Episode 146: The Importance of Practice – Michael Hageloh

Predictable Prospecting
Episode 146: The Importance of Practice - Michael Hageloh
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Is selling just a job, or is it a lifestyle? Is it possible that people normally seen as innovators are really just masters of sales? These are some of the topics addressed by today’s guest. Michael Hageloh is the author of the book Live from Cupertino. Michael spent 22 years working with Apple, then turned his attention to working with entrepreneurial startups. Listen to today’s episode to hear what Michael has to say about applying strategy to process, the importance of practice, and how practice applies to the concepts that Michael explains in his book. 

Episode Highlights:

  • Where Michael’s work fits in along the pipeline
  • Applying strategy to process
  • How practice applies to the concepts in Michael’s book
  • How to put together a conversation to practice the conversation
  • Selling as a lifestyle
  • Disruptive revolution
  • Building connections that lead to relationships
  • Understanding the outlier
  • How goals are one part of a system


Live from Cupertino


Marylou: I am so interested in hearing where do you think this thing of yours fits in the physical location in the pipeline? Where do we start with Michael’s work?

Michael: That’s a great question. I’ve been asked this on 50 different interviews so far. Each and every time, which is characteristic of me, I’m adjusting this to the audience on the other end and that’s the musician in me. You don’t go out on stage and play jazz when the crowd wanted blues. It ends up being a bad evening for the both of you.

Although I speak of pipeline and we had one and we managed it as a sales force every Friday, I in the book did not focus on those aspects. I focused on the art, the soft spoken pieces of why we were successful. You’ve got to say that in my personal selling career of the 22 years, I was only involved with one organization. I haven’t had multiple exposure. That’s why when I left, I went on a purposeful journey of one year stints. My two years at Adobe have been the second largest deal in their history. It was very different than doing hardware, doing services.

Where I fit in is clearly at, to use terms of B2B level, face-to-face, the senior level call, in my former world, the chancellor, the president of the institution, the president of the university, the provost, the deans, the mechanics of the deal are not important. The results of it are everything. When one structure something at that level in the $10 million, $20 million, $50 million, $100 million range in the series B that we closed at $60 million, when you’re in that level of number, process is not important. In fact, process gets in the way.

I spoke of the one sales training that mattered, it was an improv sales training. It wasn’t even sales, it was just a theatre company that did improv. It’s the ability to read the customer, ability to read the situation, to read the audience. This was something that Steve did masterfully and I observed and wrote in the book on how that happens. How all those pieces come together. I moved from a president of the university from to, “We’re going to do this so all across the entire campus with just a little bit of nuance pick up.”

That’s the antenna one has to have. You’re not capturing that in a customer call and God knows the phone conversations are critical, and the letter follow-up is even more critical, and the emails have to be perfect, and all those pieces of the puzzle have to be right, but you’re not getting the nuance of it, the musicianship if you will, without that face-to-face. I’m the face-to-face person. I just think that people buy from people, you know that. If you’re doing widgets, that’s a different story, but in my category and what turned us from near out of business in 1998, from the two weeks away from closing the doors, as Michael Dell said, “They should just sell the company and give the money back to the shareholders,” from that to today, is a musical journey.

Marylou: This is great because I think a lot of what we do in life, as to say where I am is strategy, but strategy applied to process.

Michael: That’s great, one should have that. You can’t do what I describe without that, because then you’re just shooting in the wind. You have to have it. I think today’s data-driven world even more so. Having great musicians who know how to play, putting them in a row doesn’t turn out to be orchestra. It’s having the conductor,  it’s having the right piece, it’s having the expertise, it’s having that drive and giving that drive to your players such that they’re going to give you that one little bit more, and perhaps where magic is.

Sony had all the pieces of the iPod long before Apple, all the pieces, every one of them, including the music catalog BMI, but they couldn’t put it together. They had no orchestration. They had no conductor. They have plenty of systems that probably knew all of it, but they couldn’t put it together. That art, that putting it together, that essence of Apple is what’s in the book.

Marylou: Michael, you’re a musician. Obviously, I’m a musician. A lot of growing up.

Michael: Well, I’m semi-retired, but just because it’s weird to be my age and be on stage still.

Marylou: Yeah, but once a musician, always a musician.

Michael: I’m much older, so it’s even odder.

