In this episode, we’re chatting with sales and emotional intelligence expert, Merit Kahn, CSP.
Merit unloads the secret sauce to sales and how emotional intelligence play directly into how much revenue you make.
We talk about the state of selling through the pandemic, how to balance empathy with assertiveness to close the deal, and how to use consultative selling to get more yes’ at higher fees.
So what do you say? Join us for this jam-packed episode of golden sales nuggets!
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Show Notes 📓
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Read the Transcription 🤓
Taylorr: Welcome to another episode of technically speaking. I am pumped for today’s guest, sales expert and dear friend of ours at Speaker Flow, Merit Kahn. Merit, welcome to the show.
Merit: I’m excited to be here.
Taylorr: Yeah, it’s always fun when we get together a little rowdy at times.
Merit: I don’t have my beard with me today, so…
Taylorr: Yeah, it’s kind of a prerequisite these days so maybe next time we’ll end that. All right well, for those of you listening, Merit Kahn CSP is the founder of Merit-Based Business, author of Myth Shift, Challenging the Truths that Sabotage Success, creator of the Merit Method for Sales Mastery program, and writer, producer, and performer of the one-woman inspirational comedy show Book of Merit. She’s a featured expert on the Sales Experts Channel and co-host of the smarter Sales Show podcast with Julie Holmes to give listeners the tech and technique to sell more and stress less. So, for more than 20 years, Merit has worked with entrepreneurs and business professionals who sell high and custom solutions in a highly competitive marketplace with a consultative sales approach. Not only can she tell you what to say to move the deal through the sales process, she will make sure you are consistent with your revenue driving actions and that you have a strong sales mindset as your foundation.
Oh, and she’ll make you laugh all the way to the bank. That one I can attest to personally. She has worked with thousands of clients across multiple industries from mining and professional services to pest control and plumbing but her goal for clients is always the same, Grow sales and influence. She is certified in emotional intelligence and earned the highest designation in the National Speakers Association, one held by less than 12% of professional speakers worldwide, the Certified Speaking Professional CSP. When she’s not helping professionals polish their business development skills, she’s making audiences laugh out loud in her standup comedy performances. Merit again, it is so good to have you on the show.
Merit: Well, thank you, Taylor and Austin. Great to be here.
Taylorr: No problem. So, the question we always like to ask for listeners when they’re getting acquainted with a new speaking soul is how did you get into this crazy world of speaking? Was it by mere accident? Did you just stumble into it where you’re like, nope, I’m going to be a professional speaker? Lay out that journey for us. How’d you get here?
Merit: Well, I think I was always attracted to the…there is a performer in me from a very young age, whether it was the school productions or leading a cheer, it was just always in front of people. And after college, I ended up doing sales training and my favorite part of that job was going out to speak at business organizations, and chambers of commerce and things to give people enough of a taste of that training to see if they wanted to do more. And one day somebody offered to pay me for that. They said, well, how much do you charge to come to our organization? And I’m like, you mean to come to your organization to do the marketing pitch that I would do so you joined my sales training? Like how much do I need to get paid for that? Let me think about that.
Taylorr: I get paid to do marketing? What?
Merit: Yeah, that was interesting. And so, it began, I just thought I can get paid for that part, I’m all in. And then I found the National Speakers Association and met a whole bunch of people who thought just like me and I haven’t stopped. It’s been fun.
Austin: That’s such a cool journey. You experienced it from the angle that we think is the best angle to come at it from too, which is using a marketing mechanism to drive revenue for your business. This is the only way you can do that as far as I know. Do you know of any other ways, Merit that you can make money advertising your business?
Merit: No, this is a great business for that. And it was funny too, because I was teaching people how to sell, I still, that’s what I do. I teach people how to sell. And then in my sales process with them, I get to do the process. So, when they give me some objection I go, now you don’t really mean for me to lower my price because if I lower my price, then you should fire me before you hire me. Why would I do that if you are hiring me to help you keep your prices high? So, I get to use a lot of things as I’m as I’m selling, it’s pretty fun
Taylorr: Meta layer of teaching [cross-talk 5:00] …
Taylorr: My favorite way to do it. So, we’re kind of through the thick, at the time of this recording, we’re going through the thick of the pandemic at the moment. And when this is published, chances are that’s still going to be a topic of conversation. I’m curious, how has sales changed since the pandemic? I think we had a conversation in a previous episode recently that it was actually with Lauren Pibworth up in caps, it was just marketing for professional speakers on all this stuff. And she’s like, yeah, marketing really hasn’t changed at all, you still got to get your messaging across and all of that, but I feel like there’s an element of sales that has. Has it changed at all or are we playing the same sales game that we did even pre-pandemic?
