Episode 99: Developing Leadership Skills – Deb Calvert

Predictable Prospecting
Episode 99 Developing Leadership Skills - Deb Calvert
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There are a lot of different things that you can try when you need to make more sales. But one of the most effective things that you can do to become a great salesperson is work on your leadership skills.

Today’s guest is Deb Calvert, President of People First Productivity Solutions. In today’s episode, she’ll be talking about her new book, Stop Selling and Start Leading: How to Make Extraordinary Sales Happen. Listen to the episode to hear what she has to say about what buyers really want and how sellers can make sure that they deliver, and stay tuned for a special offer at the end.

Episode Highlights:

  • Deb’s interest in doing real research into what buyers really want, and how that led to her new book
  • The surprises that Deb found in the course of researching her book
  • The importance of sellers establishing credibility with buyers by doing what they say they will do
  • The backstory on the co-authors that Deb worked with when writing her new book
  • The 30 behaviors that buyers respond to when sellers adopt them
  • How the behaviors Deb describes in her book apply in different stages of the funnel
  • Deb’s Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership that sellers can apply in their relationships with buyers
  • How leadership behaviors can help sellers stand out from the crowd
  • Deb’s online e-learning course, and a special offer for podcast listeners


Deb Calvert

People First Productivity Solutions

Stop Selling and Start Leading

For free access to Deb’s online e-learning training course, Workplace Conversations, email a receipt for Stop Selling and Start Leading to Deb at deb.calvert@peoplefirstps.com


Marylou: Hey everybody, it’s Marylou Tyler. I’ve asked Deb Calvert, who’s the president of People First Productivity Solutions. You may remember her from a previous podcast we did on her book called Discovery Questions: Get You Connected and a lot of you are using her framework for working in the closet while working on together for questioning at various positions in the pipeline.

But we’re here today to talk about Deb’s new book called Stop Selling and Start Leading: How To Make Extraordinary Sales Happen. Welcome, Deb, to the podcast the second time around.

Deb: I am just thrilled just to be back, Marylou. As you know, I enjoy talking to you so much I could listen to you speak all day long.

Marylou: Thank you. This is an exciting book. I think we kind of go and laze on things but leadership, it’s always been of importance. But sometimes it’s get lost in the shuffle. Tell us the why behind why this book, why now, why Stop Selling and Start Leading?

Deb: That’s a big question. First of all, the reason why is because I kind of got tired of everybody saying buyers think, buyers want, buyers do, buyers don’t. Speaking for buyers and yet, I wasn’t really seeing a whole lot of research about things that came directly from the buyers. There were lots of studies that interpreted based on buyer behaviors, what buyers wanted, and I wasn’t convinced that that was everything that we could get. I wanted to conduct research straight to the source with B2B buyers and that’s what we started with as a research project. The book then became the natural outgrowth of that because there were some surprises in what buyers had to say.

Because of those surprises, what we did second was we went and talked to sellers. We collected stories from sellers and we looked for the matches. When people are at their personal best in selling, we wanted to see if they were actually doing what buyers said what they wanted to see from sellers. Once that connection became so apparent, I felt really compelled to write a book and let the rest of the sales world know about these findings.

Marylou: I love the word surprise. Can you tell us what were the top surprises that we know but haven’t really addressed? Or just brand new because of the internet or what is the context around these surprises?

Deb: I’ll talk about three surprises. The first one is that when I ask sellers what they think buyers prefer and what’s the most important to buyers and then when we ask buyers what’s most important to them, I’m referring to a framework. We gave both sets a chance to react to 30 specific leadership behaviors. We’ll talk about those in a moment.

But when we ask people to react to those, what sellers consistently pick out as being the most important to buyers, it is important to buyers but it actually falls at the bottom of the list compared to all the other things that sellers don’t even recognize at all as being important to buyers. That’s a very significant disconnect. I was surprised because I also guess that the one sellers think that is most important, I thought that that’s what buyers would pick too, but they didn’t. That’s the first surprise, we’ll talk more about that in a moment.

The second surprise is that the number one behavior that buyers picked, the thing that matters most to them out of the 30 choices we gave them, is that they want sellers to answer their questions in a relevant and timely manner. What that means, this is kind of scary, it means that we can’t dodge and deflect price questions. It means we got to say something. We have to atleast open up to dialogue and not do what we’ve been taught to do. I know, it gives me hype practically to think about talking about price before having value on the table. But we lose buyers fast if we don’t answer that question. That one surprised me and it still rattles me a little bit.

The third thing that I think that is very surprising is that over 33% of the buyers, when we just gave them free rein to give us any other comments that they wanted to give us, a full third said the same thing about what they wanted from sellers. That one thing is something that we’re all a little bit of guilty of in selling of not doing. It’s such a simple thing, such a simple thing that we could do and buyers wouldn’t be so irritated with us if we would just do it.

