[Transcript] Episode 067 – Jason Bay
Transcript: Episode 067 – Jason Bay
Transcript for Episode 067 – Jason Bay on Non-Salesy Sales
067 – Jason Bay on Non-Salesy Sales
If you’ve been a long-time listener, you know I try to bring you interviews with music studio owners as well as professionals in other areas that are relevant to us as business owners. Everyone’s juggling a lot more during COVID, so it’s been a lot harder to arrange these non-music teacher interviews. I get it!
This makes me especially thankful for today’s guest, Jason Bay, who took the time to chat amidst it all.
You might already be cringing at the title to this episode, so first a little background. Jason and I are both alumni of an entrepreneurial training program called College Works Painting. I’ve mentioned it in passing on the podcast before. This organization operates kind of like a franchise, where college students run their own branches of a nationwide house-painting business. We were responsible for doing everything from generating leads, doing estimates, booking house-painting jobs, hiring and training painters, managing the job sites, communicating with our clients, running payroll… you know, everything you need to do to run a business.
My time in this program was hugely influential in my life and career and it’s where I got my first taste of sales training. I am constantly drawing on my sales experience from this business and Jason has taken this many levels beyond what we learned back in the day, so I’m excited for what he has to say.
I know sales is a topic that musicians tend to cringe at. Actually, people in general tend to feel this way, but I think you’ll find Jason’s approach really refreshing and not at all icky.
I thought this was a good topic to cover as the new year approaches and it’s often a season where we get a lot of inquiries. You’ll get tons of actionable advice on how to handle those initial inquiry emails, how to follow up with prospects, and even how to reach out to potential referring partners.
Here’s my conversation with Jason:
Andrea: Hi Jason. Welcome to the podcast. Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
Jason: Yeah. So one of the things that we help people with, I ran a company called Blissful Prospecting and even for people that do sales full-time, one of the things that they don’t like to do is prospect and start relationships with people that don’t know them. So what we do is what I call it is going from reluctance to confidence. So how do you go from being call reluctant or sales reluctant or prospecting reluctant to really feeling confident about what you do?
Andrea: My audiences are music teachers and a lot of them are already like “Oh no, sales. That’s a dirty word. I don’t like that.” So can you tell us what sales is? What is prospecting?
Jason: “Sales” in a very simple way that I look at it is if you look at the dictionary definition it’s like selling goods or products or whatever and like all these other stuff, but really, sales is like asking questions and listening. That’s how I would look at it. That’s what we were taught in College Works Painting back in the day. We both run a house painting business in college. I worked with them for a while and a guy, Johnny Ree, I still remember him, came in and he’s like “What is sales?” And he started asking questions and all of this other stuff and one thing that I always do is I do a role play with people that I’m teaching, you know, first time sales people or people that are sales for non-sales professionals, so people that maybe run a business where they have to sell but it’s not like their full-time job.
One thing I always have people do is like “Hey, let’s pretend I’m a college student. I got a pen. I got a pencil. Sell me on why I should use one over the other,” like there’s not a right or wrong answer. And every time I do that what people end up doing is they grab a pen and they’re like “Hey, this pen, right, it’s really awesome you know because it looks nicer than a pencil.” And they start going into all these reasons why I should do something as the prospect or the customer in the role play. What that always makes me feel like and that’s, I think, a really important lesson is the people that you work with, like really think about what it’s like being in their shoes. What’s it like being on the receiving end of when I sign up on your website and you email me or call me, what does that experience feel like for me?
So when someone tells me what I should do as a prospect, it doesn’t really make me feel very good because I like autonomy. I’m not a little kid and I don’t like being told what to do. So when someone does that role play, typically what they do is they’ll tell me what I should do and what I should use. And what always ends up happening is I say, “Hey stop. What if you had to ask me questions to figure that out? What would you do?” And actually I was telling you again this, I did this recently a couple of months ago with a company that sells bookkeeping software to automate bookkeeping for small businesses. What they end up doing is they took five people from their accounting department with zero sales experience and said “You’re going to be doing sales now.” No one was looking forward to that but it kind of flipped a switch when I did this exercise with them and they started to ask and I was like, “Hey, if you had to ask me questions to do this, what would you do?” And they’re like “Well, what kind of writing are you going to be doing later today?” I’m like “Oh cool.” So you’re figuring out what the person needs, right?