Merit: Well, I think there’s two main reasons or ways that we noticed that it’s changed. Number one, obviously everything is virtual now. So, the days of being great at sales conversations where you can read body language and you’re taking into consideration the vibe in the room, the energy or whatever you’re reading into, there’s subtle cues and we just, as human beings, especially in sales, we’ve learned to pick up on these subtle cues and adjust our sales approach. And we don’t have that benefit of all of the subtle cues that we had in an in-person environment anymore. So, we do need to learn to adjust our approach, we need to learn how to build trust in a virtual world. And so, I think from a technique perspective, one very important thing to recognize now is that there’s a level of empathy that we need to have for other people.
We’re all still dealing with this and there’s still an element, not an element. There’s like an underlying change that we’re all still in. There’s still change and uncertainty and so we need to be empathetic to other people, but also, we need to balance that out with a level of assertiveness. So, if I’m too empathetic about all this stuff going on, I may have the right solution for you, but if I’m not balancing my empathy for you with an assertiveness that says, hey, I hear you and there’s all this stuff going on, but are you open to having a conversation about something that we actually can control in the midst of all this uncertainty? And let’s focus in on what you and I can actually solve together. And I think that takes a level of assertiveness that maybe we could get away without being assertive in that way in that face-to-face world but right now I think professional salespeople, professionals who need to sell their services need to balance out their empathy for others, with assertiveness to get something moving and solve problems for people.
Austin: Yeah. Do you think that that’s a reflection of the medium in which we’re selling it being virtual or is it a sign of the times just because people are stressed and making decisions right now might feel heavier than usual?
Merit: That’s a great question. I think that it’s probably a little of both. I think sign of the times, we always need to be active listeners, we always need to be able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, understand, ask good questions to understand the problems that are really affecting them, not just that surface level problem that they share with us right at the top. Usually in sales, the problem that the prospect brings you isn’t always the real problem. And we have to do a little digging, which is why a skill that all sales professionals need and professionals who would never call themselves salespeople, but have to sell their services and build their business…
Merit: Yeah, speakers I’m talking to you exactly. We need to be great not just at telling our solution, but in asking questions that have people discover for themselves what the real problem is. What that problem really costs them. And I think now more than ever, we need to lean into our ability to ask the real questions because it’s too easy on a screen in particular to not engage with a real in-depth conversation. One of the things I talk about now a lot on our podcast, and in the client work that I’m doing, and in the virtual keynotes that I’ve been giving is this idea of retraining people how to interact on a screen. When you sit back and you’re watching a screen, whether it’s TV or movies, or YouTube videos, you are consuming, you’re just relaxing and taking it all in but what we need as virtual presenters is to engage people and we’ve all had at this point.
We’ve all gone to, how do you be more engaging in zoom, how to use breakout rooms, and annotation and all this stuff but it’s more than that. It’s how you’re looking at them in the camera, it’s what you’re asking them to do, but it’s also inviting them to participate differently than they have been traditionally with a screen.
Austin: I think that this is like so funny because I don’t know, the things that we have to do now, haven’t really changed that much because of the technology. If you’re trying to sell anything, the best thing that you could possibly do is do discovery and ask lots of really good questions and pinpoint the real reason that somebody might buy and so on and just because you’re doing it over zoom, doesn’t change that fact. But I think that at times we let the technology distract us. It’s this thing where we’re sitting down to give a presentation rather than have a conversation. It seems like it’s really just the way that you look at the technology as just a medium, in order for you to be able to have the conversations that we may have had previously in person. I can still look at you in the eyes, still ask really good questions, I can go deep on topics rather than just pounce on the things that I think might help you. I don’t know, has it really changed that much? I guess is my question.
Merit: Sales is still a relationship business. The thing that people are getting distracted by, as you say is, how do I use zoom? What buttons do I push? What switcher should I use? At the end of the day, that’s all fun and looks great, but people have problems that need solutions. And if I can look directly in your eyes through this camera and have a deep conversation about the problems that are unique to you, and you and I can discover together through my asking you questions that help you discover whether or not my solution is the right match, then we’re going to do business whether or not I’m switching camera angles and doing funky things. So, sometimes I think we need to just keep it simple.
