Tags: sales
Episode 189

5 Steps To Successful Sales in Architecture with John Livesay

Enoch SearsMar 3, 2017

Welcome back to another value-packed episode of the Business of Architecture Show!

Today is the second part of my interview with author, speaker and sales consultant John Livesay.

Go here to watch the first half of our interview on How To Ask For What You Want And Get A Yes

John Livesay is a top sales expert and funding strategist. He hosts The Successful Pitch Podcast with investors from around the world and he is the author of the book The Successful Pitch: Conversations on Going From Invisible to Investable.

In today's episode, you'll discover the 5 Steps to Successful Sales in Architecture.

You'll also discover:

  • The key selling skill anyone can master
  • An effective alternative to the “hard-close” sell
  • An easy way to make the dreaded cold-call
  • How to use storytelling to weed out clients who aren't a fit

Resources for today’s show:

John Livesay, Pitch Whisperer
The Successful Pitch: Conversations on Going From Invisible to Investable

Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:

[DAP errMsgTemplate=”SHORT”]
John Livesay: Who we say no to is just as important as who we say yes to. In other words, when you try to be all things to all people, you're nothing to everybody. You need to know who you stand for and who you like to work with, and who is your ideal client and who's not.

Enoch Sears: Business of Architecture, episode 189. Hello. I'm Enoch Sears, and this is the podcast for architects, where you'll discover tips, strategies, and secrets for running a profitable and impactful architecture practice. I'd like to invite you to discover how to double your architecture firm income and create your dream practice of freedom and impact by downloading my free four part architecture firm profit map. As a podcast listener, you can get instant access by going to FreeArchitectGift.com. Today is the second half of my interview with author, speaker, and coach, John Livesay. John Livesay has been called by INC Magazine as the pitch whisperer. He's the author of several books, including his most recent book, The Successful Pitch: Conversations on Going from Invisible to Investible.

In this episode, you'll discover the five steps to successful sales process, and trust me, it is much less intimidating than you might think. You'll also discover an important key to turning around what might be perceived as a failure, and getting yourself out of any situation or thing that you want to change in your life. Relationships and being able to persuade and influence other people is really the key to exploding your career, your satisfaction, fulfillment, and income as an architect. Because of that, you will find this episode to be extremely valuable. Let's get into it. John, welcome back to the Business of Architecture.

John Livesay: I'm glad to be here. Architecture's one of my personal passions. I think there's a lot of similarities between design and the space we create to live and work in, and the space we have in our head.

Enoch Sears: Oh yeah? How so? Tell me about that.

John Livesay: Well, the self-talk that we all have going on, “I'm good enough. I'm not good enough. This'll never work. This is gonna be fantastic.” That space, we design our own life by the thoughts we have, and the more you decide that you're going to decide how you want to live your life as a person, as an employee, as a designer, and what you bring to the party, so to speak, impacts the design that you give other people to live and work in. It's all about, I think, it starts with what are your internal thoughts? What do you believe about yourself? What are your values? What kind of culture are you creating in the company that you start as a way to see who you want to have as clients. It's all … If you think of the foundation of your life, like a foundation of a house, and then you build up from there, “What are the walls? What's important to me, and where do I want to live?” All that stuff, and, “How do I want to live?” That's what really resonates in making people successful.

Enoch Sears: From your own experience, how does someone change those thoughts?

John Livesay: Well, first way to solve any kind of problem is just to become aware of what the challenge is. If you don't like something going on in your life, “I wish I had more energy. I feel like I'm in a rut. I'm bored. I don't like my clients,” whatever the problem is, take a look at it. Awareness is the first step. “All right, if this is always something that pushes my button, what could I do so that the button's not there for somebody to push?” Realize that you probably installed that button, or somebody in childhood installed it, and you just have kept it there. But you're the thinker thinking the thoughts, not the other way around.

Our thoughts create our beliefs, which creates our character, which creates our habit, and so it's just tracking it all down from there going, “All right, if I want to really change my experience, I have to change how I'm thinking about things, and I can only control my reaction to something, not whether the project goes off track or not, or what somebody changes their mind and suddenly doesn't want this and doesn't want to pay for the change,” and all the other things that come along, that's out of our control, how people behave. We can only control our reaction to it. How do we stay calm and centered and focused during stress so that we don't make the problem worse? More importantly, that we can keep other people calm and trust us to fix it.