Marylou: What’s that?

Deb: It’s what I call DWYSYWD. That’s an acronym, DWYSYWD, same forwards and backwards, and it stand for Do What You Say You Will Do. Just do what you say what you will do. Buyers expresses their frustrations about things even as small as, “The seller said they were going to call me at 9:00 and they didn’t even call until 9:30.” I was like, “Why is this such a big deal?”

But as we look into that a little deeper, it’s because especially at the beginning, there’s nothing else for them to gauge their credibility, nothing else that will help them develop trustiness so they have that sort of superficial standard of judging whether or not they want to do business with us.

Marylou: That’s a great one. I remember two things about when I first started in sales, one was if you’re late, your product is unreliable. My boss always made sure that were on time for everything that we said we were going to be on time for. If we commit to 9:00, plan the traffic ahead of time because there’s a lot of face-to-face when I started selling. Plan for all those nuances that happen to get to that appointment on time. He said, I can’t remember the phrase, it’s something like, “You only know you love yourself and others by the commitment you make and keep.”

Deb: That’s brilliant.

Marylou: I don’t think that the love was in that but I think added that. But it really hit home. Those were the two things that I think about every single day besides waking up in the morning thinking what can I do to help others. I think about did I make some commitments? And if so, I got to keep them today and if I have any issues, let people know ahead of time. Yes, I agree with that.

I also love number two about the pricing, whatever questions they have, answer them. I remember a long time ago, we used to talk about giving them a range of prices rather than say, “Oh, I need more information before I can get you that pricing for you.” But we would just say the range of pricing that we fell into and then ask a question after that to get some type of closure as to whether that’s in the ballpark or if we’re playing outside of our league. I do like that one a lot.

Deb: Both of those responses that you gave, they are at least a little more tolerable for buyers than no answer at all. It’s the brush off that really upsets them the most. The sooner you do what you say you will do. If you say, “I will get right back to price,” you have to come right back to price.

Both of those things end up pertaining to our credibility. The reason credibility matters so much, talk about everything old as new again. But the reason credibility matters so much is that they can’t believe your message if they don’t believe in you, the messenger.

Marylou: Right.

Deb: We just forget that.

Marylou: That first one that you said, we think versus they want. Why is that still happening?

Deb: I think it is for a couple of reasons. I think that it’s much easier to talk about product and much harder to think about individual buyers and all the messiness of relationships and will they like me and will they even give me five minutes so I can get to my pitch that I want to make and all of the perceived obstacles we put them up. Buyers do somewhat but we put more weight on those barriers because of our perceptions and desire to launch into a product pitch or to try to race through whatever we’ve got to say because we’re assuming that they don’t want to meet with us. We’re not creating value, we’re doing all this other nonsense instead.

Marylou: That’s interesting. In the book, in Stop Selling and Start Leading, you have a couple of co-authors. Would you like to share a bit about their contributions or how you all worked together on this book?

Deb: Yeah. This is good backstory. In my career, I’ve worked in two different fields for a lot of years. I have always been in sales and there was a period of time when I was at a Fortune 500, in a corporate role, and I was also tasked with leadership development. I became very well seeped in both. When I went into business for myself 12 years ago, I stayed involved in both worlds. But I treated them like they were two completely different worlds like, “Today, I’m going to do sales training. Let me put on my sales hat.” The next day, “Hey, I’ll do leadership development workshop,” as if there were no crossover.

The leadership body of work that I primarily used, because it’s evidence based, because it’s foundational, just about anything you ever see on leadership involves it. It’s a body of work known as The Leadership Challenge-Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. They’ve been doing this for over 30 years. They’ve researched it with over five million people. It’s highly credible stuff. The more that I got to know that, the closer that I got to that work and I eventually wanted to become a Certified Master which is a very high standard, it’s a rigorous process to get that level of certification.

Barry Posner, one of the original founders of that whole movement, The Leadership Challenge, he was my mentor. He challenged that in so many ways. It’s like a two-year process.

Couple of years ago, three to four years ago, I was literally steeped in that, paying attention to leadership behaviors everywhere. It just hit me like a lightning bolt, and that lightning bolt was, “What if sellers adapted these behaviors of leaders? What difference would that make to buyers?” I just couldn’t let go of it, it just haunted me until I convinced Jim and Barry that we had to do a little research study and we did with buyers, we had a […] study with Santa Claire University’s backing. It was revealing. Then we did the seller side study and it all just kept making a lot more sense.