Taylorr: I love that golden nugget right there for you listeners out there. Now, you mentioned earlier that having too much empathy can be distracting or counterproductive for your sales efforts and there’s going to be some level of assertiveness. Now I have a couple of questions. You wrote a blog back in April, the beginning of the pandemic about having too much empathy for your prospects really won’t help them. Is that what you were alluding to is that we need this level of assertiveness or are there other elements there? And then to further expand upon that, I think the natural gut reaction for people when they hear assertive can also mean aggression or aggressively pursuing sales.
And if that is the distinction having assertiveness on top of empathy and how do you balance that out, how do you be assertive without it seeming aggressive or it being like that kind of used car salesman esque approach? Because a lot of the people we’ve talked to that’s one of their biggest concerns. Is not sounding like that, a broken record and it’s hard to have that hard ask and take a consultative approach sometimes. So how do you balance that?
Merit: Okay, there’s a lot in there. Let me unpack…
Taylorr: Lot in there. I’m known for that.
Merit: Oh my gosh, Taylorr. Let me see if I can remember all that. Okay, so first of all, there is a huge distinction between being aggressive and being assertive. So, aggressive is I’m going to push my ideas on you, whether or not you are open to receiving them. I’m going to ram my solution down your throat. And nobody likes that. That’s the pushy hard sell. That’s never going work by the way, because at some point somebody is going to wake up and realize that they were convinced to do something just to away from the aggressiveness, and then you’re just going to get the call at three in the morning, canceling the deal or whatever. And they’ll call you when they know they’re going to get your voicemail and they don’t have to deal with you’re being aggressive. So, we never, ever, ever want to be aggressive.
Assertive is much different. Assertive as being able to say what needs to be said in a way that really honors and is respectful of another person, an alternative viewpoint or anything like that. So, I can be assertive in my beliefs, my decisions, my opinions, my solutions and still give you room to accept or decline my assertion. So, let me give you some very specific language for in the speaker world. I can with someone else and balance that with assertiveness and then I also want to add in a dash of optimism for those advanced folks out there who want to blend three emotional intelligence attributes, not just two. Why be average? So, I would actually say to someone, I hear you there’s so much going on, let’s pretend we’re talking to a meeting professional.
So, I’m going to ask them first like, I thought there was a lot going on in my world, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a meeting professional these days. With all of the things changing in a moment’s notice and having to be revisions, and you’re having to learn all these other things. How are you doing? Are you okay? So, I’m going to check in. They’re going to say whatever they’re going to say, this is where I’m going add my assertiveness. Are you open to just for moment putting all of that drama aside and just talking about something that we actually can do to deal with this one element of the event that you’re producing? And let’s just see, first of all, if I’m going to be a match for this program or where else I might be able to fit into other events that you’re doing.
And so, that’s like empathy and assertiveness in balance. The other thing I’m going to toss in, at some point, I don’t have a prescription of where this goes in the conversation, you just kind of have to give it a shot, but early on in the conversation. To move them from all of the overwhelm that is that they’re dealing with, I want to also kind of put them in a positive mindset. So just to say, I know with all this change, tell me, what’s that one good thing that’s come out of this so far? What have you noticed? What was a positive change that you could never have anticipated before? And that’s important especially in a sales context, because nobody buys in a depressed, overwhelmed, uncertain state of mind.
So, we need to be cognizant of that and not to do that in a Pollyanna kind of way, like, oh yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s not all that bad. there’re these great things, we can do business in our slippers. That’s great, but that might not be where they’re at. So, I want to give people a chance to kind of join me in seeing something positive about this and then from there, we can talk about how to be effective and productive and see if we’re a match.
Taylorr: That makes perfect sense.
Austin: I like that. Reframing. It’s one of the best tools that we have at our disposal. Take something that’s negative and put a positive spin on it, and it doesn’t have to be disingenuous either. I think that sometimes that’s a hesitation that we have is I don’t want to make a bad situation, seem okay for my personal gain or whatever, but it’s not that way, life is about your perspective and your mindset. And if you can help other people see the bright side in life occasionally and in an authentic way, then it builds trust and it makes them excited, which increases their performance and results and it’s just sort of the best-case scenario, I think for everybody, if we can look at the positive.
Austin: And it’s great for selling, it’s like the best way to overcome an objection. Turn their objection into something that’s positive. You just reframe whatever hesitation they have into something that benefits them and you’ve just closed the deal.
Austin: So, I don’t know if that lands with you or not, but…
Merit: No, it absolutely does. And I think the reality is we’re all figuring this out at the same time. So, the playing field has been leveled. And at first, I was like virtual presentations, how the heck am I going to do a virtual keynote? And then I figured it out. I figured it out, I talked to my colleagues, I talked to meeting professionals. What have you seen that works? What doesn’t work? I was asked to do a prerecorded interactive keynote, I’m like, well, how does that work? I know how to be interactive when I’m walking off the stage, walk into the crowd and kibitzing with people and that’s super fun, but there are ways to do it. And once I figured it out, now I can give peace of mind the meeting professionals that hire me because I can tell them, look, I didn’t know how to do this either, but I studied it.