Enoch Sears: How do we stay calm under stress?

John Livesay: Well, I think one of the key areas, and this is also a sales technique, I've tied it all together. My first book was The Seven Most Powerful Selling Secrets. People would often say to me, “What's the most powerful selling secret?” And I would say, “The most powerful way to be successful in selling yourself, getting clients, is to be comfortable with silence.” The old way of selling would be, “Hey, would you like to hire me to be your designer or your architect?” And then, “Or would you like to buy this house,” or whatever it is, right? People would say, all the negative self-talk kicks in. “Oh my god, if I have to show this person another house, another design, another drawing, I'm gonna lose my mind.”

And so they would say, “Well, what if I throw the refrigerator in? Or, what if I move the window here?” Or whatever it is, then you've left that person an opportunity to say yes or no off because you've interrupted their way of deciding. Old school selling used to be, “Well,” you ask a closing question for the order, and whoever speaks first loses. People can pick that energy up. Nobody likes that. I just tell people, tell yourself, “Would you like to hire me? Does this sound like the project that would be a good fit for you to work with me?” Then I say, “Just say to yourself, ‘I am patient and calm,' three times.” “Would you like to hire me? I am patient and calm.”

That gives you an extra five or ten seconds so you don't have all that negative self-talk come out. It's a very different energy that you're putting out than just, “Oh, whoever speaks first loses.” I've had real estate agents double their sales just by using that technique. The secret to becoming comfortable with the silence in the room is to be comfortable with the silence in your head. When you become with the silence in your head, quieting all those negative self-talks, whether it's through meditation, which by the way, a lot of Silicon Valley start-ups are really … This whole concept of mindfulness and staying in the moment to be productive is something a lot of entrepreneurs are using as a way to deal with stress.

Enoch Sears: The silence, shall we say, sounds like it comes at the moment when the decision is going to be made, or additional questions will be asked about the sale so to speak. If we look at that as one of the last parts of the sale, what would you say … I'd love to tell our audience what would be the lead up to that in terms of your perspective of the sales process. What process do you want to take someone through generally to get them to that point?

John Livesay: Well, you want to be a copilot with your buyer. You don't want them in the back of the plane, you're flying the plane by yourself. You don't want them flying the plane and you in the back of the plane. You want to be a copilot. Like any good flight, there is a flight plan. The flight plan consists of five steps. The first one is rapport building. We talked about that at the beginning right? Building up trust, likability, getting people to know you through story telling. Now, some people skip rapport building or they spend way too much time on it, right? If somebody gave you half an hour to come in and present, don't spend 20 minutes on rapport building. Just three to five minutes at the most. Maybe two minutes. But you got to get some rapport going on. Then, it's important to ask open ended question versus close ended questions, which is the second part is needs analysis. Do we need to go into the difference between open ended questions and close ended questions do you think? Would it be good?

Enoch Sears: It might be new to some people who are listening, so we might as well.

John Livesay: It's just if I say to you, “Do you like having me on your show?”

Enoch Sears: Yes.

John Livesay: That's a close ended question, right? Yes or no. But if I said to you, “What have I said so far that's been really valuable?” That's an open ended question. You have to give me more than just a yes no answer. Those are the kind of open ended questions you want to ask people to get them to describe what they're looking for, and certainly to get them to describe what their criteria is. “How are you going to decide? You know, you're seeing two other design firms today besides me. What's your criteria on who you're gonna hire? What is it that you're looking for? What are the three things that are gonna make you say yes?” Or, “What's your biggest challenge that you're really even wanting to hire someone like me?”

That's not a yes or no question either. Rapport building, needs analysis, and then you go into your presentation. Within the presentation step is where you really target those needs. You don't tell them everything you can do. If they say, “We want to, you know, figure out a way to use this existing space and have 20% more employees without people feeling like they're on top of each other,” then that's what you talk about in your presentation. “We've been able to do this for X, Y, and Z companies, and here's a couple stories.” You don't start talking about how you help people move to a new space, because that has nothing to do with what they need. You really target your presentation to what they need.