And then in this role play I might say something like “Well hey, I’m going to be taking some tests later,” and they’re like “Okay. Well what kind of test? Are you going to be doing Scantron? Is it like a report or an essay that you have to write?” And then it becomes very easy to sell to someone when you ask questions and find out what they need. It’s not about selling ice to an Eskimo. That’s the saying that you always tell sales people, right? They could sell ice to an Eskimo. Well, why would you ever want to do that, right? You’re selling something to someone that they don’t really need. So I think if you really look at sales, it’s really just asking questions and listening and figuring out what people need and what they’re looking into and you may or may not be able to provide your services to that person. On a very simple level that’s how I look at sales.
Andrea: Yeah. And you mentioned that we both did the same College Works Painting program way back in the day and listeners had heard me talk about that before. I haven’t talked about that in depth but they know I did a lot of knocking on doors and prospecting in that way, and music teachers have the advantage that we’re not doing anything typically to get leads or potential clients. Fortunately for us, a lot of our students who are coming our way, either through our websites or word of mouth through referrals, and so we actually get to start the sales process knowing that they already are interested and what we’re offering and just picking up the conversation there. So one email that music teachers are very familiar with is the email from the parent and they’re like “My 8-year-old wants to take piano lessons. How much do you charge?” and that is our introduction to this new student. And maybe we’re responding by email or maybe we’re picking up the phone then and calling them but that’s like where the sales relationship starts.
So how would you suggest music teachers respond to that blunt question “How much do you charge?”
Jason: Yeah. Again, I would think about user experience. I’m thinking about the prospect, the potential customer. Why would someone ask what something costs?
Andrea: Well, I’ve given this a lot of thought. I don’t think parents know any better questions to ask. They look at all these teachers, they look at 10 different teacher websites and they all look the same and they don’t have any more sophisticated questions to ask to figure out which teacher they should choose.
Jason: Yeah. The other thing too I imagine that happens is someone paying for this type of service has maybe never paid for it before so they have no frame of reference. So I sell sales training, right? The business to consumer products that we have are courses. It costs a couple of hundred bucks or someone might want to invest in like a boot camp type experience where they could come in with the group and all of these other stuff. If you ever bought those things before they have zero frame of reference over what’s even asked. If you look at this more of, hey, this person’s coming from a place of they are only asking the questions that they’d know to ask based on what they’re doing and what they’re looking for and they don’t know what they should be asking, why don’t you come in and actually try to help them?
That’s what I talked about earlier with sales. Sales is really helping the person make a decision and that decision might be that you’re not a good fit for them. That’s totally okay. So how could you help them? So if I was talking to someone just be really open with them. When someone asks for the price give them the price. Don’t hide the price from them. The way that you can actually build trust when you’re selling something to someone is to be really open and like overly transparent actually is the way that I like to do it.
If I was talking to you, Andrea, it’s like “Hey, what’s the price?” “Hey, really great question.” The short answer to your question is X amount of dollars per hour. What I find in the people looking for these types of lessons is there are two or three other things that kind of factor into the equation because not all lessons are equal. They will typically go on to like if this would be a good fit for your 8-year-old. “So do you mind I ask you a couple of questions about what you’re looking into and you can let me know if it makes sense to continue talking?” That’s confirmation based on your asking for permission to share more with them. And then, obviously, you need to know why you differentiate from other teachers and what they might be looking for.
But, you know what I want to know? “Tell me about your 8-year-old. Son or daughter?” “Oh, son.” “So what does your son looking to learn how to play? Have they ever taken lessons?” I’m going to ask all those kinds of questions and get the person talking and that’s going to be what 90% of your competition does and 90% of your competition can send email back and say its $200 an hour. Let me know if you want to do this.
Andrea: Yeah. Talk to us about a call to action or a good way to invite the follow-up opportunity, like should we say “Hey, can we get on the phone and chat later this week?” or keep handling that by email? Do you have any recommendations?