I learned it, I played with a couple different ways and now I feel really great about it. In fact, I think some of the virtual prerecorded keynotes that I’ve done with interaction built in with me live and chat, I think that’s actually some of the best stuff I’ve done in a long time. So, I think it’s putting that positive spin, but it’s giving them confidence that I didn’t just take what I did on stage and put a video camera on. It’s a whole new way of interacting with our audiences. And that’s why understanding how people consume things on a screen and letting our meeting professionals know that we understand, that we’ve learned the nuances to get this right, is a really important way to give them confidence.
Taylorr: Definitely. I’ve heard so many kinds of key phrases so far, in like the last 10 or 15 minutes we’ve been talking. It’s like we, and understand, and us, and empathy, and relating to them, and turning things into a positive light. It’s obviously very clear that emotional intelligence is a big component of this. But I think if we were to kind of expand sales out in kind of like its main like sort of pillars, if you will, and some of the topics you talk on, it’s like you have technique, you have tools, you got emotional intelligence and you got mindset going on. I’m curious to poke, your brain, your mind more specifically about sales mindset. And then to expand that further again, another loaded question for you Merit, so thanks for bearing with me. Out of all of those tools, we got tech, we got strategy mindset, emotional intelligence, what’s the ranking of importance of all of those things?
Because one of the things that we hear from speakers all the time, anybody professional services, and quite honestly, I think you’ve seen this because your high-ticket kind of sales approach for the clients that you serve. It can be sometimes about the strategies and the technology we’re using, but we’re often kind of missing that component of our mindset and our own emotional intelligence and all of those things. And how important is, let’s say emotional intelligence and mindset overall the tools and tech that we have? I’m curious how you would rank those as far as importance with sales.
Merit: Yeah. So, all the work that I’ve done in the 20 plus years, I’ve been working with sales teams and entrepreneurs and professionals I have to grow business and all of that, there’s always these three areas and I like alliteration. So, I say mindset, mechanics and motion. But basically, just different ways of saying it’s really all about your attitudes or behaviors, that would be motion and then your skills, which are the mechanics of selling. So, I ask audiences all the time, of those three things, mindset, mechanics, emotion, what do you think is the most important? And it’s a trick question obviously, because they’re all important, they work together. But mindset really is the foundation of all of it and I’ll explain that.
So, think of mindset is the foundation. So those of you just listening on the podcast, the audio version, if I have my hand out and my fingers are spread out, think of like the gaps between your fingers would be sort of the gaps in your mindset. For example, if I have a strong, solid mindset, my fingers are close together, then I’m layering on top of that all of the skills that I’m learning, the actions that I’m taking, they’re right there on the top, ready for me to utilize. If there are gaps and I spread my fingers apart again, and the skills that I learned, they will actually fall through the gaps, they won’t be there when you need them. So, mindset is critical and there’s three aspects of a strong mindset. There’s the internal mind, the behavioral mind and the emotional mind. Now the internal mind is what we say to ourselves.
So, this is where you load up on your belief systems. What you believe about money, what you believe about how much you’re worth, what you believe about the level of decision maker you’re comfortable interacting with. All of those are beliefs, what you say to yourself. The second part of it is your behavioral mindset and that’s what your actions say to other people. So, this is where maybe you’ve heard of disc profiles and behavior-based assessments and things like that. And some people are more animated and outgoing and other people are more introverted or bottom line or whatever. So, all of that, how you behave, how you interact with other people is going to tell them a lot about your behavioral mindset. So, in sales, what we want to do is understand our own, but also know how to discover the behavioral mindset of the people that we’re interacting with in a sales conversation, so that we can adjust our approach because they’re going to get to be however, they are and it’s up to us to adjust in order for them to feel comfortable, bring down the defense wall and have a straightforward, effective, productive sales conversation.
The third aspect of mindset is your emotional mindset, and that’s where emotional intelligence comes in. And basically, this is how well you understand your own emotions and the impact you have on other people. So, for example we’ve all had a situation, whether it’s a spouse, a friend, a boss, a colleague, somebody comes into your space, they’re in a bad mood and it kind of gets all over you. And so, we need to be able to understand how our emotions can impact other people. And if you don’t understand that, you’re missing out on a huge element of what has you be influential with other people. So, one of the things I’m always preaching is that to be more influential with other people, we have to know what has influence over us.
