Dimitry Toukhcher was one of the key people in this interview series. I’ve a big believer that the strength of your network is reflected in how people respond to your name, when I emailed Dimitry’s recommendations for interviewees – which included Katrin Kiviselg, Lauri Kinkar, and Avi Weisenberg – each responded instantly and positively
Dimitry has strong views which he’s unafraid to express, and firm principles which have helped him build a company of almost 200 with a winning sales culture. This interview is worthy of your time, and in my view, your admiration.
You can read Dimitry’s full biography here
Jamie: Dimitry just to begin with, what have you found most fulfilling about your career thus far?
Dimitry: The ability to generate and create something from nothing. Watching the business grow, watching it develop, watching it take on different lives, and solving the problems that come with it. I enjoy becoming wiser because of that. It is not so much a job. It is more of a career. It is a passion. Enjoying watching it grow has been a blast.
Jamie: What is it about sales that allows it to create something?
Dimitry: I like the feeling of victory. I like to hunt.
I like the fact that my results are objective. I wanted fairness, and for me, that is an important principle. Sales is very fair because sales are an objective measure of one’s performance. There cannot be a 360-degree employee review with KPIs, objectives, and subjective tendencies or about how much I like someone. It allows you to just look at the numbers. It is all there, and the results will never lie.
Jamie: What is the worst thing about being in sales?
Dimitry: That is tough to answer because I am not sure everyone can relate. Sales is very character revealing; sometimes hard to quickly figure out a person’s character traits and ability to be persistent. It can undermine your self-belief. It can even change your political views on things because you realize how much of success is self-determined, which I am aware is really not a popular opinion in today’s world. Confronting that reality and having to repeatedly persevere when you don’t want to can be pretty challenging.
You also have to accept people for who they are, not for what they would like to see themselves as. I am not saying that they cannot be better, but sometimes people think of themselves in a certain way, but character-revealing activities can reveal other facets to their personalities.
Jamie: When you say that people think about themselves differently, how could you think about them differently than they see themselves?
Dimitry: I think everybody wants to feel great about themselves, but the champions confront reality and say, maybe there are some areas that I can improve on. The best take some difficult steps to improve themselves, anything required. In sales, it is very easy to see the flaws because the excuses are so easy to come by.
“It is the product, it is the market, it is the price, or it is the pandemic…” It is very easy to not be personally responsible. What you find is that this attitude translates not only into one sales career or job but also translates into other areas of their life.
However, I enjoy being disciplined. I enjoy the work. I enjoy the challenges that come with it. Challenges aren’t the worst for me because I genuinely enjoy it, but to some they are.
Jamie: What is the best thing about selling high-end suits?
Dimitry: The people we get to talk to and create solutions for: CEOs, CFOs, and partners at Magic Circle Firms. Having an audience with that level of person is pretty rewarding because it is a ‘non-offensive’ product that gives you a back door into the upper echelons of society.
Jamie: How do you coach your team to approach these people at the highest echelons of society?
Dimitry: There are so many different avenues to answer that; it could be emotional, could be technical or functional due to activity levels.
Jamie: What is the most challenging thing about being in a business such as suits and high-end fashion?
Dimitry: People who are new or specifically younger generations come in, and they want to change everything, or they think that it is not being done right. They ask questions such as, “Why do you not put an ad up? Why do you not put up a Facebook ad?”
We know from past experience in our businesses that certain activities generate significantly higher ROIs than other activities and, in our business, because our audience is time-sensitive, we know from many years of success and failure as to what works well and what works less well.
Everything is moving online these days, but that is simply not true in our business because we sell with a consultative approach. We provide a service and a relationship that one cannot obtain through a Facebook ad. People will not purchase based on the stock, but because it is customized through our advice.
Jamie: Obviously, it is a physical product you sell, but you have mentioned that you view it as a service. How are suits a service?
It is like in any business, you do not want to be a commodity because then people are shopping based on price. To justify the price, you have to create more value for the consumer.
It could be the brand itself. The idea is the features are better because they have to justify the price. However, ultimately selling the service, the relationship and the time saved, because we are a direct seller of high-end suits. The client is not only buying a suit, but also buying a professional consultant who can help them coordinate, plan, prepare, and manage the project.
Ultimately, it keeps them out of a store on Saturday when their wife says “Do you want to go to the store?” They can just say ‘no’ as it is already taken care of. All those things that are surrounding the sale are what create the value; time-saving, convenience, and expertise. Those are not things you can get from just the product.
Jamie: You determined that the ROI of sales is higher. Did you experiment with both routes, marketing and sales?
Dimitry: Absolutely, we have definitely experimented.