Jason: I always want to talk to people over the phone because now I can get a better idea of where they’re coming from. And again, if you’ll look at it like let me just be inquisitive and figure out why someone would ask the question and no other question besides the price, and you know what? Guess what? There is going to be people that want the cheapest price possible and those are probably not going to be very good clients for you. If you’re looking for the absolute cheapest way to do something and they look at like every service as being equal, that might be one out of every four people that come to you through a website. Why don’t you just be open? It is like if you don’t have the cheapest prices and someone’s like “Oh that seems to be kind of expensive.” “Hey, you’re right. It is a lot of money.” And you know what? If you were to ask 10 other teachers were probably not the cheapest one, but are you open to learning a little bit more about what people typically are looking for when they compare?
To answer your question, though, in terms of the email, I would love to do a call with someone. I’m totally just winging this right now and how I might respond to the email, let’s say if a person. Are people getting phone numbers from people who send emails in? Is that part of the contact form or did they not have phone numbers?
Andrea: That’s a great point. I tell teachers design your website in a way that gets you the information you want. So if you want to follow up with a phone call then ask for the phone number. That’s my preferred method of talking to students because I do think you get so much in that conversation. You can kind of hear their pauses and where they react through your phone call. I don’t know what’s typical, really. I think a lot are more comfortable maybe with just email.
Jason: Yeah. I would get a phone number, I mean, that would make it easier for you to follow up with a person, right? And I want to figure out how I can help this person. So if we go on with this attitude of curiosity like I’m really curious if someone is looking to sign their kid up for lessons like why? Why are they doing it? That’s an exciting thing for a parent to go through I would imagine and even more exciting for the kid. So in an email if someone is like, “Hey, how much do your lessons cost?” “Hey Andrea. Great question. Here’s the range of our lessons. What specifically are you looking for? What made you decide to sign up? Tell me more about what kind of lessons you’re looking for. What instrument is so and so looking to learn how to play?”
Ask an open ended and engaging question like that. If a person doesn’t respond, I have a 48-hour rule, typically, when people reach out to me and ask a question, a really easy follow-up that you can do that just doesn’t sound needy at all, so instead of doing “Hey, did you get my last email? Have you made a decision?” Those are all like really needy ways that can make the prospect feel a lot of pressure and want to avoid the situation. You just say “Any thoughts, Jason?” You can follow-up like that. You can call the person, “Hey Jason, I know you signed up on the website and you asked a little bit more about how much the lessons costs and I know I’m probably catching you in the middle of something here. Do you have just a quick minute? I’ll tell you why I’m calling and I just have some questions on what exactly you’re looking for to see how I might be able to help you. Do you have a minute?” “Cool.” And you just talk to them.
Again, just be inquisitive about what they’re looking into, where they’re coming from, like what’s important to them. This is all really good stuff that you can make sure to mention in future emails. So imagine you get this like, you know, there are two or three things that people are looking into primarily when they’re comparing. Maybe it’s ease of scheduling or service. Maybe it is that you specialize in particular instruments or whatever it is. Now every time someone emails you, you can put that “Hey, our price is this.” By the way, typically when people are inquiring about lessons, they’re looking into these three things: Is there anything in particular that is important to you when hiring someone? And now you have this library of things that you know about your customers because that’s part of offering good service, too, is like really being intimately familiar with why people do business with you. This allows you to sell without selling like it’s not about selling. This allows you to figure out who best to direct people to. Maybe there are some people, like I said, it’s totally okay if people are not a good fit for you and maybe you’ll recommend them for someone else that’s a better fit.
Andrea: Yeah. I use a similar method regularly and if I have someone who says “Oh, I’m really interested in this particular genre,” that maybe it’s not my strong suit or just not even my interest area, then I can refer them to someone else and I think that just the idea of being inquisitive and asking questions not only does that let you know things about your potential future student that can help you as a teacher but it also just lets you kind of get a pulse for what the market is looking for. So even if the person doesn’t become your student you know “Oh, this is why maybe they didn’t become my student” and that’s a good thing because they wouldn’t have been a good fit or parents seem to be caring about this thing that I wasn’t doing in my studio and maybe I need to consider doing that at my studio to make it more competitive.
