Andrew Santos was a cracking recommendation to interview for this series. Smart, eloquent and passionate, it’s clear why he has been able to build a $15m revenue business in new sales from scratch, and he combined time-honoured wisdom with practical advice for building a team and a business
With one of the best stories to grace this series, Andrew is serious about sales and service, and it shows.
You can read Andrew’s full biography here
Jamie: When you look at your sales career to this point, what have you found most fulfilling?
Andrew: A couple of things. I would say the biggest piece is service, and that is what keeps me fired up.
It is the opportunity to serve people not only on a product level, but also where you sell something that you really believe in, and you know you can help folks, but really more on a leadership level. When you can help somebody learn something which they do not know at the time they start and develop, as a person in different skills and achieve things that they have been encouraged to go to outside their comfort zone and dream about.
Those are the two things that are the most fulfilling. I know the products are great, and they end up making a big difference, and then we have those people like a lady I work with, who has a nursing background. She has never been in sales all her life. Just to see her, a single mom, with three kids who has learned a new trade, and just goes for it, and continues to develop and kick some serious butt – that is exciting. I love celebrating that with them and just being a part of it.
Jamie: Do you think sales as a function is uniquely positioned in that way; that you could go into it later in life and be successful?
Andrew: Absolutely, I do, for sure. If you do the same things that you have always done, then you will get the same things, always. Most of the people that I have trained and work with, part of my company, the vast majority have never done any type of selling before, but they have those intangibles. If you have a few of these things that are key, the bread-and-butter, then we can teach you the skill piece. It is just a trade. It is just a learnable thing. I do not think there is ever a bad time. In fact, I work with a lady currently who is 67 years old. I worked with a gentleman who was 72 when he started. Age is just a number.
Jamie: Please talk me through those bread-and-butter intangibles?
Andrew: Yeah. I think there are several.
I think one is attitude; being able to think abundantly, positively, and see the bright side and have a short memory, which is perhaps the most important aspect.
Then it’s about having some of that natural charisma. You should be someone who, when you meet someone, can bring the energy and enthusiasm, even if you are not that way all the time; someone who enjoys talking to people and who likes to have fun talking to people.
Because just like with anything in sales, if you can make a friend out of people you are approaching or prospects you are talking to, that is the biggest thing. People like to buy from people they like. If you can be likeable, and learn to build a friendship with people first, you are good. You can learn the words, you can learn the habits, but if you have got a crummy attitude or you have got a pessimistic outlook on things, it is going to be hard to teach you how to do well in sales.
Jamie: Are there any other specific intangibles you need to look for people who are going to sell insurance?
Andrew: I think they are pretty universal, to be honest. I mean, in insurance, it depends on the type of insurance. We are all about outside, face-to-face sales. Whereas a lot of other insurance sales might take place from an office primarily, but with us, they are similar to others that are selling outside; I would say, self-discipline, which again, I think, can somewhat be developed over time. It is a habit thing, but the ability to have an ownership mentality, a little bit of that. Because if you are not showing up to an office, you are going out to the field or whatever you are selling each day, you have got to treat your business and run your business, like a business.
I always tell people this: six letters, RYBLAB, R-Y-B-L-A-B, Run Your Business Like A Business. That is the lens we go back to because it is so easy to go, “I do not feel like working.” Well, that is irrelevant. You are running a business, so you have got to run it like a business, and go to work.
We are out the door in the morning, and we are not done till the end of the day. We are not hanging out waiting for a phone call. So, those pieces in addition to the attitude, and the grid, some of those things I think are huge.
Jamie: What is the worst thing about being in sales?
Andrew: I think the worst and the best are probably tied together, because it depends on the person, so I will start by saying the best and then tie in the worst. I think outside of service, the ownership side of being in sales, it has these elements of ownership where you are in control of your destiny if you have the right opportunity.
But the worst part is that it requires an ownership mentality. It is not up to someone else for you to be successful, it is up to you. If you cannot make decisions and operate with an ownership mentality, then you are toast. It is just a hobby at that point. I really think that is the biggest deal. It is that double-edged sword of freedom that comes with responsibility.
