When I first met Dave, over 14 years ago, I knew in advance that he was a record-breaking salesperson and sales manager. However I was so impressed with his vitality in person that I asked him how he kept his energy levels so high. His answer – “I have to choose to keep my energy levels high, every single day” – stuck with me.
Dave touches on a lot of personal vulneraries and deeply-held beliefs here, and it’s his visualization and creation of the future I find most inspiring. I’m honored to coached by him now and looking forward to learning a lifetime worth of lessons.
You can read Dave’s full biography here
Jamie: Dave, When you look back across your career in sales and sales consultancy, what have you found most fulfilling?
Dave: Changing people’s lives is my favourite part of the game. Consultancy – we call it coaching over here – at Southwestern Coaching. My life has changed forever because of Southwestern. We sell a product that is getting in people’s faces in a good way, in a way that they’re asking for it; for accountability. Then we hold them accountable for what they actually wanted, what they say is important, and what they think is good. We discover things along the way through coaching and working with them, mostly one-on-one. We do group training, but we are definitely a one-on-one coaching business. It’s awesome. I personally don’t yell at my kids as much as a result. The self-doubt that I’ve had so much of – I’m working on it and working on my marriage. It’s so cool to practice this stuff in real-time.
Jamie: My impression of you, mostly from a distance, has not been someone who has a lot of self-doubts. Can you talk me through that journey of gaining self-belief over time?
Dave: I’ve got this voice inside my head, that I can’t shut up, telling me that I’m not good enough all the time. We all have masks, and the way I would cope with my self-doubt was performing. Whether it was top producing or whatever I was doing, I was an All-American college athlete, wearing nice clothes, jokes, and laughter. That’s one of my best masks. I can keep people at a distance if I make them laugh, and I bring humour to a very intense, emotional situation. I deal with it all the time. I’m never going to shut that voice off inside my head, but the way I have power over it is by telling it in public settings, just like this. It’s speaking about it and saying it. So now, most of the time, when I tell people all that stuff I struggle with, they go, “Me too.” And then they start sharing their struggles.
These are the conversations I want to have. I hate weather conversations; when people say, “Oh, it was nice. Yeah. It was great today. It didn’t rain.” I hate that surface-level crap. One of the worst questions I think humans ask each other is, “How are you doing?” Because nobody effing cares how you’re doing. I ask humans, “What are you struggling with?” When I first see them. “What are you struggling with?” That’s real, and I hope they ask me back what I’m struggling with. Because I’m struggling with something, and usually it’s that doubt. I have not ‘arrived’ in dealing with it, but I am learning ways to be ahead of it, and I help others with theirs.
Jamie: Do you find that your clients are the kind of people who have that same issue and therefore gravitate to you?
Dave: I think every human does. I think humans gravitate towards real. We want real. We want genuine and authentic. All those buzz words that every dang influencer on the web says, “I can make you be more of this.” But you can tell when somebody is real. You can tell. Usually, it’s when they’re talking about the stuff they’re struggling with. So absolutely, I think we all gravitate towards it. I know I do.
Jamie: What is the best thing about being in sales?
Dave: It’s helping others, man. We started a division of Southwestern, and the parent company is 166 years old this year. Our business is 17 years old this year. It’s helping people. If you’re doing sales the right way, you’re helping others through whatever product you have. If it’s a service or a product, it will be helping, whether it’s insurance or cars or coaching. That’s what I love about it.
I love that you actually get to help people. The way Southwestern has done it for 166 years is how I continue wanting to do it and the way I teach people to do it. We call it servant selling. Servant selling is what Southwestern is about; being a servant salesperson.
Jamie: Let’s suppose you come across that stereotypical salesperson and who is not service minded; how do you coach them to get better?
Dave: It’s asking a bunch of questions about how they would feel. It’s a lot of telling stories. It’s not saying, “Hey, you suck at this thing. You’re missing it.” It’s, “Okay. What if you left somebody feeling this way? What’s the impact of that in the future? Would it hamper them giving you referrals? Do you think they would buy from you again?”