Jason: Yeah. And then maybe you are doing things that really differentiate you from other studios but because you never ask what’s important to them you never even find out that that’s what’s important so that you can actually say, “Yeah, what are the things we do that most studios don’t do is this,” and it sounds like that’s really important to you. Ask questions and figure out what’s important. I know you said that music teachers complain about that email it’s like “Hey I hear you. That kind of sucks,” when people just get down to price like that but “Dude, what other option do you have?” These are potential customers and that’s how they act. So you’re going to play the game or you’re not. So if you want to get angry and you complain when people send you these emails, you can keep doing that but it’s just going to be stressful every time. Be inquisitive about why someone would want to sign up and why they would ask questions like that and how much education they have going in and I don’t know how much of your studios and teachers that you work with create content but that would be kind of a cool YouTube video, I think.
Andrea: Yeah. There is a lot of content that can be created around the questions that parents ask.
Jason: Yeah. That’s like another way to differentiate yourself, too, that’s kind of cool. I don’t know what your preferred medium is. We’re talking on a podcast but you could create videos. They don’t have to be highly produced videos. All this stuff I do is sitting in this room with this camera. It’s a webcam you know. You could do that. You could do blog posts. You can create PDFs. Whatever you want to do and throw in your website there’s no excuse for not doing something but why don’t you have a few pages like the most frequently asked questions or a piece of content on five things that matter more than the price per hour for your lessons or whatever. Something along those lines where you can actually educate people and that makes prospecting a lot easier when you’re following up with people. Imagine someone inquires about the price and you just say “Hey, here are what the lessons are but here are some other things that you might take into consideration. I’ve put a YouTube video together. Check it out here.” It got really insightful things that they should think about.
The other thing I imagine that’s really important is the relationship that a teacher has with a kid. Does the kid feel comfortable? Does the kid like the person? There are all kinds of stuff like that that if you look at it like “How can I educate them on how to make a smarter decision?” That approach makes it a lot easier to sell because, again, you’re helping and educating the person. It’s not about just selling stuff to them.
Andrea: Yeah. That’s a good point and a lot of teachers do the next step after that phone call if the prospect has an interest in becoming a student they might set up a sample lesson where they come and sit in the studio if it’s not Covid time and have a lesson and kind of get to know the student would play around on that instrument or whatever, that’s another opportunity to continue that inquisitiveness and asking questions and also showing exactly what you’ll experience in lessons and some of the unique things. And again, like back to the phone call versus email and in person or live conversations, you can just hear people say “Oh!” like when they sound surprised then you know you’re on to something that’s an important thing to mention maybe when you’re talking about your studio and its unique features, just the things that people respond positively to.
Jason: Well you bring up such a great point in that your current clients, have you asked them what they really enjoy about working with you? Most people don’t do this ever, including myself. I don’t spend enough time talking to my current customers and what you’ll find is all kinds of different things. You could ask them out of curiosity, “Why did you decide to go with me when you were looking into other options? What made you decide to pick me?” And I don’t even know what those answers are but you oftentimes gets surprised, and that could be stuff that you talk about. You obviously have a lot of options. There are dozens of people that you could work with on this specific instrument for you kid but here are some typical reasons why people work with me. It’s not a fit for everyone but if you’re looking for this specific thing I know that you did a pretty good job in that area.
And then, again, you’re giving some autonomy to the customer that’s coming in and saying it’s your choice. I think that people think that sales is about forcing people to do stuff or making them feel uncomfortable. No it’s like let’s just present the options and try to educate them around how they can make the best choice, and care about that. If you really think about this person is coming in and they’re asking information, do you know what I care a lot about whether they hire me or not? I care a lot about their kid having an awesome experience and hopefully becoming a lifelong guitar player or a lifelong whatever player.
Andrea: Yeah, so true. I was thinking of other scenarios where teachers have the opportunity to be practicing a little bit of sales even if they don’t want to consider it sales. One is launching a new program or I’ve talked to a lot of teachers who maybe they’ve had private lessons in their studio and they want to move to a model where students have a combination of private lessons and group lessons and so they need to pitch this new program to already existing students. Do you have any suggestions on how they might approach current students with a new offering?
Jason: Yeah. We did this a lot in our business where we come up with new stuff. I always want to have a reason for reaching out to someone that isn’t to sell them stuff. If you’re moving into a different kind of thing and if you’re doing music like this and teaching people stuff, I don’t know why if you don’t have content I think there’s no excuse for not having some sort of content. What is the awesome thing that they’re going to learn in this program? Is there a blog post or a two-minute video of you talking about something that they might learn? I like to do permission-based stuff. It’s like, “Hey Andrea. We’re coming up with a new program called this and here are some of the benefits of that but I put together a quick video with a summary of it, cool if I send it over?” I always ask for permission. “Cool if I send it over?” or “Okay if I send over the details?” or “Hey, would you be interested in checking out the details?” I always like to do a two-step of opt-in where I’m not just pitching someone something. Let me ask if it’s cool if I send over the details to them.