Marylou: What we’re taught early on is practice; strategic, focused, practice. How does that concept apply to the concept in your book and also some people I recall growing up being a person who was accepted to Juilliard at an early age, and I remember watching some of the workshops where they practiced one area of music over and over again. What applies to the sales conversation here in mastering that, and understanding the nuances, and working that muscle so that you can recognize when there’s a shift? How does one practice that? How do you equate that in the book?

Michael: Chapter one is rehearsal. Guess what? Practice. What’s the old joke, how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice?

Marylou: Yes.

Michael: I’ve actually been asked that many times when I lived in New York. In that case, I did give them the proper directions depending on where they were. They still look lost. We are actually friendly, we just don’t have time to chat with people, just understand that, because of I missed this train, I got to wait 20 minutes from a subway platform. It’s unpleasant. Let’s move on. For rehearsal and practice, one thing that I’m going to say that might blow people’s minds is the fact that at Apple, you need to know your products inside and out.

If you were at a sales conference, and our then VP in his sales talk at the end of the conference walked up to you and said, “Michael, tell me about X.” It better be smooth and well put together. Not a repeat, and here’s an important part, as a fellow musician, you I think will appreciate this. It isn’t that you pick up a piece of Beethoven and you play it, it’s that you pick up a piece and you play it as you. There’s a nuance.

We aren’t rote memory repeating machine. We are humans that add our own zest to everything we say. At least we should, if we’re salespeople. Rehearsal gets you the basics, and the tools, and the fundamentals. Practice gets you the opportunity to put those together in a message. A really great practice lets you adapt that message to the audience. That’s the cycle.

Marylou: But you’re presented in many cases when you’re starting out with the music, the notes, how to play the notes, how much emphasis to put on the notes, what notes to play. If you’re in a company that doesn’t have that level of structure, how does one go about even starting to put together the conversation to practice the conversation?

Michael: You do as the person who converted from technical to sales like I did. You do this I think through careful observation of the great. You got to be around them. This is a little problematic in our gig economy where you’re answering calls at home via some system that’s delivering them to you, and you’re never around others. You’re not in that call center anymore, because now all the calls are going to your own home or cellular device. You’re answering your work call while you’re 75 miles an hour down the interstate.

That they don’t have a solution for, because I still think that the get togethers, the jam sessions are quite important, particularly for salespeople. I did it through observation. I don’t know that I have a formula for that, but I did it through careful observation of others. Good, bad, I would go on every call I could with the two reps that I was supporting and just relentlessly listening. From that, one thing about great salespeople that I’ve met is that they know themselves. They know that, “Hey, I’m not good at this,” or “I am good at that,” and I quickly figured out I needed to understand my own self in this context, not in the music context. I knew I can play this, I don’t want to play that, but I had to understand it in the business context when I transitioned to the business world, and only through observation and asking.

When we did reviews I said, “I don’t want to see the standard line written in my review. Tell me what I’m doing wrong. Spend time on that. Work with me on how I get better. Don’t placate me. Tell me what’s wrong,” and watching others, and then I am a voracious, always have been researcher. I was fortunate to be in higher education. I was in the university marketplace. I was surrounded by people with lots of letters behind their names. I can tell you that I knew emotional intelligence before it was even cool. I knew it by my own customer.

One thing I’ve found in this, I do it to this day, I always start by, “I know what I know, tell me what you know?” and this has opened up enlightenment for me. “Have I adopted all of those ideas, theories, theorems, practice, and practicum? No,” but I keep them. I think it’s critical especially field people to keep a broad knowledge base. Well it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got to, again back to music, if you’re a percussionist, you don’t have to be able to go through an entire Beethoven Sonata perfectly, but you have to have enough to know that you can stay communicative with it.

I can tell you when I played a concert, my most feared instrument is the triangle. I’m scared to death of the triangle and people go, “Why?” I say, “You know why? I only get one chance.” There’s no follow up on the triangle folks, no follow up. There’s no second note. In that situation, that is pressure to the max. A sale situation for $100 million deals aren’t that tough, because you’re interacting. You can take a breather, and have a coffee, and sit down, and build up a different relationship, and ask about the kids, and be interested. I know what I know, I want to know what you know.

This is what I saw from greatness. This is how I developed it and this is how then you take rehearsal. You take rehearsal into performance. I 100% believe that the only way to great selling is through practice, practice, practice. Again, it’s not getting up there with a rote memory reading spec sheet. Good grief, if I ever read a spec sheet, I would shoot myself probably. If you’re doing product number or product ID and price, you will be replaced. That’s not selling. That’s just fulfilling.