Then is overcoming objections. That's the fourth step. Most people hate objections. They hate questions. I say, “Look at them as buying signals.” If they weren't interested, they would go, “Okay, thanks a lot. We'll let you know.” But if they say, “You know what? Is there any flexibility on the pricing?” Or, “Somebody else had said they could do this, but it didn't work out. How are you different?” Then, you have an answer. Handling objections is a very big part of the sales process. Let me give you a couple of real big tips on handling objections. First, don't become defensive, because people hate that. Secondly, when someone asks you a question, rephrase the question to make sure that you understood the question. Because if you don't understand the question, and answer with something that's not answering the question, a lot of people think you're trying to avoid answering the question. They lose the trust factor.

If you ask me a question and I say, “Oh it sounds like you're asking me can we really get 20% more people in the same space without everybody feeling on top of each other, is that right?” And they go, “Yeah, that's right.” “All right, then this is how we do it. Boom, boom, boom.” Then, you really want bonus points, you say, “Did that answer your question?” Frame your answer with making sure you heard the question properly, and then close your answer with, “Did that answer your question,” inviting them to ask more questions, or to say, “You know what? I'm still confused,” before you move on.

Then, the final step is the closing. Which to me, going back to the airplane analogy, is like landing a plane. If you get on a plane from LA to New York, and they start making the landing announcement, “We're now landing in JFK,” you don't suddenly go, “What? We're landing? I thought we were just going to fly around forever.” Right? It's expected that you're going to land the plane. It's now, “We said we were gonna possibly hire me, and now it's time for us to have that discussion. I've covered you know, like, and trust me. We've talked about what your needs are, how I'm gonna handle them. I've answered any of your objections. And, you know, let's see.” That's really where people get really nervous, afraid to ask for the order.

You could be the best sales person in the world, but if you don't feel comfortable asking them to say yes or no, you're not going to get sales. That's when they might give you more objections, and then you just go back to the whole thing and keep going until they give you, “Oh, we need to think about it.” There's all kinds of ways to ask people to say yes. “When would you see us starting together? Is this something that would start next week or next month?” That's the either or close. “Let's sum up everything we've said you need, and how we're gonna solve it.” That's summary close.

“Yeah, I guess this makes sense, right? What else do we need to discuss before you say yes? On a scale of one to ten, ten being you're ready to go, where are you?” And they'll give you a number, and you'll be surprised. Sometimes people are eight or nine, and some people are four or five, and you're like, “Wow, I thought you were an eight or nine. Okay, at least I'm not blindly thinking I'm gonna get this sale and you're not there. What would it take to get you higher? Do you need to talk to a reference? What else is it?” That's the sales process.

Enoch Sears: That's fantastic. John, tell me … Let's go back in time. I really want to dive into the time where you were working, you're working for the publisher. You're working for Conde Nast, and you were a sales person. Tell me about that process. What were you selling and what was the sales process like?

John Livesay: Well, at first I was just strictly selling ads, print ads in W Magazine. We would have to call on big brands like Lexus and Guess Jeans to convince them to run their ads in W versus all the other fashion magazines, or other lifestyle magazines they could pick. That would be literally bringing the voice is what we called it of the editor to life. The strategy was here's what the editor of this magazine is writing about, and how it differentiates from all the other people covering this topic. For example, there's all these different things coming down the runway, and our editor picks the best three trends, and any one of these things you want to buy, you'll be on trend, whether it's a handbag, a belt, or whatever.

What that does is it attracts a reader who has the disposable income to afford these clothes, cares about how they look, and trusts our editor to give them good choices to make without them having to get overwhelmed by all the choices from the runway. We're curating the content. They become emotionally involved with the magazines, editor's voice and they trust it. That's the perfect environment for you to run an ad for Lexus, because it's about art, it's about design, we take the design from clothes and transfer that to the design of the car. People who care about fabrics in their clothes, they're going to care about the fabric or leather quality of what's inside the luxury car.