Andrea: We learned that in our college works days the “asking for the small yes,” so asking the question that an audience can say yes to in a small way that’s not committing anything, not committing a lot of time, not committing a lot of money. You might blast everyone with a video to start with and 20% might watch it or you might blast everyone with an email saying “Hey, do you mind if I send this over?” and 20% might respond and that will be yes like “Sure, send it my way. I’d love to see it.” And then you kind of get a sense of already just with that how many people are interested in the new program. Yeah, I like that strategy.
Jason: Yeah. People get to kind of raise their hand a little bit and say “Yeah, I like more information.” Something that’s really important here too is the personalization of the outreach. I don’t even care if you have hundreds of students, if you have hundreds of people. How long does it really take to say I’m going to send a templated message but I’m going to personalize the first sentence? For example say, “Hey Andrea. I just want to let you know that I’ve been really enjoying working with so and so. They’re making a lot of progress on this instrument.” That little bit of personal touch right there, that’s something that you can add and then say “Oh, by the way, we have a new program with this.” That part can be templated every single time. “We got a new program and this is what we’re thinking and how it will be different and what you’ll get from it and I got a sample video, cool if I send it over.” You know that little bit of personalized touch of something you enjoy about working with them or whatever it might be, that’s so important. That goes a long, long way and there is no excuse for not doing that.
Andrea: Would you say specifically like, “I think Johnny would like this course because I think Johnny will get this out of the course”?
Jason: Yeah, absolutely. They’ve done all these behavioral science and psychology studies around when you give people a reason for something, they’re much more compelled to take action. What they did are these studies around people asking to cut in line. If I just said “Hey Andrea, can I cut in line?” like 99% of the time people are going to say no unless they may be creeped out by you or afraid that you’re going to do something. But, if you’re like “Hey Andrea, can I cut in line? I’m running late and I might not make it back to work on time for my break. I know it’s a big ask. Is it cool if I cut?” You know if you give people a reason and they actually tested it like even if you don’t give people a good reason.
Andrea: Just a reason.
Jason: Just a reason. So give people a reason to respond and I love that. It’s like “Hey, so and so seems to really be enjoying the work we’re doing together and I think they would like it because of this reason. And you make it less about you and more about them. Don’t make it about like “I’m launching this new program and it’s so awesome for all of these reasons and you should do it because of this…” versus “I think so and so would be a good fit based on the work that I’m doing with them or what they like doing.”
Andrea: I’m thinking about other opportunities that teachers might have here to bring more students into their studios and maybe over the years we’ve gotten people who’ve reached out to us throughout the last semester and they never enrolled or maybe we didn’t really hear back from them even after a follow-up. What would be an appropriate way to follow-up, maybe this is months after they emailed us and we just want to say “Hey, it’s a new semester starting”? What might be an appropriate way to handle that?
Jason: Again, I want to think about how is that other person feeling? And one thing that people don’t like feeling is a sense of obligation or guilt, for most people, unless you’re a sociopath I would say, don’t like rejecting people. Most people don’t like to reject other people. So what do they do? They end up lying. They end up saying “Yeah, this sounds good. Get back to me next week with an email and I’ll let you know,” and then they’ll just ignore you, because they don’t want to say no. Most people don’t want to do that and it doesn’t work when you try to guilt-trip people into doing something because they said they’re going to do something but they didn’t. We don’t want to use any weird tactics like that where we make people feel guilty and we also want to make it really easy for them to say no.
This is sort of a more advanced thing in sales around objection handling but the basic philosophy here is like if I empathize with the other person and kind of talk to how I think they might be feeling first and then make it really easy to say no to me, people are much more likely to respond when you give them an easy way out, like in your favor actually. It might sound something like this, “Hey Andrea. You had inquired about these lessons a couple of months ago. It seems like you’re super busy so we didn’t get a chance to connect, which is totally okay.” So I’m empathizing with them. I am validating how they might be feeling and if they’re busy that’s totally okay, and then I’m going to ask something like “Hey, we’re actually going to be coming out with some new programs this coming semester. Would it be a bad idea if I sent the details your way? Again, if not, totally okay. I totally understand if you’re busy right now.” That’s it.