It’s a series of questions, giving them some stories of other people who did the same thing and figured it out; that didn’t like the person they were or didn’t like what was happening. Then they eventually get it. I think we connect through stories.
Jamie: What advice do you have on telling really good stories?
Dave: They’ve got to be three-dimensional. One of my favourite things that Southwestern taught me the importance of stories. I came up with this term; ‘a three-dimensional name,’ 20 years ago, and I taught it at a Great Recruiter Seminar, and it’s really taken off. A three-dimensional name has three components. It’s the name, it’s a fact, and then it’s a story. It’s using names effectively, not just dropping names. We all know that salesperson that drops names. They’re like, “Oh yeah, I worked with Mick Jagger and Celine Dion.”
Using names effectively is connecting potential prospects with past ones who you’ve served and helped, saying, “Hey, you have this similar problem. And you know what? Actually, Jamie, right around the corner, dealt with that same thing with him and his group. He had some doubt as a leader, but it ended up being really cool. We started to integrate one-on-one meetings with him and his people, which revolutionised everything. He was able to make the right changes versus just what he thought was the problem.
That’s what we could do for you if you give us a chance. Just like we helped Jamie over at such and such business, we can do the same thing for you.”
I would say a great story has characters, conflict, and then a solution through using your product, So the Jamie example I just gave you… Characters – It’s got him and his people. The conflict was, he was making changes and never really knowing what’s going on with his people. And then, all right, how do we help him through using this product? And it’s like, all right, now hopefully they’re going to see the prospect, and they’ll see, I can use some more of that. I would love to get some more of that.
Jamie: What do you think most people think is the worst thing about sales that puts them off?
Dave: The fact that it’s hard.
“Do hard things.” That’s one of my favourite things that I live by. My son, Dawson, is six years old now, but when he was two, he was a pretty good talker, so he could understand a lot of stuff pretty quickly. One of my favourite quotes that I ever learned… During my first sales career knocking on doors, 100% commission-based, selling educational materials, they taught me a quote,
“If you do what’s easy, life is hard. If you do what’s hard, life is easy.” I love that. It’s one of my favourite quotes of all time.
When he was two, I taught Dawson, “If you do what’s easy, life’s hard.” And he understood. “If you do what’s hard, life’s easy.” I’ve said it to him millions of times in the last four years.
Any time he’s like, “But Daddy, it’s hard,” if we’re running through an airport and he’s carrying his iPad and his backpack’s heavy, he’s like, “Dad, it’s hard. I can’t go anymore.” I shout out, “If you do what’s hard, life’s easy.” Sales is hard, but you’re supposed to do what’s hard to have an easy life.
Jamie: Would you recommend that any salesperson go into sales coaching?
Dave: Most people want to build their brands, and they want to build themselves up, and their egos are involved in this consulting and coaching thing. They make it about themselves, and they put their pictures on stuff. They put their face on the front of their book. It makes me sick to my stomach, man. They actually use it to build themselves up under the disguise of sales training or coaching or consulting, and it’s fully about them. It’s not about helping people.
I think everyone’s got good in them, but no, I don’t think everybody should get into it. I think you should if you’re actually living it; if you are evidence of the stuff, you’re teaching people. That’s not most coaches. Maybe that might’ve been something they used to do, but they’re just not doing it or practising it anymore.
Jamie: You have been the kind of person who had their face on the front of competitive sales trackers. When did that transition start, where you realised that wasn’t the most important thing to you?
Dave: When I was on the front of those books, being a top salesperson, honestly, I couldn’t do it on my own. It was the third week of my sales first sales career, and I was doing that door-to-door thing I mentioned. My third week out, during the summer, I’ll never forget it. I realised, “I could be really good at this thing.” I could. I was 19 years old, this is in New York. I’m from Texas. And I remember… Call it God, call it the universe, or whatever, going, “Well, what are you going to use those skills for?”