What has influence over us is our level of empathy, our level of assertiveness, our level of optimism, our level of self-regard. And these are all aspects of emotional intelligence that can be measured, assessed, and deliberately worked on so that you know what your set point is and where you want to make improvements so that the experience other people have with you, is a positive one.
Austin: Wow. Truth bombs you all. So, that was a lot of really good stuff. And I love that you’ve taken this relatively complex topic and drill down to at least these three sorts of pillars. That was a lot of information and its all-good stuff that I would like to be actionable. So, is there a way that you can help our listeners and myself included here, remember those different components and you know, use them while we’re out there selling stuff?
Merit: You mean outside of doing some emotional intelligence, assessments and training with me? You mean outside of that. Okay, let’s see. Well, first of all, when I first started talking about emotional intelligence and sales, there was virtually nothing out there, there’s a lot of information out there now. And so, I think it’s really an important aspect to do your own homework to learn out there. There’s some great books and programs and things like that. I think to unpack it, there’s really the top five emotional intelligence attributes for sales professionals are our self-actualization, that is I like kind of like where I’m at, but I have a growth mindset, I believe in my ability to learn and grow and continue to improve. So, that’s one important thing. My level of independence. I believe in my ideas and I’m strong enough, I might get input from others, but I can make a decision on my own.
Optimism is an obvious one and the known expert on that, the guy I’m quoting all the time is Dr. Martin Seligman. I think Learned Optimism is probably one of the most influential books I’ve read in my career in learning about optimism so that was a good one. Our level of self-regard, like confidence, you got to have that and then what we talked about with empathy and assertiveness as sort of more important for today. So, scale of one to 10, give yourself a rating. What would I think other people would say about my abilities in those areas? And don’t say five, because that’s totally wimpy pick a side, you’re either good or you’re not, and then figure out. What do I need to learn? And then instead of trying to learn all emotional intelligence, like the whole kitten caboodle, maybe just lean in and say, well, if I were to look to improve on empathy, what would I study? What would I be reading? Who’s good at that? And what can I learn from how they are being
Taylorr: There you have it. Actionable, clear, amazing advice. I don’t know about you Austin, but I just learned a ton.
Austin: Oh yeah.
Taylorr: We’re going to have to put all of that in the show notes, but on that note, Merit, as you know, we’re all about creating value for our listeners. So, what are you working on right now that everyone can benefit from?
Merit: Couple of things. So, I have a podcast that I do with Julie Holmes called The Smarter Sales Show. It’s the tech and technique to sell more and stress less. We started that at the beginning of the pandemic because as a technique expert, I needed to really up my game on the technology side. And as a technology expert she was calling me to say, well, what do I say now? Because everything is upside down when it comes to sales messaging.
So, we started having conversations and then we thought, well, I think people would benefit from listening in to these conversations. We started the podcast and starting in 2021, that show is going to a weekly format on a platform called The Sales Experts Channel, as well as all of your favorite podcast platforms. So, that’s a free, easy to consume, little half hour nuggets of brilliance from the tech and technique side. The other things that I’m working on, I’ve got some online and some virtual ways that I’m coaching and training folks these days. And I would say if you want to sort of get on the list, get in the Merit- based ecosphere ecosystem, whatever, environment, community, posse, group, cohort. I don’t know…
Austin: Squad yeah.
Merit: Probably the easiest thing to do would be text Merit, M E R I T to 33777. That’s 33777, and I will communicate with you that way, we’ll get you on a list and get out some cool stuff. Otherwise, it’s merit-basedbusiness.com and check it out. And if I can be of help to you, go ahead and give me a call.
Taylorr: Well, there you have it folks. All of those links will be in the show notes, along with that text to opt-in so make sure you get that they are awesome resources. And if you found value in this episode, don’t forget to rate and subscribe and if you want more awesome resources like this, go to speakerflow.com/resources. Thank you so much for chiming in. I just wanted to take a second to thank our sponsor Auxbus. Auxbus is the all-in-one suite of tools you need to run your podcast and it’s actually what we run here at Speaker Flow for Technically Speaking. It makes planning podcasts simple; it makes recording podcasts simple; it even makes publishing podcasts to the masses simple and quite honestly, Technically Speaking, wouldn’t be up as soon as it is without Auxbus. Thank you so much Auxbus. And if you are interested in checking Auxbus out, whether you’re starting a podcast or you have one currently get our special offer auxbus.com/speakerflow, or click the link below in our show notes.