Those 30 behaviors of leaders, if sellers do adopt them, buyers respond. They respond very positively. They take more meetings with sellers to demonstrate those behaviors more frequently and they are more likely to buy from sellers who demonstrate those behaviors. That’s how it became the blueprint, “Hey, here they are, 30 behaviors. If you do these things, buyers respond.”

Marylou: Right. The 30 number is a result it sounds like of years of research and interviews. What is the process that you went through to glean these 30 distinct behaviors?

Deb: Jim and Barry, going back over 30 years, they have had the question. There’s all this stuffs out there about Leadership Philosophy and about Leadership Characteristics. But they want to know what do leaders do that make them more effective? Their original research was going to effective leaders and asking for stories like, “What is it that you are doing when you’re at your personal best as a leader?” They took story after story and they mined through these stories to pull out the behaviors that were repeated over and over again. They knew the 30 behaviors of leadership, they’ve tested those with over five million people around the world giving 360 feedback about leaders. I just asked them if I could borrow those same 30 behaviors, massage them just a little bit so they made more sense to the buyers seller relationship. Those were the 30 that we researched.

Marylou: Wow. In the book itself, you obviously listed 30 behaviors. Do you have a list of action items of how to apply that or is it more working through each buyer’s different, so understanding the characteristics of the buyer first and then applying the 30. How does that work?

Deb: It’s actually a little simpler than that, even. First of all, yes, there are actions. Every chapter has a set of actions that people could implement right away. But instead of giving 30 behaviors—which is a lot—we just use the roll up and the roll up is what I referred to a moment ago, the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. Barry and Jim had done it that way in their work. Each of the 5 practices has 6 behaviors underneath it, so instead of having to memorize and know 30 things, we can just do 5, and that gives you a great start.

Marylou: Is this designed to start at top of funnel? Because my audiences, we’re starting conversations with people we don’t know and some of us are taking it all the way to close one, but some of us stop at the opportunity. At what point—if there was a physical position in the pipeline that you would pick—where do we start implementing this? Is it at the very tipy top before we even start the conversation, or is it somewhere after opportunity?

Deb: It is about the relationship. As any relationship is forming right there at the top of the funnel,as for those who worked with customers long term, as the relationship deepens over time, there are ways that you use any of these behaviors at each stage of your relationship.

Marylou: Put my thinking cap on, if we are targeting accounts that we want to go after from an outreach perspective, and we have certain buyers within those targeted segments that we’re looking at. Our content could essentially deploy these five behavioral practices as we’re writing to the potential prospect—they’re not a prospect yet, but we’re writing to them to try to get them to bubble up to the top of interest, awareness, whatever it is. We could certainly utilize these behaviors and start testing to see which ones allow is to bubble up fastest, I’m thinking.

Deb: You’ve got it. Remember, in our study, buyers said that they would be more likely to take a meeting with a seller who frequently demonstrated these behaviors. They recognize the behaviors right off the bat and respond to them.

Marylou: Are there certain words that each of the five practices utilize or are there certain sentiment behind it? How did you group them by five?.

Deb: This was something that Barry and Jim had done many years ago. Their book is a sixth edition, there’s a lot of history here. I didn’t have to make any of that up, they’ve already done the all the hard work. But let me tell you the five practices because I think you’ll get a sense that of what the flavor is. Also, remind me along the way here which one I thought for sure would be number one and turns out it wasn’t.

The first practice of exemplary leadership is to model the way. Modeling the way includes behaviors that are about knowing your own values, aligning your actions with your values, having standards that you uphold, and being credible. That’s to model the way.

The second practice is to inspire your shared vision. There’s a lot packed into that little phrase, inspire a shared vision. Inspire means to breathe life into, vision means some ideal that’s out there in the future, it’s aspirational, the state we’d like to get to, and shared. For a buyer to be committed to and bond into the vision, it’s not just a vision the seller went away and fabricated and brought back and said, “Poof, here you go,” but the buyer was sharing it right from the get-go. That’s the second one, inspire your shared vision.

The next is to challenge the process, an easier behavior about experimenting and taking risk and being willing to fail forward, to learn, pick up and try again, to know the small winds and to be always looking for innovations and opportunities and possibilities. Then the fourth is enable others to act. Enabling others to act is one that sellers often don’t even see how this relates to the work they do. What’s interesting about that is if sellers don’t see the value, that means that they’re not doing these behaviors and they ought to be because this is the practice that raced to the top, this is the one that buyers want most of all. Enable others to act, we’re going to collaborate and cooperate. You’re going to be involved as the buyer in co-creating and co-brainstorming the insights and the solutions. You’re going to get to participate in creating what you want.