When somebody is marketing for you, where you hire professionals to set those things up, they are not in it to win it. They are there to get paid, and they do not get a percentage of what you sell, but they take an upfront fee. We definitely tried all different sorts of avenues, and there is always a very clear, objective data that is not going to lie. It is not always the most convenient because it is a lot easier to spend some money on a Facebook ad than develop a person to become an excellent salesperson. Doing it the hard way usually means there is also less competition because others choose the easier option.
Jamie: I have been talking to a couple of people in similar arenas who have been laying off some of their salesforce. However, what you are saying is that salespeople are actually a route to de-commoditization?
Dimitry: Oh, hugely. I do not know what the ultimate goal of those companies is; I am not running their business. I have to be an expert in my own domain, right?
Jamie: What are the biggest characteristics you look for in people when hiring?
Dimitry: Determination and grit are intangible aspects. You cannot really just quickly discern if the interviewee has this or not, but they are very important. Obviously, intelligence – just to be able to function and learn quickly enough to execute certain things and be creative to adapt to the situation.
There are a lot of things you cannot teach. For example, you do not want dependent employees. A lot of people care a lot more about how they are perceived, rather than what they actually produce, and that is dangerous in a company because then you are liable for their personal failures. Good character must be number one.
Jamie: Have you found a reasonable way to test for that determination in the interview?
Dimitry: It is more intuition now, it is almost like dating when you are young, and you are in high school, you do not know what kind of girl you are dating until you know as you get older and you gain some experience, you start to notice patterns and people’s behaviour and the way that people respond to things.
Jamie: What are the biggest differences you see in successful and unsuccessful salesman?
Entitlement is a big one. It is amazing to me how many bad salespeople think they are great salespeople. What terrible salespeople are really good at is selling themselves into a job. So, what you see a lot is that salespeople jump from companies every 18 months.
They think it is because they are a good salesperson, but in fact, it is because you are not a good salesperson. It is because you failed but framed it like a success. That entitlement and self-perception mean that they are likely to separate their feelings about themselves from their results – if you really want to produce, you have to connect the two.
Sales managers and salespeople would rather claim the results do not reflect them, and use excuses. However, if you are an engineer and every bridge you built falls apart, you fail, and perhaps you should not be an engineer. It is the same thing in sales, good salespeople find a way to get results, and find a way to get victories. The salesperson who finds reasons as to why that is not happening is probably never going to change or be successful.
Jamie: At what stage should you change jobs? Is that completely unfixable or can you find other ways to go about fixing that?
Dimitry: Some universal things seem to be constant. The Pareto principle: twenty percent of your people are going to produce eighty percent of the results. Prices’ law: the square root of the number of people in your organization produces fifty percent of the results, seem to always hold true no matter what. These are sort of universal industry principles that have been continuously backed by vast amounts of research and vast amounts of information.
I have tried to “fix”, and I am trying to “fight” it but I have just kind of grown to accept that there are laws and productivity and then sales and organizations that are similar to physical laws where you can try to break the speed of light, but you will probably have a pretty hard time doing so. The reality is, this holds true for sports teams as well, twenty percent of your players are going to score eighty percent of the points.
Jamie: What would be the deal-breakers for you, where you would say that person really should be moved rather than sticking it out?
I certainly had my fears, my doubts, and other things when I was younger. However, I was not going to walk away as a loser. I was going to walk away as a winner.
I am not talking about being ‘the number one rookie in the Eastern Division of the lower half of the city amongst males who are under six foot five, but more than six foot.’ I am not talking about narrowly defining something to inflate the actual results. If you are going to walk away, walk away as a winner; a true winner.
If you are the worst salesperson at a company of 10 people, it is probably more reflective of you because the results are there for someone else.
Jamie: Did you choose eighteen months because that is a normal jumping-off point?
Dimitry: It could be twelve months, it could be nine months, whatever. But you know what I am talking about.
Jamie: Has anyone really wowed you in an interview and made you really want to hire them?
Dimitry: Oh, absolutely. There are different ways to do it, but sometimes people just sing the song that I think they should be singing; they say all the right things.
Again though, keep in mind that does not always correlate to results. It usually does but not always. Some people are just really good at being a narcissist, right? They are amazing at selling themselves. There are professional salespeople whose entire career seems to, at least in my view, stem from just being excellent in an interview. There are also entire company life cycles where the entire company is excellent at raising money. They are not even in the business of selling their product.
You look at, and you go, “Holy crap. This is a terrible company, but they are so good at raising money.” However, that is not the ultimate objective, or at least that is not what it should be, right?
The number one thing a person can tell me in an interview is: look, give me a shot and judge me on my performance.