The 10 chapters. All of them are distinctive in their mechanics, but together, they are the melody. They are the magic if you will. I said that. I think I told you at the beginning, I had two failed manuscripts. It was very difficult to get the essence out and just like it’s difficult to get the essence out of great music, but once you get there, you’ll know.

Marylou: I think what you said is so encouraging to my audience of listeners in the sense that, there are a lot of former technical/engineering/nontraditional sales executive persons listening to this podcast, and we all are a little intimidated by the charismatic outlier who just sways into the conversation.

Michael: Yeah. I was a support engineer for one of those. I know exactly what you mean. Everybody loves Ray, and then my other one was the technical pipe. The nuts and bolts, knew everything, he could give you a 25-pair color count if you want and don’t ask, I can’t. Many people listening are probably going, “What’s he talking about?” it’ll be you and I, it’ll be our secret, they’ll never know.

Marylou: Yeah. It’s our thing.

Michael: They will never know. They probably don’t even know that word analog yet. They’re still thinking that that’s bad TV or something.

Marylou: Yeah and our 1A2 equipment like, “What? What’s that?”

Michael: Oh my gosh. Oh wow. At any moment, when I see blinking lights on my phone, I have to plug it in. We’re not going to rotary dial here are we? Are we? Are we going to rotary?

Marylou: Maybe.

Michael: Are we going to rotary?

Marylou: We could be.

Michael: I think at some point, someone’s listening to this and they’re going to tune in right, “Are we going to rotary?” and they go, “Oh, different podcast.”

Marylou: “Wrong podcast. This can’t be Marylou’s podcast, oh no.”

Michael: The funny thing about the charismatic one, at least one of my early ones was, was he deep in a product or no? But what did he have? He did have that ability to get the appointment, because everybody loved him. He genuinely loved others. He wasn’t a, “Can I put you in this card tonight?” he’s the one and I wrote about him in the book, that I would go into his hotel room when we’re on the road and get, “Hey Ray, let’s get going,” and he’d have a CD player set up with little speakers. I was like, “What are you doing?” He says, “I always listen to music before a presentation. I want to get into the zone.” I’m like, I’m a musician. I’m thinking, “Okay, whatever. I’m hoping that I get paid tonight as a musician.” I never understood it until later to going, “What was he doing? He’s relaxing his mind. Why?” from a mindfulness professor I talked with, because that’s actually proven that synapses will reconfigure, and you will get deeper and better new thoughts when your mind is relaxed.

That’s why I wrote a blog post that’s been quite well picked up where I said, I get my best ideas in the shower and here’s why, because I’m relaxed. When you couple him with the super technical which I had, Craig. Craig was a wild one. The guy knew everything. To your audience, if you can become that amalgam of both, you don’t have to be super cool charisma, but you have to have a little personality in today’s day and age. People are all looking for interaction. They don’t get it. If you give them some respectful interaction, you’d be surprised. Also know what you’re talking about, you’ll go far.

That’s kind of where we were as a sales culture, the 30 years or so of us in higher education. Remember, my customers taught everyone else’s customers, because mine were professors and people in higher education. Those are who my customers were. The other thing is they never left their jobs. They were there for a life. Bending the truth wasn’t something that worked out. I remember playing on stage, if you’re just playing covers and you’re not into what you’re doing, it shows.

That lounge lizard kind of, no disrespect to lounge lizard musicians, but there’s no life there. There is a reason that a guy in a green plaid leisure suit and a piano has nobody listening to him or her.

Marylou: Right, like you say in the book, you’ve got to feel it in your bones and in your gut.

Michael: You do.

Marylou: It’s buried in there somewhere, yes.

Michael: People slide that. They, “Okay, I really feel it. I’m doing this for a job.” True selling is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.

Marylou: What you said in […] too, about you’ve got to love your client, love your prospect totally, just like your dog or cat loves you, that’s how you have to be with your clients and your prospects, each and every one of them.

Michael: You are so right and whether you are connecting with them on the phone or connecting with them in person, if you really do know what you know, but want to know what they know, if you really are engaged and that’s more than just sending a card on their birthday. That’s great and there’s nothing wrong with that and I’m a fundraiser today in a higher education institute and we do those kind of things, but people know that I am truly interested in what they have, too. I’ve had many it in my former life sales calls where we never talked about the product, never.