So I’m doing a couple of things there. Again, I’m acknowledging what happened but I’m letting them know it’s okay because they’re probably busy, like it’s totally okay that you didn’t respond to me. This is from Chris Voss who wrote a book called Never Split the Difference and he’s an ex-FBI hostage negotiator. So there’s a lot of negotiating techniques that he talks about in there and one of them I thought was really cool is basically what he said is like when you look for yeses from people like too many yeses, oftentimes people will just say yes as an excuse just to get your way from them and people are very hesitant also to commit to stuff. So what if you ask questions where the answer is actually no? So hence, “Would it be a bad idea if we did this?” And you want the person to be like, “No. That wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
Andrea: So you’re asking the question where no is the affirmative answer.
Jason: Yeah, you’re going for no. Again, it’s like “Hey, would it be a bad idea if I send this over? Again, if you’re busy right now I totally understand; no need to respond.” You’re making it so easy you’re like “I’m going to throw that barrier away. I’m going to let Andrea know that it’s okay to say no to me. Chill,” so that you don’t feel bad, so that you don’t feel any guilt in rejecting me because you know what? I’ve already accepted the fact that you might not respond and I’m letting you know that it’s okay.
Andrea: Yeah. That’s really good.
Jason: So autonomy is very, very important in any kind of relationship–significant others, friendships, business relationships–people want their autonomy. When you get told what to do it doesn’t feel very good. Most people want to do the opposite. It almost makes you feel like a kid sometimes too where your parents forced you to do something that you didn’t want to do, and most kids actually rebel. They do the opposite. We got to think about the situations we put our customers in where it’s hard for them to say no to something because that’s going to actually make them do the opposite of what we want. I got to give you your autonomy. I got to give you permission to say no and let you know that it’s okay and it’s not going to hurt my feelings but I can’t be afraid to ask for your business either. I’m going to ask for your business but I’m going to make it really easy to say no to me.
Andrea: I think the example we started with where it’s just trying to get more information out of the person who’s just asking what our prices are and starting that conversation and telling them some of the factors that other people consider when they’re choosing a music teacher and that really gives an opportunity for them to trust us and also feel like they can make whatever decision they want because it’s okay to say no to us, we told them. These are three reasons why you might not be a fit for my studio and you might fit in one of these other studios, and then if they feel like they are, then it’s a more obvious “yes” as well to enroll in our studio.
Jason: Think of how refreshing that is like when is the last time you did a sales call to someone and they said, “You know what? If you’re looking for this thing, we actually might not be the best fit for you and I’m happy to actually recommend you to someone else if that’s the case”?
Andrea: That doesn’t happen pretty often.
Jason: Yes, it doesn’t happen. I can’t think of a single time that that’s happened outside of the people that we coach and train around that but I can’t think of a single time that’s ever happened to me or didn’t feel pressure to buy something.
Andrea: You can relax your guard or the customer can relax their guard because they’re not feeling like if they’re not on their guard completely then they’re getting manipulated because that’s not what we’re trying to do and that doesn’t, I mean, music teachers are built on long-term relationships. We expect these students to be in our studios for years after they enroll so some quick sales scheme is not going to work for the long-term viability of our business either.
Jason: Yeah. You got a good point in there like the tricks and the schemes and all these other stuff. Gee, these are people you’re dealing with. They’re people! Tricks and stuff like that, most people are not stupid like they know what’s going on. And just because you pressure someone to make a short-term commitment doesn’t mean that they’re going to be around long-term. I don’t suspect that that’s happening with your crew of people. I suspect what is probably happening is people are not asking enough questions because they don’t want to feel like they’re selling something to someone.
Andrea: I suspect that too. So when they get that email they’re just sending the quick answer back, these are my prices and they aren’t engaging much there, I think is happening, or a student gets into their studio without having a lot of questions asked and so maybe then they are not a good fit and those students do tend to like I tell teachers if you’ve got a high turnover, if students are only staying for three months and there are some mismatch there with the students who are ending up in your studio and who really your ideal student is, and that’s like this first call is really the opportunity to tease that out and help students decide if they’re the right studio for you or not.