The opposite of that is focusing on asking about ‘What base is guaranteed?’ The top people are making a lot more than their base.
Then I had an example a couple of years ago, a salesperson applied and asked, “Give me a very high base.” I asked, “Why?” His answer was, “Well, because you believe in me, right?” My response was, “Do you believe in yourself?” He replied, “Yeah, that is why I am asking for a high base.”
I believe that if he was good, then he would believe that he would earn loads of commission, which would be way more in total. A top salesperson will want to be judged on their production.
Jamie: Are there any specific extracurriculars or things outside of work that you would recommend salespeople should do?
Dimitry: I would say read books, a lot of books. That has been my go-to if you want to call it an extracurricular activity. It is books. It is reading. Obviously, it is associating with people.
You know sales is such a mental game, like in school where C grade students will spend time with other C grade students, and A-grade students will spend time with A-grade students. Sales is a reflection of life; check your friends and who you are hanging out with.
If you hang out with a bunch of losers, it is going to be really hard to be good at sales because your perception of the world is going to be reactive and you’ll feel like a victim. If you are around winners, you know winners tend to have an attitude to them. That is very influential.
Jamie: Do you notice your top salespeople hanging out with each other?
Dimitry: Of course. At every organization, this is one hundred percent the case.
Jamie: Could you talk me through the importance of having a mentor, and how you go about finding one?
Dimitry: I do not know. We always say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I do not know how to find one. I do not think I was actively looking for a mentor. I think I just started doing things that forced me to elevate myself and those people appeared over time.
Jamie: How do you create a great sales culture? What would you want to see as a salesperson?
Dimitry: It is a simple answer that is hard to implement. You control who you let in, the level of the person you let it, and you have to fail fast if somebody is not complicit with your standards. You have to very clearly define your standards. I failed in all that before because I was like, “Oh, they sell well,” but they were terrible human beings. That’s a recipe for disaster, Yeah, you are going to win in the short run, but boy, are you going to pay for it in the long run. I have. I said, “Why should I get in the way? They are selling so much and making us so much money,” but that terrible human being thing doesn’t go away. What happens is that the people who are not terrible human beings all see it, and they leave, and then eventually, you just have a bunch of terrible people, and you do not want that.
So, defining what is acceptable, and what is not, and sticking to that, plus being very quick in getting rid of people who are not complicit with the kind of culture you want to build. Culture is effectively the sum of who is on the bus, minus who isn’t on the bus.
Jamie: What would you need to see in a company to want to join them?
Dimitry: I would want to talk to the top leadership to understand the level of leadership, and I would probably want to talk to the three or four top salespeople.
If I were to join a company,
I would ask, “Tell me what your top guys are making in this role, because my results as a salesperson mean that is what I will earn. Let me talk to them, and then I can evaluate and see the calibre of each individual, and then I can make a pretty quick decision.”
I would not trust the bottom performers. I want to understand that person has credibility. That is really important, especially in sales and business. There is no medical degree to get into sales. If I go to a doctor’s office and he treats me, I don’t ask the doctor about his credentials. I just believe that the doctor is there because they are allowed to be. After all, they have gone through a massive amount of training to ensure that they should be treating me.
In sales, there is no such thing, so you get all these sales experts who know nothing. I see it all the time on Facebook advertising, claiming they can teach you to cold call. I have had people like that in my company who were terrible salespeople, and they’ve left, and they are in sales consulting, but no-one should hire them to consult. The people that hire them, if they hire them, have even less knowledge than they do!
I want to talk to people who have credibility. I want to ask, “How do you sell this product? What are you doing? What are your numbers?” I want to know from a credible person, and then at least the information that I get will be true. Then I will determine whether or not that information is satisfactory.
Jamie: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to aspiring salespeople?
Dimitry: Get ready to get your ass kicked. Take it like a champion.
Jamie: If you had your sales career again, what would you do differently?
Dimitry: I would probably start recruiting earlier. I was the number one salesperson in Southwestern Advantage, in the whole organization, and I had the number one team in the whole organization. I reached what, in most people’s minds, would be the pinnacle of success within that organization. I had the best year in sales. I had the best year in recruiting. Coming back with what would I do differently, I would recruit earlier because I think I learned a lot. I probably learned more in selling about my key strengths, but recruiting made me grow more.
It is a way more valuable skill than selling, which is crazy because I am a sales CEO, but recruiting is a way more valuable skill. It is not hard to recruit, it is just hard to recruit good people because bad people are always looking for jobs.
They are always available. That is, by definition, the case. Learning to recruit has been monumental and instrumental in my day-to-day success. When a CEO is stressed out, losing his mind, it is because the team around him is dropping the ball and you end up doing too many jobs. You can solve that problem with good recruiting.