You want people to emotionally connect to your brand, and they're in that mindset of being involved with the magazine, spending time with it, and therefore this would be the perfect place. Then, in addition to that, we're going to create added value events to bring the magazine to life for your target audience so you can prove that you're not only getting people to test drive the car, but buy them by coming with an idea for an event where we actually get people in the car as it relates to taking them to an art exhibit or something along those lines. Again, tying in design across multiple areas. That was my job. [crosstalk 00:14:50]

Enoch Sears: Tell me about the events. How did those work, John?

John Livesay: Well, one of our clients was Jaguar, and they said, “Our challenge is we want people to think of the car has moving sculpture, and we don't really know how to do that.” We said, “Well, we're having an event during the Golden Globes, and we could target people who have a BMW or a Mercedes lease about to expire. We know we can dig deep into our subscriber database, and invite six of those couples to be picked up in a Jaguar from their home, taken to the Golden Globe party, then they see celebrities. Then, from there, they're taken to a private dining room at a restaurant where we'll have people from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art speaking about art. And so Jaguar will literally be part of the conversation, and in between courses, there will be another Jaguar outside the restaurant that people can take a spin around the block.” They sold three cars that night, and we got advertising, and so that's the win win again.

Enoch Sears: Fantastic. So when your making these calls, you said you had to reach out. Tell me, what was that like? Was this a cold call? Were there already relationships that existed there? Take it from like, “Okay, I'm gonna pick up the phone and I'm gonna pitch someone, and I got to get past the gatekeeper.” How did that process work?

John Livesay: Yes. It's a lot of research on figuring out … Typically, there's a lot of people involved on those decisions. There's an ad agency, there's a media department that decides whether they're going to spend money in print, or just TV, or whatever. You have to get into them. Then, you also have to get in to see the clients. There's multiple meetings and multiple times where you have to do that. Yes, it was a lot of emails and cold calls just to get the meeting. Then, preparing for the meeting, and then the follow up after the meeting, and then being part of that process in getting on the radar sometimes to even get the proposals that they would send out.

Because at one point, car companies weren't targeting women at all for cars. “We only want men to buy them.” Because the thinking was women will buy a car that a man drives, but a man will never drive a car that a woman drives. We had to do a whole education process on there's a lot of wealthy, career women that buy their own cars that don't have a man influencing them. You're ignoring this market if you don't advertise to them, and really being aware of what their branding strategy was.

For example, Lexus did a joint venture with Coach luggage, which is also all the accessories that Coach makes in addition to luggage. They had an addition of the car that had Coach leather in the car. They had a commercial where they showed the car going down Rodeo Drive, and they said, “Now Coach is going first class,” and they drove by the Coach store on Rodeo Drive. That's a really classic example of them tying into fashion. Once they had done that, then we said, “Here's how we could amplify that process.” That's how you break in through the door by really understanding what your client's strategy is.

Enoch Sears: Well, what does the cold call sound like, John? Is it … I mean, just pretend like we've never talked before, and you want to get in the door, you know it's going to be a long process. What do you say to me?

John Livesay: Let's paint the picture a little more detailed. Am I at W magazine pitching somebody new? Theoretically you're a car company?

Enoch Sears: Yeah, that sounds, yeah, fantastic.

John Livesay: Because technically, it's a little easier to get what's called, “Endemic advertisers,” which would be if you're a fashion magazine, you're calling a fashion advertiser, they'll probably let you into the door, right? Kind of like if you're a Genzler, and they're a big law firm, they're probably going to invite Genzler to the party, but doesn't necessarily mean they're going to hire them. Getting in the door isn't always enough. The minute it starts … So I would start … So beginning a car company, which is not something that unless you're Road and Track or Car and Driver, they're not compelled to advertise with you.

It would start with saying, “You know what, Enoch, I just saw the new Lexus commercial where the Lexus is driving down the street on Rodeo Drive in front of Coach, so clearly Lexus has really started to target people who are interested in fashion and design, and we would love the opportunity to come in to talk to you about how our readers are really leading the charge. And you could not only sell cars to our readers, but our readers are also brand ambassadors to their friends, so when you get our reader to drive a Lexus, then you're getting a lot of other people to want to buy a Lexus, because people follow these people.”