I always tell people, “In sales, you have the opportunity to create flexibility, but I see so many people fall into that pitfall of they think sales itself is flexible. It is not. It is flexible once you have created this foundation where you can metrically figure out what you need to accomplish and build a plan to do it.”
If flexibility is part of that plan, part of your goal, then that is exciting, but that is planned flexibility.
I think that the ownership piece is hard. It is hard for people to grasp. Nowadays, so many people who I interview are used to being an employee, and being told what to do, and micromanaged. If someone does not go to work one day, I am not going to know unless they tell me. They have got to work until the job is done. That is what a business owner does. If you are going to be good in sales, that is the mentality you have to have. Because nobody feels like going to work every day. I do not care what you are doing, nobody always feels like it and so understanding that and being like, “Okay, I have a plan.” There are two types of people – those that make a plan, and those that stick to the plan. You have to be the type that sticks to the plan. But that is hard to do if you do not have a plan.
Jamie: How do you go about helping your employees, and your entrepreneurs, to have a good plan?
Andrew: We have got this process that has been passed down through the generations, so to speak.
From my original mentor, but he calls it the VPF, Vision Plan Follow-through. It is first starting with, “Why are you doing this? What is your purpose for actually being here? What are you trying to build? What do you want your life to look like? What is the end goal?” And then once you know where you want to go, figuring out what your plan is to get there.
Ideally, that plan is based on things you can control. Driven by data, and it takes a lot of the anxiety out of, “Is this plan going to work?”
When you design the plan based on actual history, actual data, that is just a matter of sticking to it and following to it because the result is mathematically proven. Now you just got to put gas in the car, right? A lot of people, you ask someone what their goal is, and they make something up on the spot, right? You are like, “What!?” It is as if I am trying to get to California, and I do not have a map of how to get to California. The plan is your roadmap. Every single stop along that way is there for a purpose. Every single contact you have, every single demo you do, every single rebuttal you use, every single hour you work versus not working, is all part of this recipe specific to you, to get you to your vision.
If you can look at your vision, and we can quantify and define the value of every hour, every presentation, and every contact these people are doing concerning that vision becoming a reality, there is much more buy-in, and there is so much more on those moments where they get up in the morning, and they go, “I do not feel like it.”
They know when they do not work and what they just gave away. It is not some unidentified hour that I am supposed to work. So, I am going to work. It is like, “No, I have to work because otherwise, this picture is not there.”
This result is not there, and it is more than the numbers, but it is when you ask someone what they want their life to look like, very few people can give you a good answer. That is something where most people need help with because that is not a part of normal culture. That is not when you go work for a job. They do not care what your vision is. They might say they do, but you are an employee when you go into sales. It is really cool because you have that ability to create your own canvas and paint your own canvas. Most people have never done that. That is the most rewarding thing, it is when you can take somebody, and you can go, “Oh my gosh, what are your dreams?”
“What are your dreams like?”
“I do not know, let me think about it for a minute.”
“What if we did not have to work in 10 years. What would you do with your time?” and they are like, “I do not know. I had probably…” I am like,” “No, think, for real. Think about it for a minute, seriously,” and just let them sit with it and start to dream a little bit. That is where things start to get fun. That is what if you have a purpose like that, sales make a lot of sense because you can drive a lot of things that you do not have control over in a normal job.
Jamie: What are the biggest barriers you see to people not having their goals and dreams mapped out?
Andrew: I think some of these probably apply to a lot of different sales businesses. Specifically, in my arena, it would be negative financial pressure. If someone has a ton of negative financial pressure and they are stressing out about, “Oh my goodness. I have to sell something now, or I cannot put gas in my car.” That is really hard to do well and have a service-minded attitude when you are doing that, really care about the person, not yourself.
Negative financial pressure, and lack of support from people they know. Their sphere of influence, their spouse, if someone comes into my business as a salesperson, and they are all stoked about it, and they come home at night, and their spouses are like, “How much did you sell?” and they are like, “I did not get on the board today.” and the spouse is like, “I knew this was a bad idea,” looking for all the ways they can poke holes. That is not going to work out very well. Your spouse needs to be onboard. Their support structure needs to be onboard.
