In this episode of the Sales Hacker podcast, we have Tom Stern, President at Stern Executive Search and author of Fear Less, Sell More. Join us for a fantastic (and humorous) conversation about sales expression, the deliberate use of the voice as an instrument to create a human connection.
If you missed episode 173, check it out here: Training Leaders Create Leaders with Keith Daw.
What You’ll Learn
- Voice, tone, and language manipulation techniques
- How sales expression relates to human empowerment
- Investigating the story you tell about yourself
- The role of fear in sales
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Show Agenda and Timestamps
- About Tom Stern & Stern Executive Search [4:16]
- What sales expression means [11:38]
- Using mirroring to close a deal [19:51]
- Listening, absorbing, synthesizing [26:50]
- Paying it forward: shout-outs [31:09]
- Sam’s Corner [36:03]
Show Introduction [00:09]
Sam Jacobs: Before we get there, we want to thank our sponsors. The first is Outreach. Outreach has been a longtime sponsor of this podcast, and they just launched a new way to learn. Outreach on Outreach is the place to learn how Outreach does outreach. Learn how the team follows up with every lead in record time after virtual events and turns them into revenue. You can see how they run account-based plays, manage reps, and so much more using their own sales engagement platform. All you have to do is head to Outreach.io/onoutreach to see what they’ve got going on.
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About Tom Stern & Stern Executive Search [4:16]
Sam Jacobs: Welcome to the SalesHacker podcast. Today on the show we’re super excited to have Tom Stern.
Tom was the black sheep in a family of lions. His father was one of the founders of cable television, and his great grandfather, a prominent philanthropist, was the CEO and Chairman of Sears, Roebuck, and Co. at the turn of the 20th century.
As a child with ADHD and dyslexia, Tom was unable to live up to those lofty expectations, and as a result, suffered from extreme anxiety. But by developing his creativity as a jazz musician, standup comedian, writer, producer for HBO, and comic strip creator, he found his greatest success in sales; first as a talent agent for celebrity comedians, and then as president of his own executive search firm, leveraging what he calls sales expression. He has sustained excellence in the business world for over a quarter-century.
It is Tom’s goal to help others achieve success in sales and realize their dreams by overcoming their fears. Tom, welcome to the show.
Tom Stern: Sam, thanks for having me on SalesHacker. I don’t know anything about hacking. I have occasionally been referred to as a hack by disgruntled clients, but I don’t think that’s what this show’s about. And I don’t think that’s what I’m about.
Sam Jacobs: This show is about practical, actionable insights coupled with interesting stories about human beings.
Tom Stern: I’m transitioning into human form. By the end of this show, I’ll be fully human.
What sales expression means [11:38]
Sam Jacobs: Tell us what you mean when you talk about sales expression, why it’s so powerful, and how we can begin to emulate, embody, learn — whatever the framework is that you want to articulate.
Tom Stern: As an example of sales expression, which is really intentional communication, why not use this interview? I made a choice. I want to make friends with your audience. I want to find a middle ground between establishing credibility by demonstrating through example and stories and my own confidence that I’m highly successful. Otherwise, I don’t think they’re really going to care and want to listen to me. Yet, I want to find a tone that’s approachable, hopefully not egotistical, and maybe even a little bit humble or vulnerable about my success, grateful, recognizing it’s not all about me.
I give myself an intention: make friends with the audience. Express who you are, but do it with gratitude and humility. And that intention informs everything that I say. There are a million different intentions and they can move from moment to moment in a conversation.
You can be talking to, for the purposes of sales discussion, a prospect and suddenly you sense them tighten. If you’re with them in person it’s physical, if you’re on the phone it’s vocal. Their voice pulls back. They suddenly get quiet in a way that’s anxiety-provoking. How do you adjust at that moment? Some of it’s intuitive. Do you start asking questions? Do you blow by it and act like it’s not a big deal? Do you alter your voice? It’s like the combination of a safe. You have to be constantly looking for the numbers that will open the door to the money and the opportunity inside. And that comes from changing your voice.
Sam Jacobs: How do people practice this?
Tom Stern: One way you could practice is by doing tape recordings. Now, it’s a little painful. I’ll be honest, I love the sound of my own voice. I always have. I had a teacher say to me once, “You know, Tom, you really love the sound of your own voice.” And I said, “You know, I really do. I love the resonance, the timbre. I love the way I could shift from baritone to tenor. I enjoy the warmth and sometimes harshness,” and I went on and on for like three minutes till he threw me out of the room.
But the thing is when I hear my voice recorded I go, “Ugh. That’s what you think is so terrific?” You’ll have to get over self-consciousness. But you can experiment with it as if there were octaves on a piano. So you can give yourself challenges. What’s my voice of authority? Is it, “Look, I’ve been monkeying around with you and I’m going to tell you what you need to do. We’ve known each other for 10 years and I have a very strong point of view.” Is it, “That’s an interesting point. My experience is actually contrary. What I’d like to talk about now is some of the statistical underpinnings, which will in fact demonstrate that my position has not only veracity but sustainability over time.” Is that what it is?
Remember, this is a dialectic. It’s reciprocal. It’s a loop. You are not only expressing yourself, you are reading, embracing, and receiving what’s being expressed to you. And that’s part of surfing the wave; the moment-to-moment reactivity.