We talked about problems and solutions and ways and the product, I make this statement in the book and I’ve had a lot of controversy over it, a lot of push back. My statement is simple, Steve Jobs was not an innovator, at all. People are like, “What is he talking about?”

Marylou: “What? How can you say that?”

Michael: I said, “Steve was a master salesman.” He took you to a new place that you didn’t even know you want to go. When you got there, conveniently his products were there.

Marylou: Right and that he did steal the Apple. I worked at Xerox, on the Star Systems, which is the precursor to the Apple.

Michael: Oh my God, park. Oh my God. Now, I understood, we just got a mouse from you guys.

Marylou: Oh, no, no. You stole all the GUI. I worked on that in the early 80s. He was the master.

Michael: Oh my gosh, I was not involved. I joined in 89.

Marylou: Okay, I forgive you.

Michael: We were still well under our way by that but, it’s funny you bring this up, because in a lot of ways, disruptive evolution, disruptive revolution is often times led by time and place. You think of companies like Uber,  I’ve lived quite a while in New York City, I know the taxi system is the problem. Let’s face it, what Uber ended up being or is, whether whatever marketing stand, is they’re still a very effective taxi system that uses a wonderful platform that wasn’t around 20 years ago.

USB. Everybody knows what USB is, Universal Serial Bus, everybody knows it. Apple for one got it from Intel and said, “We’re going to popularize this because nobody’s making peripherals for things called the Mac anymore and we’re going to be out of business, so let’s universalize the entire interface so that everybody can make stuff universal.” Now, the rest is history.

I don’t know that time and place of park and that time and place in the valley and the time and place that was what it was, but I think that at least from my perspective, the company did a really good job. At least the latter part of the company, not from the initial part of popularizing and putting words and understanding around, “Why do I need a graphical user interface? What will that do for me?” Here’s why you want to carry 2000 songs in your pocket. Here’s why you want to carry a full computer in your pocket that have 2000 songs in a web interface and we’ll call it, I don’t know, an iPhone.

That part of the orchestration chapter, that part of bringing everything together in a really great harmony, music, melody. You and I could use technical terms, the audience might not get it, but that is when you walk out of where you are listening to something and go, “Wow, I feel it in my bones.”

That right there is the mystique of Apple. We were able to make you feel it. When you can get your customers to do that. That doesn’t mean like, I won’t mention any other CEOs who currently are running around wearing black turtlenecks and think they’re the next Steve. Look guys, you’re never going to be that. Be who you are. Don’t worry about being him. Don’t worry about being a college drop out. Be who you are, which I always think is fun, because the black turtleneck thing, who was the, Theranos, what was she? I forget her name offhand. She was going to be the female Steve. Unfortunately, the product she was selling didn’t do what it said it was going to be.

You know what? We were okay and I said it many times to customers, “Hey, go buy something else. I’m not right for you.” And they’d look at you and go, “What? Are you kidding me? You’re supposed to convince me to buy this.” “No, because you’re going to go away and go, ‘Look what he did to me,’ and I’m not doing that.”

Marylou: It’s not a good fit that we teach that a lot to be able to walk away or if you have the relationships perhaps suggest another alternative that better fit their needs. That they can go and explore on their own time, but we’re really about providing a quality experience and beyond extraordinary experience for the people with whom we think we have a good fit.

Michael: See, and you said the word that in your description, I get it, how deep that means to you, relationship. Now, a lot of people gloss right over, “Oh, we have a relationship management system,” like I don’t know many systems that manage relationships, they manage data and then from that we can generate relationships.

Marylou: Yeah.

Michael: There’s the key there, you have a relationship or should foster a relationship, no matter how you connect with the customer. Especially in today’s somewhat capricious world. Relationships seem to be very disposable and they’re not. The human kind is built on them. When I’d sit down and move somebody from a PC to a Mac, it usually takes an hour or so. When you saw them, the light went on, when they got it. When they start understanding. When they started self-direction, started really producing their own.

That human connection, I have today customers that were as I told some the other day, associate professors, who are now provost of the second largest universities in the state. Today, I walked by the office and they say, “Come in and talk to me about whatever’s cool, Michael.” and last time I saw this individual, before I left Apple he said, “You know I bought an iPod for my wife. She’s learning Spanish off of it and I bought an iPod for myself and I’m not still learning,” and I looked at him and said, “You know, it may not be the iPod’s fault.”