Naturally, being young and egotistical like I was, I was like, “Man, this recognition feels good,” after my first week of being on the front cover of the sales book.
Then I saw this interview, Jamie – surprising or not, I saw this very interview 20 years ago. I also saw rooms full of people 20 years ago when I was knocking on doors, and I thought, “This is why I want to develop this skill. This is why I want to be great at this sales thing.” I would actually look at those future faces. I sold kids’ books, so I would look at three-year-olds and five-year-olds and think, “Man, in 15 years, they’re going to be selling, and they’re going to be doing what I’m doing now.”
I call it generational energy. I would actually pull energy from those crowds of people that were watching me. I needed them back then to have the success I had had. I could have never have done any of that on my own. I needed you, and I needed this interview, and I needed the faces and all of the stuff that I was creating in my head to actually do great. That was a big reason why I was successful and still am to this day. I pull energy from my visualisations all of the time.
Jamie: And everything that you manifested at that time has effectively come true?
Dave: It’s come true fully. I think belief in yourself… When you have belief, it’s actually prophesied. Prophesizing is if somebody said stuff was going to happen, and then it happened. We’re all prophets in our own lives; we are. All you have to do is believe it and then say it and then go do it. That sounds like a deal worth having.
Jamie: Tell me about that process of goal setting. It sounds like you visualise something far in advance, and you work backwards from that. Is that what you recommend?
Dave: Absolutely. I recommend doing hard stuff, coming back to that concept. Usually, setting big goals is really hard, so be smart about it. That’s what I love about low, medium and high goals. If you’re going to set one goal, it’s your medium goal, and you’ve got the low goal that you know you’re going to accomplish, that you can feel good as you check it off. Then you hit the medium goal, and you eventually have that high goal that scares the crap out of you. You just keep moving up.
Keep stretching yourself. Do bigger things because things that aren’t bigger are boring. That’s it. It’s just boring. Why would you want to live that way? And that’s why I coach people, right? You could be so much better if you want to be. We’re not going to try to convince people they need to be better. They’ve got to want to come to it that way.
I totally recommend stretching yourself and then doing the work you need to do to make it come true. Belief. Belief. You make it a prophecy whenever you speak it, and then you do what you need to do to make it come true. So, yeah. That’s goal-setting. Absolutely.
Jamie: I think many people are shy about talking about their goals for various reasons. What would you say to those people?
Dave: I’ve been there. I get it. I mean, I didn’t tell anybody. Remember that first summer I was telling you about? That first sales year that I had, I knew that I could break the record. Three years later, I broke the 150-year-old record of selling more product than anybody ever had. I didn’t tell anybody for three years, so I get it. People don’t want to fail. I hate it when I fail. I hate myself when I fail. I beat myself up. I call myself an idiot. I say I’m stupid. And whenever you put big stuff out like that, the level of accountability goes up like crazy, and it makes you uncomfortable. It makes you sick to your stomach sometimes. So I get it.
What would just say to that – isn’t that what’s hard? Do what’s hard; life’s easy. You do what’s easy, and well, there will be some hard components in your life. So yeah, do what’s hard. Say it, speak it.
Here’s the thing. If you’re around the right people, if you speak something crazy into action like that – like a goal or say something massive – and you don’t do it, they don’t beat you up about it. They go, “We’ll get them next time. Next year.” Then you try it again; not a big deal.
Jamie: Any advice on finding and keeping people like that, who will support you and forgive you?
Dave: We all have heard that quote, right? “You are the result of the five people you spend the most time with, and your income reflects that.” I think you create that group. You create amazing people by being the amazing person that you want to be around. So you go recruit those people. That’s it. I mean, Spencer Hayes was a massive mentor of mine. He was a billionaire. He didn’t come from much, grew up on a dirt floor in a small town, started tons of companies, including Tom James; all sorts of different businesses. I hunted him down every single month. For the last three years of his life, we had lunch every single month, but for the previous 10 years before that, I called him, I texted him, I emailed him. His assistant Suzanne knew exactly who I was, but I didn’t hear back from him directly.