They have to completely buy-in to the system. A lot of times, I see few people fail because they want to do it their own way. Use their own words but it is not going to work out, especially when they are new. Not that we don’t encourage people to be creative and develop things but early on what they need is a really good sales talk. You need to know it word for word.
Another thing, I would say is a lack of conviction on what they are selling. That is a thing I always ask people when I interview them, I say, “Hey, if I came into your business and I showed you this policy, would you buy it?” and if they are not like, “Yes,” I would not even hire them. Because if they do not believe in it enough or they do not own it themselves, they are not going to be very effective at helping other people.
Those are a handful of them, but I try to check those off the list before I ever look at working with somebody and those are just the obvious ones. This is the equivalent of driving to California, and there is a crater in the road. Those things got to be taken care of.
Jamie: Selling what you would buy yourself – is that a recommendation you would have for any aspiring salesperson and could there be exceptions?
Andrew: Straight up, I have never had anybody be successful in our business long term who did not own what they were selling. Period. That is true. I have not ever had anybody who has been successful who did not own what they were selling. Because think about it, if you do not believe in it enough to buy it, you have got some reason why you are not buying it, so when the prospect gives you an objection, you are going to believe any objection and, “Yeah. I see how you feel. That is why I did not buy it subconsciously, right?”
You are going to buy-in to any objection. Where in reality, usually objections are not the reality of the situation which is not there yet. They are not ready to buy yet. They are not sold. When you give them more information, you still work with them, work them through it, and provide more information to decide. But if you are not convicted enough where you can overcome your own objections for why you should own the product. You are not going to teach somebody else how to do that. You are not going to show somebody else that they still might need it.
Jamie: What are the differences in terms of skillset that people need to be an effective recruiter of people versus an effective individual contributor?
Andrew: It is the same thing. You are selling an opportunity.
Our mission statement for my business is to provide an opportunity to build a business that will allow you to live out your dreams in life. That is the product for someone I interview. I use the same methodology when hire someone. Asking a bunch of questions, is there a need? Does this resonate with them? Do they want to be extraordinary, think big, and do something that other people cannot do at some point?
Meaning, do they have freedom and ownership over their time or not. Then why? What is important to them? If we can help show them how our opportunity fills that need as the vehicle to get where they want to go, then it is the same thing when we protect a family with an insurance policy. If something were to happen to you, would it put some financial stress on you? Is there a need? What is the need? “Oh, there is a need. Okay. Well, let me show you a product that might fill the need and then we will bring it to a decision.” It is the same thing with interviewing people. I think if you can train someone to be a good salesperson, then you can train the same process, but I think a lot of times with interviewing, it is a longer sales cycle.
Therefore, you have got to have better listening skills and more patience. Typically, our business specifically is that we meet someone, we sit down, we present, and close them.
When I’m interviewing someone, it is a little different. I have got the job. They are coming to me. I’m not going to them to try to show them why they might need insurance. They are coming to me, and I do not have to hire them. So, I’m going to take my time and figure out do I want to work with you or not? It is not just another policyholder. When I’m selling, I want to protect everybody with a policy. When I’m recruiting. I do not want to recruit everybody. There is a little switch of a mentality there. I think that is the hardest thing for new people to get is they come from sales that go to recruiting. They just want to recruit everybody.
“Oh, you breathe air? I breathe air. Awesome! We should work together.” At the end of the day, you are looking for a very specific type of person. Who do you want to ride in the car with, for eight hours a day? Who would you go on a road trip with? Who would you invite to your barbecue? All these little things. Because we have got the job so we could pick who we work with, so that is the difference. The same process, extended, but a little bit of different mentality with it.
Jamie: Can you give me some examples of things that people have done in an interview, that has made you go, “I want to hire this person, and I know they are going to do well.”
They do everything you ask them to do. I try to give them so many things to do. It is really that I’m trying to scare people away; are they willing to do all these things I’m asking to do because that tells me, are they coachable? Are they really into this? Because everybody says they can work hard. Knowing that, if I go into an interview room and ask for a show of hands from people who think they are lazy, no one admits, “Me.”