Of course, he could throw me out of the office quickly at that point in time, but we have a strong relationship and was he an entry in the CRM? Absolutely. Were there call notes? Absolutely. Were there details? Absolutely. You can’t not do that. That is the foundation for the mechanics for building that real relationship. That’s an important part. I actually have quite a bit about CRM in the book. Because it was painful for a lot of “shoot from the hip” reps, who didn’t want structure. What they were really saying is, they didn’t want you to see what they were doing.

Marylou: Yeah or they, “You leave me alone. I bring my numbers in. This is how I do it. I can’t be replicated in any way shape or form, so don’t even try.” That’s the outlier, if you will, but I am a big proponent of understanding from a structural point of view, what the outlier does and then from that creating a rhythm around it and then building it into the soul of the actual reps that don’t necessarily feel they have that type of flow rhythm in their body and learning.

Michael: It’s brilliant. It’s exactly what I say. For instance, I’d say in the book, I’d say, “I’m not a big believer in goals,” and they’re like, “What?” “I’m a believer in systems, because goals are part of systems,” and that’s exactly what you just described. Get those superstars and build that systemically, so that your next superstar, who might not be a superstar at the moment, can be birthed. That next musician who needed just a little bit more work can go, “Wow,” and you see what they did or where they went with that.

It’s just different terminology, but I’ve always been a proponent of individual goals, do X, do Y, do Z. Those goals, once they’re achieved, now what? What do I do with them? What I want are systems, where goals are component of.

Marylou: Exactly, and right now in this day and age, we have the tools to be able to record people, to get them on video with our phone, to record their audio, to transcribe the audio right on our phone. All of these tools to get better and to improve and to feel more confident are at our fingertips now. So why not spend the time to do this with all of our people and get them up to the point where they’re all confident, comfortable, and can perform at their best, really.

Michael: Right, that’s the modern day following with the great reps around. It was my only option. It’s great resources. This is the part of back to rehearsal, this is the part of making yourself a better player, if you will. Making yourself better musician. Making yourself do the impromptu, because I can tell you how many times things turned.

If you’re in front of somebody, you’re sitting across from them and we’re on a do-this-do-that, do-this-do-that and don’t have any sense of the moment, then things can go awry very quickly. It’s like the car buying experience at times. I mean they seem to be very systemic. No disrespect to folks who work in the car industry. I’m just a consumer. I’m on the other side of it.

It seems that when you take them a little off, at least the junior ones, the very young ones, take them off track a little with something that’s not in the call list, they’re, “Huh? What do you mean?” It’s so frustrating. It seems to be one of the last things that technology hasn’t touched, but I guess they’re trying with order direct from the factory and those kind of things. Off the rack here, sorry.

Marylou: No that’s okay. I do want to be respectful of our audience time and mention the book. The book’s name is Live from Cupertino: How Apple Used Words, Music, and Performance to Build the World’s Best Sales Machine. Michael, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today. The book is available on Amazon Now, correct?

Michael: It is, anywhere you buy books.

Marylou: Okay, anywhere you buy books. There you go. I very much appreciate you taking the time to educate us. This is such a great topic and one that’s very timely because of the way things are in life right now, we are craving relationships. We have the ability to do things at scale, but every once in awhile you want to take it down a notch and build those important relationships. It may not be scalable, may be scalable depending on where you are and what you sell, but at the heart of all this in the heart beat is really loving the person or the other, I say belly-to-belly at the other side of the table from you and understanding where they’re coming from, too, to become a better salesperson.

Michael: You’re 100% right and to your book, it becomes predictable, if you do those kinds of things you’d be surprised. We are fairly predictable animals and as somebody who started life looking for applause, you get where you really want to please and when you get to that point, the magic happens. Hey, it’s been fun. It’s been fun, what do you play, just quickly. What do you play?

Marylou: I play the oboe and I also play piano.

Michael: Okay, so you only need one oboe and a band, just so you know.

Marylou: I know, yeah. I have a piano at my house and my kids kind of dabble and my brother is a bass guitarist. He was at the 11th hour, 59th minute of getting into Gwen Stefani’s band.

Michael: Oh wow.

Marylou: Yeah, 8–10 years ago. It was the high and the low of his life, all within the span of five hours or something like that.

Michael: Well, fortunately, I don’t talk about the highs and lows and thank God, they weren’t any pictures back in the late 70s. We’ll just leave it at that.

Marylou: There you have it. Michael, again, thank you so much. Take care.

Michael: Enjoy, bye.