Jason: Yeah, totally. And just while we’re talking about empathy, there’s empathy in the other way too. Empathy is just talking to how you think the person is feeling. Put yourself in their shoes and thinking “Andrea just signed up and she wants to get lessons for her 8-year-old son so he can learn how to play guitar. She’s probably feeling really excited about that right now. So am I going to match that with excitement in the email?” “Hey Andrea! Thank you so much for reaching out. This sounds like a really exciting time. You have an 8-year-old that’s looking to play guitar. Here’s how much the lessons cost but what I found out from a lot of our customers is they’re looking in these other areas as well when they’re looking for a good teacher. Is there anything else that’s really important to you as your son starts to play their first instrument?” It is meeting them with that level of excitement. There’s nothing worse than “I’m so excited to go check out this product or go into this store” and they’re getting that with a salesperson that’s not as excited as I am about it. It’s a huge downer. Empathy also works in that way too. So just think, this person reaching out to me, what’s their state of mind right now? What are they feeling? How can I match that level of excitement?
Andrea: Yeah. And you know, sometimes parents do give us little clues to that in their emails. I can remember this one from 15 years ago and the kid already had a couple of years of early childhood music classes and this was like the next thing. I thought for this kid this is like the next step is mom clearly values music. I think maybe she had taken an instrument too and she offered that information in that initial email, and so when it’s a parent who is like passing the music on to the next generation like there are some pomp and circumstance around that like it’s a big deal that their kid is now in this place. Yeah, I think the definition of empathy matching where they’re at emotionally is really powerful.
Jason: Absolutely. Yeah, empathy is the number one scale required to be successful in sales or running a business or selling stuff to people or helping people or whatever it might be. Empathy is like that’s the skill.
Andrea: And music teachers really do that well in lessons. I see that happening every day through music teachers and so they can really channel that even if they don’t want to think of what they’re doing as sales they can channel that empathy to make that process really smooth.
I want to run one more scenario by you and this is a teacher who may have moved to a new town or something and they’re starting from scratch, new network, don’t know anyone, and they might be trying to build that network by connecting to colleagues in the area, so maybe they’re reaching out to school music teachers, church music directors, anyone that might be potential student referrers. So how might we approach that email or that introduction? And would that be an email or a phone call?
Jason: I think either/or will do but I like to do a combination of the two. So you might reach out to someone four or five times between phone and email before you gave up but like what I always think about like when you’re partnering with someone is you’re looking for alignment in values. I’ll give you a really simple kind of silly example around music. I really like Van Halen and classic rock. Guess what? If someone else likes classic rock too, we’re at least going to get along and jam on that idea, right? So you need to think about what do they value that you also value? You can call that out. You can find stuff on their website around how much pride they take in lessons and like what they do and all these other stuff. “Hey Andrea, what’s on your website? It looks like you guys take a lot of pride in how you do this. I think we might share some similar values and I really care about that as well and I’m new to town and I thought that it might be cool to talk about students that you run across that might be a good fit for this where we might build a referral business to each other,” you know something along those lines. That’s the approach. I look for commonality in values. What indication does this person or this company show that they care about the same things that I care about and how can I show that as well?
Andrea: Okay. And you said you would email or contact that might happen four or five times?
Jason: Yeah. So I’d email them first and then if they didn’t respond I would just, two days later, “Any thoughts?” and I might give them a call. “Andrea, I sent you an email. I don’t know if you got it but this really stuck out to me in your website. That would be a good fit for this reason,” the same sort of message that you’ll say over the phone.
Andrea: Do you have any tools for handling those email outreaches like what might be a cold email?
Jason: I mean, for this type of thing, if you’re not doing this full-time now, just send it through Gmail or Outlook or whatever you’re using for your email. Nothing tricky and then manage the contacts on a spreadsheet. You’re probably not doing enough volume to really need a tool to help you with this. I wouldn’t let that hold you back.
Andrea: Yeah. I was wondering if you had anything that let you track whether or not they were opening it. I know there are some tools like Gmail add-ons.
Jason: Yeah, Mixmax is a good one.
Andrea: And that lets you send like an individual email but also track it if it’s been opened?
Andrea: When may we ask for a meeting for maybe a high school band director or something? Would you do that in an initial email or would you try to build the relationship first?