You have got to give them stuff to do. I have them call people. I have them list what their goals would be. I have them memorize things. I have them do a bunch of different tests, to see if they are willing to do those things. Because if they are not willing to do those things, then it is not good. Like for example, I just called this guy back today. This is a follow-up call to set up a final interview for this kid. I called them at our scheduled time, and he goes, “Hey, I am so sorry. I am at the DMV. Can you call me back later?” and I was like “Probably not.” Right there, in my mind I am like, “Well, he is not into it, and that is okay.”
Jamie: Do you find people who treat it like a sales process do better with you?
Andrew: No. Actually, I feel the people that do the best are the hardest to recruit. They are the ones who are not telling me what I want to hear. They are doing what I’m asking them to do, but they are challenging me because when they do something, they go all in so they are really careful about what they do. Whenever anybody is a tough interview, or they are intimidating, then that’s the person I want to work with. Oh, you already make $150,000 a year? Perfect. We should be talking; that is exactly why I’m talking to you. I do not want to talk to the person who is not doing well in life. I want to talk to the person who is crushing it already and then show you a way to do better. I like the people who make it hard, I mean they are respectful, and they are interested, but they are not just gimmes.
Jamie: Is that challenging but respectful? Is that how you want to see your individual contributors talking to their potential customers?
I think yeah, that pleasant persistence, but really it all comes down in my mind to- if their heart is right if they are really a 100% to the core going, “This is about you. This is about the prospect. It is not about me,” and when you really disconnect your soul and your personal desires of earning money. You have hit your numbers from what happens with that person, but if you create the space for you, you can be pleasantly persistent but not offend people.
No, because they can tell that you are cool with ‘no.’ When you talk with this passion, why would this help them? Why would it make sense? It comes off from a place of service, not from a place of self-interest for the agent, and that is the biggest thing. I tell people all the time, “When you are really, truly, to the core, okay with hearing no, you will start to do well.”
Jamie: Do you sell a product or a service?
Andrew: Both. I mean it is an intangible product. I would say it is unique because most of the time insurance is a pretty emotional sale where people get it because they want peace of mind or they want to know that they are taken care of or some of these emotional reasons, but ours is weird because ours appeals to that emotional draw, but it also has this logical element to it where they get their money back if they never use the policy. It almost has this tangible feel, because they know they are not going to lose with the product. But at the end of the day, it is both. I mean when they get sick, it is the service side that changes their life.
Jamie: Let’s suppose you were looking for a job. What would be the non-negotiables in terms of culture for you?
Andrew: I mean service has to be huge within the organization. I think if you are not doing something that is helping people, you are going to get burned out. It is not all about the money. I think an element of ownership where people can take ownership of their success in their career and have fun. What is funny is I’m listing off my company’s core values. That is exactly how I want them and exactly what we recruit to. Because that is what I love. The fun aspect of it is huge. I love having fun. We talk about it all the time, even though we are doing something pretty serious. Having fun and developing a culture where you’re challenged is very important to me. That is what drew me to this opportunity in the first place. I was like, “Can I go sell stuff? But where am I going to grow? Where am I going to still be challenged and still develop?” As uncomfortable as that is, where could I be that’s like that?
Fun service, growth, have ownership over it, and then another one of our core values is a generous culture. The more you give, the more there is, period. It is not if I help this person, there is less for me. Its if I help this person, there is more for me. When you are in a culture where everybody is helping everybody without any expectation that they are owed something for that, I think that is a fun culture. A lot of those things, I mean we could go on and on, but the biggest for me like when I looked for a position,
when I was interviewing for this company, 16 years ago, I remember. I wanted to be wowed by the people I’m talking to. If I’m not blown away, I do not want to work with them. What type of people am I going to be around? Because those are the people I am going to learn from, and they’ll have my little baby career in their hands.