Chase those types of people and get on their calendar. Eventually, they stop running, and they go, “Sure.” And then they start spending time with you.
You create those groups. Then you go recruit people that are like that. You say, “Hey, I want you in my world. I want you in my space.” Call them, text them, over and over again. That’s what I would say. Create your groups. Don’t just go find them or hope you fall into them. That’s ridiculous.
Jamie: You worked with many organisations with many different sales processes and a lot of different cultures. What have you seen culturally that works?
Dave: The two things that I think make up a phenomenal culture are gratefulness… a gratefulness quotient, I call it. What is the gratefulness quotient of the people that work for you? If you have grateful people, you have a thriving business because they’re happy about where they’re at. They’re not complaining about things they don’t have; they’re grateful for the things they do and the people around them. So that’s the first one; the gratefulness quotient of the people around them.
The second one is the systems. Beautiful systems. There is a quote, “You can only be as strong as your systems.” And the next one would be, “You cannot outgrow your systems.” If you really take that to heart as a company, you’re only as strong as your systems, and you can never outgrow your systems; you get addicted pretty quickly to your systems. That’s what I would say.
Jamie: What are one or two examples of a system that needs optimising for a company to succeed?
Dave: If one person is the roadblock, or if one person is the bottleneck inside a company, that’s a bad system. If you can create a situation where many people can handle the problem or create this standard operating procedure around something that you deal with daily, and then have anybody in operations in your company handle X problem or obstacle, that’s a beautiful system. Usually, when it comes down to going through one person or having it be one set of rules based on what one guy or gal said, the thing’s going to break down.
Jamie: Clearly, you’re coaching your clients to be as good as they possibly can be at what they’re currently doing, but in which scenarios would you recommend the salesperson look for a change?
Dave: Whenever there’s not humility among the leaders in your business, that’s when it’s probably time to change. That is one of my biggest dreads for the 170 or 180 people who report to us at Southwestern Consulting. I don’t even like saying that because they’re my partners. If I am not acting with a grateful attitude and a humble attitude, you should quickly leave my business. That’s what I would say; humility amongst the leaders is the key.
Jamie: As a leader, how do you practice gratitude and humility?
Dave: I’m constantly grateful for the time that I get with people. People that aren’t whatever level that I’m at, whenever I introduce them in a public setting to somebody new, I say, “This is my business partner,” whether they’ve been with us for a day or for 10 years. We’ve got so many cool stories of people I’ve met, and I’ve introduced them to my parents and friends. I say, “Yeah, this is my business partner. She makes everything happen. We could not do our business without her,” when she’s been there for three weeks—that, and then the gratefulness piece. I do as good a job as I can to tell people how much I appreciate them and the effort they’re giving all the time.
Jamie: What’s the single most important piece of advice you would give to an aspiring salesperson?
It’s an old Southwestern quote that has changed my life forever. “Go to the next door.” Make the next call. All of your answers to any challenge or any question are actually behind the next door. They’re behind the next phone call. That’s it. Just go to the next door. Stop complaining. Don’t talk to your manager. Don’t call your husband or wife or kids. No. Go to make the next phone call. Go to the next door. That has helped me in everything I’ve ever done in my entire life.
Jamie: And if you had your career again, what would you do differently?
Dave: Nothing. I have failed forward. I don’t say that to imply we’ve got it all figured out, but I’m living my dream, and I am having so much fun. I’ve got to pinch myself. I’m in Indianapolis, Indiana, right now. I was with David and Leila Linsmeyer, who my wife and I recruited into our business about four years ago, and they’re living the life of their dreams. They have to pinch themselves because they’re helping people.