Last but not the least is encourage the heart. Encourage means to pour courage into and the place we’re going to pour that courage into is the heart, there’s the emotional component. This one’s really important but also often overlooked but if you think about what happens after a seller asks the buyer to make a commitment, that buyer or the buying team, they have a whole lot of work to go and do within their own company. They have to get other people to sign off on of it, they have to say no to somebody else they used to be partnered with. They have to implement change, sometimes really significant change to be able to bring the life, whatever it is you’ve just sold them. There’s tremendous work and they need some encouragement along the way for them when the going gets tough.

Marylou: Wow. You said that you thought originally which one of these five would have been most impactful for the buyer journey.

Deb: Yeah. It’s not enable others to act, that’s what not sellers think anyway, although buyers do. A lot of sellers, most sellers like me assume it’s going to be inspire a shared vision. That’s the one that sounds the most like the work of selling. Maybe that’s why it falls to the bottom for buyers.

Before we start to inspire them, because they’ve been burned before, they think it’s just we’re painting blue sky and it’s not even true. Before we get to that, they want to have us establish credibility and trust, that often comes from model the way. They want us to be involving them, there’s the enabling them to act, they want to be encouraged, and then they believe, they have the ability to believe in anything that we’re going to inspire them to do, as well as be a little bit more comfortable with anything we’re going to challenge them to do.

Marylou: Right. You’re in the right to challenge is of what you’re saying.

Deb: Absolutely. Buyers are saying, I’m just […].

Marylou: Right. The other thing about inspire a shared vision, I think sometimes that gets muddled because the buyer can’t differentiate from one seller from another in many cases. They’re not seeing the real value and not really excited about what they have to say because they can’t differentiate their conversation against another vendor who might’ve called 15 minutes before and his vision.

Deb: Yes, and the good news is that if you’re using leadership behaviors, you can very quickly differentiate yourself and stand out. You don’t have to let your product be commoditized and you don’t have to show up like every other salesperson that they’re getting lumped in with.      

Marylou: The book is called Stop Selling and Start Leading. Deb, you have a special offer you want to talk audience about.

Deb: I would love to. We have a new program, it’s not new except that this version is new, it’s now available as an online e-learning training course, self-paced. It’s a program that’s been around for about a decade called Workplace Conversations. What’s unique about it is it is a blend of leadership development and supervisory skills. For anybody who’s inspiring to be in management or already is in management, or for anyone who wants to develop themselves as a leader, this is an e-learning self-paced course, 17 modules, it takes about six hours to complete. It has tons of bonus resources and skills practice associated with it.

We are introducing it at $257 as the online course. But Marylou, for your listeners, we’ll make it available free of charge if they’ll just email me a receipt that says, “Hey, I  bought the book Stop Selling and Start Leading.” You get the book and you get the training course.

Marylou: Wonderful. I’ll be sure to put that in the show notes for anyone who’s driving right now or not being able to write down everything that Deb just said. I’ll make sure the instructions of how to do that, how to take advantage of that self-paced course by purchasing her book that comes in both Kindle and hardcover versions and probably soon be release audio version, I would imagine, Deb?

Deb: Yeah. Publishers like to wait a few months. I’m jumping in to bit and do it but it’ll come.

Marylou: Yeah. It’ll come soon. This has been a great conversation.

I have one more question, some of our audience, not only do they do all sales roles and work for large enterprises, but they do have a good number of folks who are solo entrepreneurs. Is a book like this something that should be on the reading list? Is it important to know these things and apply them as a one-stop shop business owners?

Deb: Absolutely, here’s why. First of all, this is about leadership. If you want to be a leader in anything that you do, meaning you’d like others to follow what you do, this is going to be relevant. But as a solo entrepreneur or business owner, you are selling. Why not sell in a way that people respond to in a way that it just feels natural and good and then enabling as opposed to having to worry about all those stereotypical things that are icky feeling anyway. This is going to make you feel better about all the work that you do.

Marylou: Not only that, I think with the advent of all the tools that are out there now and the ability to start conversations by leveraging technology, we can certainly start those conversations using this framework, this blueprint, in a way that when we do get on the phone with them, there’ll be some rapport already established. Because we have anticipated what their needs are in the way that they like to buy. I think that’s a really important concept that we can utilize especially in prospecting to be able to have these conversations in a more meaningful way that allow the buyer to feel good about what we do request that phone call or that first meeting or that get on the calendar. They’ll be more apt to respond positively to our request.

            Deb, thank you so much for visiting and thank you so much for writing this book. It sounds like a big game changer. Can’t wait to dig in little bit more to it.

Deb: Thank you, Marylou. Thanks for everything you’re doing. I can’t wait to see you on stage again somewhere sometime really soon talking about the canvas of sales process and sales system. You are just masterful at what you’re doing and I appreciate it.

Marylou: Thank you. Take care.