Then I wanted to obviously sell something that I believed in. But then, thirdly, this is the question I ask myself. This is what sealed the deal for me, and I challenge people with this all the time. Say you are going to go do something, right? You are going to work somewhere for the next 10 years, or ideally for 20 years. Who knows? Ask yourself this question, “If I do this for the next 10 years, of all the things that I could look at doing, where am I going to walk away with the most value, and with the most return on my time?” That was the clincher for me. I was like, “Wow, there is nowhere I could go where the work I did 16 years ago still pays me, and it will continue to pay me, forever. If I die, it is going to continue to pay for my family.” Those were the things that really sealed it. I was blown away by the people who loved the product, and then the opportunity itself.
Jamie: In terms of an aspiring salesperson, let us suppose they make a wrong turn, when should they consider leaving a company?
Andrew: It is human nature to be tempted to look at things. I try to protect myself from that as much as possible.
However, if the opportunity is changed, then, it is a new business, right? For example, when I started, I had a contract with this carrier, and if they changed my contract, that is really the main thing about the terms of my agreement with them. That would cause me to re-evaluate. More information equals a new decision. If I were getting new information, I might need to make a new decision, right?
Secondly, are you still in a culture that is giving you or has the elements that you originally came in for, right? Maybe, there is a change in leadership and the people that you are tied to, for whom you came on board are no longer part of it, and the culture is different. That could be huge. Just some of those dissatisfaction points, but I think also looking at it with gratitude as well. I think people are very quick to jump ship with things and when they soon find out that guess what, everywhere you go going to have challenges and next thing you know, you have had 7 jobs in 10 years.
Sometimes, you are like, “Man, I wish I had stuck it out.” I have several agents with whom I work with for 5-6-7 years, who have now retired. Here is a story of one. His name is Matt, and he moves out of state, and he was like, “I’m just going to turn over a new leaf. I’m starting to have kids, so we are moving.” I was like, “That is great, but are you sure?” We had lots of discussions about it. Two years go by, he and is not happy doing what he is doing at all and he is going. “Man. Why did I stop doing what I was doing? Oh my gosh, what my renewals would be right now?”
You do not want to be scared into staying, but I think you need to look at it objectively and not emotionally – what are you here for? You are here for a certain reason, and it is no longer possible. Do you need to do something else, or are you unwilling to do what you need to do to make it happen? Maybe, you are not committed.
Jamie: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to aspiring salespeople?
I would say, “When you hear ‘no’ constantly, that means you are doing it right.” All these things are easy to say, but until you actually do it, you do not quite grasp it to the same point. It is funny to me now, but when I was young in the business, you hear all these ‘no’s, and you get obsessed with ‘no’ and just want to hear ‘yes.’ You realize, “Wait a minute. I did pretty well if you look at what I did.” Those “no’s are a part of the process. It is an ever-present part of it, and you have to embrace it. If you hear “no” a ton, you are doing it right.
Jamie: Great. If you had your sales clear again, what would you do differently?
Andrew: Start sooner. Honestly, start sooner and think bigger. Part of it is that your upbringing and a little bit of your product, you know?
I remember looking at this when I was new, and the old agency owner showed me these numbers, and I could not even wrap my head around it. I was like, “Show me how to make $70,000.” I could not even think about it. It was so outside of my norm.
Now, if I was younger, I would tell my younger self, “That is not a big deal. What you did for years, it is actually not that good.” Don’t let it intimidate you. I would start sooner and think bigger.
Jamie: Please can you tell me about a time that was painful because you did not make a sale, but you learned something?
To be successful, you have to have amnesia, and that is probably why I cannot think of a lot of those.
Because if I sit with that and hold onto these stories of when I did not win or when I did not make the sale – I mean sure there is value in retelling it, but it does not serve me moving forward very much. I tend to tell more stories of how we impact people, that change people’s lives versus the failures. I can drum up a hundred failure stories. They would all show people what my stats are, and they go, “Wow. He heard ‘no’ a lot.” But every time you hear ‘no,’ it is a great opportunity to learn. I mean, that is the cool thing about it. I would say have amnesia and forget about it. When you fail, who cares? It doesn’t help you to sit there and whine about your failure, or worry about it, or relive it over and over. When something does not happen, it is over. I do not think about it anymore.
Jamie: Do you have a favourite anecdote or recruiting anecdote?
