs: How teachable and coachable are people so that if you give them the right tools and the right framework and the right structure, they can be guided towards a great outcome?

Shari Levitin: That’s the age-old question. We use the term from David Brooks’ book on character that there’s two types of virtues in this world. There’s resume virtues and eulogy virtues.

Resume virtues are those virtues such as how successful you’ve been, the sales skills that someone can acquire, their ability to ask questions or their ability to build a relationship to build trust.

Then there’s eulogy virtues, which are things that people would say. Your eulogy like curiosity, kindness, compassion, empathy. While I do believe, Sam, that we can increase our eulogy virtues through practice. Because we can practice optimism or practice empathy like we practice an instrument. I also believe that there are people that just don’t test high in empathy skills. They just don’t have it. Now, can they learn the scripts to appear like they have them? Sure.

Can they learn how to trick their brain perhaps to be more optimistic? Sure. I think the long answer to a short question is it’s a little bit of both. Because I think you can only go so far if you don’t have certain things, certain skills that you’re born with.

Your Customers Want Authenticity [18:44]

Sam Jacobs: Some people are very self-conscious about being on video. Because they say, “I don’t have the right lighting. I’m not going to look professional.” Talk about why you are convinced that authenticity and being real—how powerful it is and how it’s worked for your business.

Shari Levitin: I have a millennial coworker who slammed me one day. I’ve been using online learning for 10, 15 years. Always, when I did it for so many years, I would get all my makeup on. I’d go into a studio and bring in a professional videographer. It was a big deal.

One of my colleagues who’s a millennial said, “Hey Shari. Would you just cool it with all these staged videos? Because people in my generation don’t relate to you. There’s no authenticity. You know, just be yourself.” I happened to be hiking when we were having our conference call with earbuds.

He says, “I dare you. Do a video right now while you’re on a hike. Do a Facebook live.”

I said, “I’m not doing that. No way. I look like hell. I don’t have any makeup on.”

He said, “Exactly. Try it. I double dare you.” Well, I went ahead and did it and put it out. We got 16,000 views.

Sam Jacobs: Wow.

Shari Levitin: That’s how we started and then just kept refining it from there. My advice to anybody listening would be: they want you.

The truth is, sometimes the worse I look, the better the blog does. I think too many people think that they need to have a professional office setting. Our most watched videos are when I’m on a horse or I’m hiking or I’m skiing.

The truth is, we’re going to relate to more people if we’re who we are. If we talk about our failures, if we talk about our foibles. That’s the way to connect today because people don’t want it so polished anymore. They want to know you. You have something special and authentic. You’ve got great stories to tell.

You can reach out to Shari at shari@sharilevitin.com, LinkedIn, or sharilevitin.com.

Sam’s Corner [33:11]

Sam Jacobs: Hey, folks. Sam Jacobs. This is Sam’s Corner. I really enjoyed that conversation with Shari. Of course, we did it in the middle of the COVID-19 Coronavirus scare pandemic. That’s always going to be a subject of conversation. How do you lead through uncertainty? How do you provide reassurance? How do you use tools like video conferencing and teleconferencing and things like that to create the right type of relationship and continue to sell?

I think the most important thing for me came through was around authenticity. That’s the thing. She mentioned how she learned from one of her younger coworkers. You have to sound human. You have to look human. I think more people should use video. Shari was talking about how you should use video mid-cycle as a way of telling the story to and multi-threading the conversation.

I thought that was a brilliant insight. The most important thing is you’ve just got to be a real human being. Because people are tuning out to robotized corporate messages. They just don’t need it.

Don’t miss episode 105

I hope you enjoyed the show. Before we go, let’s thank our sponsors. Our sponsor for the offset was InsightSquared. They do amazing work. Our sponsor for this episode of the Sales Hacker Podcast is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform.

If you haven’t rated the show, please give us five stars on the iTunes rating system so that we can remain in business and continue to bring you this show.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about Revenue Collective, the community that I run. We’re a global organization approaching 2000 members. We’ve got chapters everywhere. We’ve really tried to be there in this time for our members. We’re doing daily webinars. We’re doing virtual happy hours, virtual breakfasts.

Make sure that you’ve got some community that isn’t just your company. Maybe it’s your friends. Maybe it’s your loved ones that you’re connecting with, that you’re being real with and that you’re sharing some of the challenges that you’re facing.

You need people to talk this through if only just to remind yourself that you’re not alone. That there’s other people going through this. I hope everybody’s doing well out there. If you want to reach out to me, you can on LinkedIn.

I’ll talk to you next time.

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