Also sometimes listen to your voice. Try to sense it. Over time it’ll be like the gears in a car. You know, when you first get a clutch, which is a fun way to drive, it can be challenging. After a while, you don’t even think about moving those gears. It’s the same with the human voice.
The issue is not to create false intentions, the issue is to develop your instrument as a violinist would. You want to be so finely tuned that your voice, your body, your mind, and your emotions all work together to support that intention.
Using mirroring to close a deal [19:51]
Sam Jacobs: Is there a specific way that listeners can work on at the end of the sales process?
Tom Stern: Mirroring. Sometimes mirroring is where you create a connection so that you can lead and take that person who’s now connected with you to places they wouldn’t go. You don’t just model the voice, you model what I call personification.
I’m just going to use you as an example. I’m actually not vocally modeling with you. My voice is very different, I’m projecting more energy than you are, I’m louder I think. But what I’m modeling with you is your intellect. The quality of your questions, the fluidity of your speech, your mastery of language, your vocabulary, the sequencing of the words shows to me high cognitive activity; real curiosity. So you’re highly inquisitive, you’re very posed. Your ego may be there, but you’re really in this process and you’re exploring it the way somebody who’s confident in their intellect and has a high appetite to acquire information would.
What have I done? Well, I’m not as canned as I sometimes can be in these interviews. I’m being much more spontaneous. I’m trying to delve into my own thought processes. I’m really trying to answer you. So I’m modeling the spirit of you, not the voice of you. And that’s where your imagination and your emotions and your sensing happens. It’s called building affiliation. It’s how we create contact, how we create comfort.
Listening, absorbing, synthesizing [26:50]
Sam Jacobs: Do you think the biggest mistake people make is just not listening?
Tom Stern: I’ve had a lot of success and I’ve done a lot of talking. So I think listening is critical. Every book will tell you that, common sense tells you that. But synthesizing is critical.
Go through your life story. Find the moments where you were weakened and overwhelmed with terror. Find the moments where you found courage and you had grit. And begin to identify where you are ambidextrous and balanced, where you are over-reliant on one side or your body, and where you’re paralyzed. What are the roots? Where’s the etiology, the causation of these personal characteristics?
Write the story of your life. I’ve done it with my own life. I’ve found my heart. I know where my courage is. I also know where I completely cheated myself, I betrayed myself, I was cowardly, I lost all strength. I’ve had both of those coexist at different times. And sometimes oscillate from one to the other — sometimes there were periods in my life dominated by cowardice and other times by great courage. Why? What was it? Where are those points?
When you find your courage, you have the strength to be inquisitive and curious and give up control, and that’s what creates listening and that’s what creates expression.
Paying it forward: shout-outs [31:09]
Sam Jacobs: The last part of the conversation is paying it forward a little bit and figuring out people that you think we should know about that have been particularly influential in your life. Maybe books, besides the book that you’ve written: Fear Less, Sell More. Everybody, go to Amazon and buy it. But books that you think have had a big impact on you, ideas, however, you want to interpret it. It’s just people or ideas or things that you think we should know about that help form you, that can lead a breadcrumb trail back to who Tom Stern is and what inspired him and created him.
Tom Stern: When I was in my 20s I was a very hyperactive, very volatile person. Very immature. I went swimming. I was in a hurry, and this woman who had the lane kept swimming and swimming. The others had just started. She seemed to be going forever. I finally screamed in the gym, in this indoor pool, “Are you ever F-ing going to be done?” And it reverberated in the linoleum of the indoor pool. And she popped up and turned to me and said with real kindness, “The stress is really bad, isn’t it?”
That moment has never left me, because I spent a lot of time, when I was younger, overwhelming people with a loud voice, with my energy. I’m not going to say I was a bully, but I could be obnoxious. And this woman, in a kind of jiu-jitsu move of kindness and solidity and poise, defused me completely. I was totally embarrassed by my behavior. I slinked away. I’ve never forgotten that moment. So kindness and a capacity to empathize is probably the most powerful tool we have as human beings to create a connection and get our point across.
Sam’s Corner [36:03]
Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, Sam Jacobs, Sam’s Corner. Really enjoyed that conversation with Tom Stern. One of the things that Tom mentioned is fear, the omnipresence of fear and how it drives so much of our decision-making. If we can find a way to give fear a nap, as Tom puts it, and to let go of our fear, then we can move into a zone and a state where we have the ability to perceive more of the world, where we can move outside of ourselves.
Then the broader journey about becoming your best self starts with rethinking certain assumptions about who you are, what you are, and maybe about dreaming bigger for yourself.
Now before we go, we want to thank our sponsors. We have three sponsors. The first is Outreach. Outreach is empowering the productivity of sales teams all over the world, driving predictable and measurable revenue growth. Go to Outreach.io to learn more.
We’re also sponsored by Pavilion, a transformational gathering place for high-growth leaders like you and your teams. Go to joinpavilion.com to learn more.
And of course, we’re brought to you by Blueboard. Because you know what? Cash bonuses aren’t that inspiring. They’re not that interesting. What we want are rich experiences, and Blueboard is the world’s leading experiential sales recognition platform. Everything from going to dinner at French Laundry to jumping out of an airplane to watching Kevin Durant makes a free throw from courtside tickets. All of it is possible with Blueboard. Go to podcast.blueboard.com to get your free demo.
I will talk to you next time, my friends.