Jamie: Could you tell me about a specific time that sticks out where you did not make a sale, and it was really painful, but you learned something?
Dimitry: One story that sticks in my mind. I was with my girlfriend, who is now my wife, and I was taking her to Las Vegas. We were living in Calgary at the time, in Canada, and we had a flight that afternoon on Friday, and I had a client to deliver a suit to. He was a really good client. He’d spend five figures a year on clothes. I dropped off a suit because I was in a rush to get to the airport. My girlfriend was in the car. We were going to Las Vegas. I dropped off a suit. I packaged it up, and I dropped it off.
I called him up six months later. I said, “Hey, you know, let’s meet up again. I have some new ideas,” and he said, “I am not buying it from you anymore.” I said, “Why not?” He says, “Because the last time you dropped off the suit for me, it was very wrinkly and it looked uncared for.” It was a two-thousand-dollar suit.
That was a lesson for me because I realized that it was not getting his business where I failed, it was keeping his business. I did not treat him to the standard he deserves to be treated as a client, with that kind of money he was spending, and the kind of trust he was giving me.
I tell that story a lot because I learned a very valuable lesson about returning customers; they are what is going to make or break your business long-term.
I also think that even if I were to say, “Oh, I have the story. I did this. I lost the sale,” I would probably be wrong because most salespeople lose the sale a lot earlier than they think. I listen to people who make a sales call and say, “Oh, I lost a sale on that call.” And I’m like “No, you lost the sale way earlier.”
For example, if you walk into an office, and they ask you if you’d like a coffee, and you say “Oh no, thank you.” You have already lost the sale. They offered you a coffee, and as a salesperson, it was your job to take it. Your job is to create revenue. That is what you do. If you walk into an office and they offer you a coffee, you say, “Yes, I would like a coffee and I can I have two sugars and milk,” and then you do not even touch the damn sugars. You just put the milk in and, you return the sugars. That is how you start to take control of that environment.
I mean that is an anecdotal example, but that is an example where most salespeople would disagree with that because they are not good salespeople and don’t understand the incredibly important mental mechanic of taking control of your environment. It’s essential so that you do not end up chasing the prospect with constant follow-up.
Jamie: Is controlling the environment necessary to put you in a position to close quickly?
Dimitry: Hell yeah.
If you give any indication to the prospect that your time is free, they are going to cheat your time. “Oh, come back tomorrow, oh, give me a call later, send me an email.” You need to learn how to negotiate your time. You need to learn how to negotiate your value.
Some people are like, “You need to make contact seven times with the client to make a sale.” I say “Perhaps, or you can contact seven new clients and get five new sales.” That is much better. For those examples of “How did you lose that sale?” I would be very cautious as to the credibility of the salesperson.
Jamie: Can you tell me about a time when you did make a sale that very other people would have, and it shows off the skills and experience you gained through your career?
Dimitry: I was working at a company for a short period after my book days, and I went on a sales call. It was with the CEO of a major law firm. Now, this law firm was a little different because they actually had a CEO, rather than a Managing Partner. We went to this company, and a sales trainer went with me; a guy who was supposed to train me. We walk into the office, and they lead us to these big, wooden doors. This guy was playing the game the whole time as well. He had the receptionist meet me on the seventeenth floor, bring me up to twenty-two, and made us do the whole walk. He was putting a charade on.
At that point, I am twenty-five years old, but I understand the game. We walk in, we sit down, and I say, “Keith, would you like this product for the firm?” Keith said, “All right.” I can tell he is going to test me. He is really sharp. He says, “Dimitry, you know I have had this pitch before, and I tried this product before. It didn’t work. How are you going to be better?” He just looked at me, because he is expecting me to tell him about how our company has been around for fifty years, and how the service and delivery would be better this time. Instead, I said to Keith, “How could I fuck anything else up?” and he laughed. He slapped his hand on the desk, and what he got is that I am at least competent. It is easy to say, “If there is a problem, I will fix it.” It is easy. Everybody will say that. Everybody will say, “I will work extra hard, and I will do the right things,” but to actually communicate it without saying it is the skill of the trade.
Keith laughed, and he ended up becoming a client that day. What is funny though is that my sales trainer got really angry at me for swearing in front of a prospect. He was like, “How dare you; you could have told him this.” I said, “I got the sale, man.” It was a big sale too. It might have been my biggest sale at the time. But he insisted, “Yeah, but you swore, and you could have explained the benefits.” So the sales trainer wrote me up for swearing in a meeting and shortly after that I left that company, and I started this company, and it has been a great ride.