They’re doing good in this world. And I love that. That makes me so happy. Their kids, Erin and Gigi, are six and three, and they’re going to the international school in Indianapolis, where they speak French all day. That’s one of their dreams – for their kids to learn different languages. We went to an amazing restaurant last night in the beautiful neighbourhood they live in. It’s awesome. I get to do this every day. I get to sell a product and recruit people to sell a product that actually changes people’s lives.
Jamie: Could I ask for a specific instance when you didn’t make a sale you probably should have made, and it taught you something really valuable.
Dave: If you can’t tell from listening to me and my rate at which I talk – I talk fast, and that was a big struggle of mine in the beginning. Whenever you start talking fast, and your mind isn’t able to catch up, you start saying things that you probably shouldn’t in the sales scenario, like, “I promise,” or, “I guarantee it.” Or you say things like, “Well, trust me on this,” or “Can I be honest with you?” Anytime people say, “Can I be honest with you?” I go, “Are you not being honest with me?” But I ended up saying that kind of stuff when I’m talking fast. I end up saying, “I promise you, man. It’s going to be the best.” It’s like, “Why do you have to say it that way!?” So I’ve learned that slowing down and getting rid of that extreme language has been really, really good.
I told you about that first sales career. I actually hold a couple of records in that business. And one of the records I hold is having the most cancellations ever in a single selling season. I had over $120,000 of revenue cancelled in one year, and it’s because of some of these scenarios I’m telling you about. Sure, I was connecting, but it was at a surface level, and then people afterwards were going, “I don’t feel good about that.” How does that show up? They cancel. Then the sale never happened. So that’s where I messed up. I’m always conscious of that type of extreme language. I work on it myself and teach people who do the same damn thing. Just be careful with it.
Jamie: On the flip side, can you tell me about a sale that you made that shows off all the skills and experience you’ve gained throughout your career?
Dave: We talked about stories earlier, right? That’s a beautiful skill set that I developed at Southwestern and developed throughout my career and taught people.
The beautiful part about the stories is all the conflict and all the crap that other people have struggled through; you can say some pretty intense things as if those people in the past said it to themselves. I love selling through stories because it’s not me telling people they’re making a wrong decision or they’re not doing it; it’s everyone else saying it to them.
You can use this in a deceiving way, for sure. I know that I’ve definitely used stories to make a sale where I might’ve fudged the story a little bit. And then you feel horrible, and guess what? Somebody ends up cancelling again. I’ve eliminated that in my life and am focused on just doing it the right way.
Just before this call, I was on the phone with Scott Alton. He works for a car dealership in Brentwood, Tennessee, the car dealership that does a lot of business with us. We coached 70 or 80 of their people on that site. Scott was in coaching before, and he’s coming back to coaching. He said to me, “Man, it’d be awesome if I could work with somebody who’s got a little bit of experience in the car business and that actually worked in the car business.” I could have let that one go. I could have just been like, “Yeah, sure. We can work it out.” He was signing up for coaching, and he was already a past client.
Instead, I just stopped and said, “Scott, I don’t know if I can do that. I don’t know if we have someone who’s got availability and who’s been in the car business. I know my coaches well, but I don’t know if they have availability to coach anyone, so I can’t tell you that that’s what’s going to happen. I want to match you up with the right person; that’s why we do our due process. We haven’t taken personality assessments and everything else we do, and you’ve just got to trust the system. If that’s not going to fly with you, then let’s not work together because I don’t want you to have false expectations and then not get the results because of that person.”
I said it to him just like that. I was just like, “I don’t want to feel bad about it if you’re misled,” because I feel horrible when I’ve said stupid stuff. I’m not being a bad person by just saying, “Sure, we can help out,” because we probably will be able to. But I also don’t want to have to cover my tracks later.
That’s just being completely open with people. I mean, that’s what servant selling is, right?
Doing it the right way is just saying it, being service-minded, and being honest. Thankfully, Scott is also now a client again.