Andrew: I tell people this story all the time. I am showing the figures on what we can earn. I ask, “Is this normal?” and they go, “No.” I say, “It is not. It is extraordinary. The opportunity we have is extraordinary. The opportunity to, in 10 or 15 years, choose whether you want to go to work or whether you need to go to work. That is extraordinary. For you to do this- we are looking for extraordinary people, not normal people, and if you feel like you are extraordinary, then I want to talk to you, and if you do not, that is totally cool.” That’s a buying atmosphere. “We have an extraordinary business. Therefore, we need extraordinary people and what we do is not normal. We are not looking for more people.”
Here’s a good story. Back when I was probably the third or fourth year in the business still selling in the field a lot, we went on this trip to go selling Utah for a week. We would travel out of town to not have any distractions. We went to this little town in Utah, and we set these big goals, and it was just so fun because everybody usually had kids, and you are in the mountains, and it was just awesome.
We were all working hard. Anyway, I ended up hitting my goal by Friday night, but I was not flying out until Sunday. So, I mentally checked out, right? I’m like, “Sweet! I hit my goal. Awesome. Let’s hot tub.”
We are all hanging in the hot tub that Friday night celebrating. One of my new agents looks at me in the hot tub and goes. “Hey Andy, can I follow you tomorrow?” and in my head, I am like, “I was just going to celebrate my win and just hang out a little bit. Do a hike or something before I fly out.” But of course, I had to say, “Sure, absolutely you can follow me.” We get in the car, Saturday morning, and I ask, “Okay, where are we going?” and I have a bunch of referrals I go to this guy’s house. We drive out to his house – I could not catch him all week. We show up at the front door, they let me in, we are sitting down. Just a total ace, no objections, he loved it, and we had him signed up for a cancer policy and some other policies. I get on with my day, and at the time I am like, “Yeah, I am glad Eric asked to follow me because I would never have made that sale.” Then we went on and protected some more people. Fast forward about two years, I am training a new staff member. We are in this parking lot parked in between calls, and my phone rings, and it is a Utah a number. I say to myself, “Oh, boy. Is something wrong? Is somebody cancelling a policy or what is the deal?”
I answer the phone, and he says, “Hey, this is Matt. I do not know if you remember me? You sold us that cancer policy.” Then he goes, “Hey, I have to tell you. My little boy, he was just diagnosed with leukaemia, and we have been in Salt Lake for the past couple weeks. Looks like we are going to be here for like 3 months.” and I said, “What?” and I was freaking out. I said, “Let’s help this guy get a claim paid,” and I got the paperwork done. I didn’t hear from Matt for another three months, but he calls me back three months later, and he says, “Hey, Andy, just wanted to say thanks and everything and I appreciate you.” I ask, “Well, how much did they pay you?” He replied, “You know, $52k so far.” I was surprised; “Whoa, are you kidding me?” He said, “Yeah, it helped us save our house, it paid our car payments, it was huge because my wife and I have not worked a day this whole time. We are a hundred-plus miles away from home.”
The last piece of the story is, a couple of years after that we said, “Let’s go back to Utah. Let’s go ski and go see some of our clients and just touch base with them.” I go back to their house. Again, I could not catch them until the end of the week. We go up, we sit down in their living room, and their little boy is just getting his hair back. Mom is there, Dad is there, the little girls are over here, and they are showing us the story of this kid’s journey through cancer. Matt pivots and looks at me, just as I am about to leave.
He said, “Andy. I just want to tell you. 5 people in my life are the most important in my life, and you are one of them.” I was bawling. He was crying, his wife was crying, holy crap. I did not even want to go to work that day three years ago. I did not want to go. If Eric had not asked me to follow me, those people would not have the policy, and their boy would not have had cover. Who knows to have been able to go to Salt Lake and do the treatment? Who knows whether they would still have the house? I thought at that moment, we are changing lives, just by going and doing our job. That is one of those incidents that help my conviction, every day when I go to work.
You do not know whose life you are going to change, whether you are protecting a family or whether you are bringing someone in the business. It’s just got this surreal feel to it. That is what just gives me this ultimate conviction.