“There's certain people in life who are trend setters, and other people look to emulate them, and they want that life and that success. So if you get our reader to buy your car, you're probably gonna get a lot more sales than just our circulation. And that's certainly been the case with your competitor, BMW, and that's why they're advertising with us. Would it be possible for me to come in and show you what things we've done for BMW and how that's been able to get them an increase in sales and how we might be able to do the same for you?”

Enoch Sears: Fantastic. Great. I love that example because a lot of times as architects, it's so useful to see how it happens in other industries. I know that, John, there are architects who are possibly wondering how to make a cold call to that client. I'm just going to deconstruct what I saw in that, and maybe you can add to it. I would say, first of all, you first of all, you talked about it from the client's perspective. You didn't talk about, “Hey we want to sell you some advertising.” You talked about, “Wouldn't it be great if you had these ambassadors who were telling their friends about your product because they saw it in our magazine?” Then, I like at the very end you throw in a competitor's name to sort of promote a little bit of social proof there, a little bit of scarcity, so you're not going to be the only one doing it.

Then, basically saying, “Hey, would you like us to come in and show you how we helped out this other car company?” So you're not saying, “Hey, I want to come in, I want to sell you something,” you're saying, “Hey, I'm just gonna show you how it's been working out for BMW.” What else happened there that I missed? John, I think architects could apply all that, but what else?

John Livesay: That's it. Also, and just making it very conversational as opposed to sales pitch. You've got something of value to offer to them, and you're inviting them to find out more. “Isn't it your job to find out more, especially if it's a direct competitor? And I've got a story to share with you.” That kind of thing.

Enoch Sears: That's right. John, so at the beginning of this episode right here, we talked a little bit about culture, a little bit about saying no, and before this call too, you also discussed the importance of saying no. What did you mean by that?

John Livesay: You know, I've heard many, many clients tell me, “Who we say no to is just as important as who we say yes to.” In other words, when you try to be all things to all people, you're nothing to everybody. You need to know who you stand for and who you like to work with, and who is your ideal client and who's not. Because if you take … And I know it's hard to say no to people when you're starting out. I get it. But if you say yes to somebody, and from the very beginning they're hard to work with, and negative, and late to meetings, and they're going to be late with their payments, and they're going to question everything on the bill, they're just going not going to be worth it.

Where you could be going, “You know what? This is who we work with. We work with people who value what we do, aren't going to nickel and dime us to death, who appreciate the value of this design aesthetic, and that we're saving you money by giving you this at a level where it doesn't require 20 different changes. And we work with people who know what they want, and understand if they change what they want they're gonna have to pay for that change. So that's our ideal client, and we're very picky about who we work with. We have a limited number of hours in the day.” You're interviewing them as much as they're interviewing you. When you take that on, and have that persona, and are very clear to them, “This is who we like to work with, and here's examples of who we've worked with.” And let them know that it's not 100% of you begging them for their business.

Enoch Sears: How does that relate to culture?

John Livesay: Well, the culture that you have when you're staring your own firm, for example, is really important because if you haven't defined what your culture is, then you don't know who your ideal client is. Culture is broken up into three basic things. “Here's our values, the mission statement. This is what we value. We value integrity. We value passion. Here's our beliefs and why we think those things are important.” When you have all of those things going on, “And here's the underlying assumptions and the unwritten rules of how we like to work together. And the rules, like if we say we're gonna be here at a certain time, we're there at a certain time. And we expect you to be there at a certain time, and respect each other's time, and not assume that your time's more valuable than our time. Those kinds of things, that's our culture, and that's who we work with. And we treat each other with respect, and we expect our clients to treat us with respect, and vice versa. We promise we'll do the same back to you.”

Enoch Sears: Would that be something that you would say directly to a client in a meeting? When does one say that conversation come up?