Jason: You could ask in an email. I like to use what I call a “soft” call to action versus a hard call to action. A hard call to action is like “Hey, let’s meet next Tuesday at this time,” or “Hey, let’s meet next week when you’re free,” versus a soft call to action might be like, “Hey, does this sound like something to be chatting about?” or “Hey, would it be a bad idea if we got together and ran through some of the details?” I don’t think it’s bad to ask for a meeting on the first email. Just do it in a really open-ended way that’s easy to say no to so the person doesn’t feel pressured to do it.
Andrea: Well Jason, this has been fantastic. Do you have any parting words of wisdom, anything we haven’t talked about that you want to share like sales advice for non-sales professionals?
Jason: Yeah. The big thing that I would think about is empathy. What is the other person feeling? What is it like being in their shoes? So when you sign up for something and you’re really excited about it, what is it like when you don’t get met with that same level of excitement? What’s it like when you ask someone “Hey what are your prices?” and all they respond with is “$100 an hour” and nothing else in the email. How does that make you feel? You don’t really feel connected to that person. They don’t seem very friendly. Just think about those things. Put yourself in the shoes of the people that you sell to and that you work with and let that guide how you go about the sales process.
Andrea: Thank you. And where can listeners get in touch with you?
Jason: Blissful Prospecting, our website BlissfulProspecting.com. That’s the best place.
Andrea: Alright. Thank you so much, Jason.
Jason: Yeah, you bet. This is fun.
[00:38:22] [End of interview]
Hopefully this episode was not what you expected. I think one of the things that make people squirm when they think of “sales” is the stereotypical salesperson that seems fake or manipulative or even greedy. I find Jason’s approach to be the opposite of that.
I loved his definition that sales is “asking questions and listening.” Why, that sounds pretty similar to a definition for good teaching!
Jason also reminded us that we may or may not be able to provide the service the prospective student is looking for.
I think this the key difference between stereotypical sales and the type of sales Jason is encouraging. In the stereotype, the assumption is that you’re trying to get the customer to buy what you have whether they need it or not. Jason’s approach is more about being an educator. We’re helping the client figure out what they need and then empowering them to make that decision.
Approaching prospective students with this mentality can really change the tone and lower the stakes of that first conversation.
Before I become anyone’s piano teacher, I’m a lead sorter. I’m the one with the knowledge about piano lessons and the other teachers in the area, so when a parent or student calls, it’s my job to ask them the questions they don’t know they should be asking.
This helps both of us understand what’s important to them in music lessons.
With this approach, now I can just present them with information about my studio and other studios that might be good fits. I’m not trying to “sell them” on my studio or convince them that it’s somehow the best. Instead I’m giving them information on what’s available in the market and letting them come to their own conclusion.
It’s so much easier to have a conversation with genuine curiosity and empathy when that’s the outcome we’re after.
Jason’s comment about knowing why people take lessons from us also stuck with me.
When I think about some of the businesses I frequent, sometimes the reasons for choosing these businesses has nothing to do with the product or service they’re selling.
I drive farther to go to a doctor because the office of the closer doctor has a really annoying parking garage.
I’m not very brand loyal when it comes to gas stations. I typically choose the station that minimizes the number of left turns I have to make.
Back in the days when we could eat in restaurants, I would sometimes choose a restaurant with less tasty food because it had a better atmosphere.
My point is we make buying decisions based on all sorts of factors, that the business owner would have no way of knowing, except for asking.
So why is it that our students have chosen us as teachers? Is it because we’re in their neighborhood? Is it because their friend takes lessons from us? Is it because we’re close to their parents’ gym or favorite coffee shop?
Being able to share what factored into our current students’ choices might help another prospective student make a decision.
There’s a lot to chew on in this episode. It’ll for sure be on my “relisten” list. To help you put some of this info into practice, I’ve put together a list of open-ended questions you can ask prospective students to move you along that sales/relationship-building path. You can download this list from the show notes for this episode at musicstudiostartup.com/episode067
While you’re at it, check out the Business Building course. This is perfect for the new or new-ish studio owner who wants to set up their business with a strong foundation. I’ll be starting another live cohort in January. All the details are at musicstudiostartup.com.
That’s all for today. Thanks for listening! I’ll be back next week.