John Livesay: Yes, that's all part of the storytelling. When you tell the story of origin, of how you started your firm, and what your firm stands for, and why you've been so successful, and why you're so passionate about doing it, you tell those stories of what makes … “Let me tell you a story about one of our favorite clients and why they're our favorite client.” And the people go, “Oh, maybe I'd like to be one of your favorite clients.” “Well, the reason they're our favorite client is dot, dot, dot.” That's what you would do.

Enoch Sears: [crosstalk 00:24:25] because they do that, because they help us out.

John Livesay: Mm-hmm (affirmative). They respect us. They're on time. They pay on time. They understand that what we do is not a commodity. They understand the value of what we're bringing to the party. They're not trying to cut corners. They understand there's a big picture here inside a room. They're not going to go to Crate and Barrel and buy their own sofa because it's cheaper than what we recommended, then realize that it's the wrong scale and the whole room is thrown off. That's not who we like to work with.

Enoch Sears: How does that relate to getting more of the kind of projects you want? It almost seems a little counterintuitive, John, that if you're kind of dictating what you want, and what you like, it seems like wouldn't that repel potential clients?

John Livesay: Those are the people you want to repel because imagine you're with a client who's not paying you on time and is doing things like I just described, as opposed to you waiting another week and getting the ideal client that's going to pay you what you're worth and not question your recommendations. But you can't take that client on because you're already maxed out with your staff, and money, and time dealing with someone you don't want to work with. Absolutely. This is who we like to work with, and this is who we don't work with. Sometimes we've had to let clients go. It's like, “Oh, you know, you can fire us at any minute and vice versa.” That's the culture, right? “The minute this isn't working for either of us, we'll let each other know.” I think that's true of any relationship, personal or business.

Enoch Sears: What suggestions do you have to help people, firm leaders, even employees, develop a culture in their firm?

John Livesay: Well, the first key is just figuring out what your culture is, and attracting the right people who fit that culture. Because one person that's toxic, somebody who talks behind people's back and gossips, or somebody who's a bully or humiliates other people, or shames other people when mistakes happen. It's all about your intention. Is your intention to make that person feel bad and make you right? Or, is your intention to figure out how that happened so it doesn't happen again. That's the subtleties of creating a good culture.

Enoch Sears: Awesome. Well, John, we've covered a lot in this interview. It's been absolutely fantastic. Tell us about your books that you have out and how people can just jump into this and get more information.

John Livesay: My book is called, The Successful Pitch: Conversations and Going from Invisible to Investible. It's ten of my most favorite interviews from people I've interviewed on my podcast, The Successful Pitch. Someone like Guy Spear, who with another investor, spent over 600 thousand dollars at a charity auction to have lunch with Warren Buffet, and talks about whether that was worth it or not, to famous authors like Jake Samit who wrote an amazing book called, Disrupt You, and says, “Failure's just feedback. Keep going till you get a zombie idea so great it won't die.” The book will really give you great insights as to thought leaders, and you get to eavesdrop in on these conversations in the book. I'm on Twitter @John_Livesay, L-I-V as in Victor, E-S-A-Y. If your people who are listening and watching want to get my free PDF on three mistakes to avoid when you pitch, all you have to do is text the word, “Funding,” to 66866 and I'll email that to you.

Enoch Sears: All right, there you go. Text, “Funding,” to 66 … 66686?

John Livesay: 66866, yes.

Enoch Sears: 66866. I was almost thinking it was the number of the beast there for a second, right?

John Livesay: Yeah. No, no. There's an 8 in there.

Enoch Sears: Well, that is definitely memorable. John, thank you for joining us on Business of Architecture today.

John Livesay: Thanks for having me, Enoch.

Enoch Sears: Okay. That is a wrap. Thank you for listening today. If you are looking for more time, freedom, impact, and income as an architect, get instant access to my free four part architect profit map by visiting FreeArcitectGift.com. The sponsor for today's show is Arch Reach, the client relationship management tool built specifically for architects. If you want to systematize your marketing and business development, Arch Reach will help you do it. Visit ArchReach.com to learn more. The views expressed on this show by my guest do not represent those of the host, and I make no representation, promise, guarantee, pledge, warranty, contract, bond, or commitment except to help you conquer the world.


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Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.


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