Sometimes, timing just works well on both sides. When I was reaching out to people, Joe reached back out to me – just in time to be included in the book, give me a fresh perspective on sales consultancy, and be one of the more entertaining interviews in the series.
Joe’s views on managing expectations with clients and becoming part of the fabric of an external organization are excellent, and his advice on referrals and his vision to make a difference are truly exceptional.
You can read Joe’s full biography here
Jamie: Joe, to begin, with what have you found most fulfilling about your sales career thus far?
Joe: It took me a while to figure it out. But if you really are enjoying sales, you help other people figure out what they want, and help them get it, then you are in a good spot.
Jamie: What have you found to be the best thing about working in sales?
Joe: It is actually the best thing, and it is the worst thing. I am in complete control of my destiny. If I am doing well, I am awesome. It is a great career, but it is on me. And if I am not doing well, it sucks, and it is still on me. You have complete control of what you want and deserve.
Jamie: For people who are in bigger corporate roles, who do not have full autonomy, would you say that they are still in control of their own destiny?
Joe: Yeah, we are always in control of our own destiny. I look at it this way; if I have an issue, a problem, I have to do something to figure out. Two things really matter; your attitude and your activity. In the corporate world, you may not be on your own, but those two things still matter. It does not matter if you do not have control of the corporation, but you are in control of your attitude and your activity, and nothing else really matters after that.
Jamie: Which one of those two things, if we got attitude and activity, would you start with?
Joe: I hate asking that question. “Okay, they are both important. But if you have to pick one?” I ask that question all the time with my work. I would probably say it is activity.
You can be deaf, dumb, blind, and stupid, but you work hard enough, you are going to get some ‘yes’s. So, you just grind through it. There are successful people out there that just grind through and figure it out. If you have to go with one option, go activity.
Jamie: What is the best thing about being in sales consulting?
Joe: Where I can help other people grow, and help them get where they want. I have set up a call today with a gal who hustles and hit her goal of making $200,000 in October this year. She hit it today, and she has got three months left of the year, and just she’s got a new house. That is the coolest part of seeing people grow; challenging them and getting them out of their comfort zone. She gets all the credit for it, of course, but that is just really cool.
Jamie: What is the worst thing?
Joe: Well, I think it is pretty common – where I want someone else’s success more than they do. Image working with somebody, and they have the skills and talent. Their EQ is high. They are sharp. But they are just not doing the work. I see it, the success is right there, but they don’t do the work. It’s like you are pushing rope – it just doesn’t work.
Jamie: What skill set do you value the most in the people who you coach?
Joe: It is having a good attitude and having a work ethic – attitude and activity, again.
As far as my work, if I am interviewing someone or looking to bringing someone on as a new client or a new company, if we do not click or if the attitude is not there, I am going to move on. It is not worth it.
Jamie: You have sold physical products, like books and suits, and then you have sold services now in consultancy. What have you found is the big differences?
Joe: I do not have an answer. I do not think there is an answer. It is sales – it is the transference of feeling. It is the building of a relationship no matter what, whether you are selling a suit, or selling books, or selling clinics, or selling consulting.
It is a transference of feeling. They have to like me – that is the sale. They have to know that I am looking and trying to help them. It is servant selling. If you do that, the product does not matter.
Jamie: Yeah, what triggered your decision to go entrepreneurial? And when would you recommend people do that?
Joe: I was being restricted on what I could do – for the right reasons. I just wanted to go in a different direction; that is why I went on my own. I think that I probably should have done it sooner and I recommend that.
Any time I made a career change, there was a strong sense of loyalty. This keeps people in organisations longer than they should be. I probably ended my growth being at a couple companies too long – good companies, but I just personally outgrew them or saw that it was not a match, and stayed there longer just because I did not want to be a quitter.
Jamie: How would you recommend that salespeople know when to switch?
Joe: When the job does not excite you, there is no point in staying. It is not production-based – that is an element to it – but if you are just not excited about getting up and doing it, you should start looking.
Jamie: What are the biggest skills that you need to succeed in consulting, above and beyond a regular sales job?
Joe: With consulting, and I deal with more successful people at the top of their field. A lesson I learned is that there is an element of ego involved in dealing with top producers. Part of it is – They often are thinking, “I am good. I am successful. I have done it. I know this. What can you teach me?” Sometimes they can be adversarial.
In consulting, right away at the beginning, I give all of my clients permission to challenge me. I literally tell them “If I am saying something and you do not agree with it, let me know.” That is the essence of what I do, and that was a big change when I started going down that road.
All of these top producers, who have egos, just shifted from being confrontational to being more curious, more polite, and more open-minded. They start their questions or pushback; “So, Joe, what do you think about this?” approach. They change their whole tone and demeanour because I gave them permission to challenge me. In consulting, that is a big piece. Yes, you are the expert, but there is more than one way to show that.
Jamie: So setting the guidelines and the rules at the beginning of a relationship like that is important?
Joe: Oh, absolutely. I literally have the Expectations Talk. It is a sit-down conversation on Zoom, and I tell them “These are some things that I will deliver to you, things you can count on me for,” and I list them. Then I turn around and say, “You know, I would like to ask you to do these following things, things I can count on you to do.” It is basically just the reciprocal. I learned this early on when I was leading a team selling books. Having that Expectation Talk clears up a lot of issues. While a lot of it is assumed, it is awesome to crystalise the relationship, and it clears a lot of crap out of the way. It is a valuable conversation, but then I started taking it further. When I am done having the Expectation Talk, I repeat back both lists; “Here are the five things you can count on me to do, and the five things I can count on you to do.”
I will always pause and ask, “Hey, just curious. What do you want me to say if hypothetically you could be five weeks, five months or five years down the road? What should I say or what should I do if you are not doing something you said you were going to do?”
I ask that question, and I wait. Then they will give me some fluff answer, and I will say, “Okay, what else?” They are literally giving me permission to hold them accountable. In consulting, that is what they are looking for. They are paying for that. They want that service. They want that accountability. I need that permission for me to say, “Hey, remember we talked five weeks ago? We talked about expectations, and I asked you what should I say or what should I do if you are not doing something. You told me to kick you in the rear. I am now kicking you in the rear.” I get permission to hold them accountable, which is very important in consulting.
Jamie: What happens if you do not do that?
Joe: I will probably lose them as a client because if I keep asking them to do something they don’t want to do, it does not make sense for them to pay me. It does not make sense for me to work with them. They need to hear that too. They need to know I can challenge them. If they have asked me to do something and I agree to it, I better get it done.
Jamie: What elements of culture make a sales organisation successful?
Joe: I think the first part is you have to be valued. The leadership has to take time to get to know you, and it is extremely hard in the culture today, with COVID and everything moving and shifting away from face-to-face. There still has to be an effort to know that I am just not a number. That is culture. Does my current leadership, do my fellow employees, co-workers, superiors, whatever, do they care about my family and me? Do they take that time?
Jamie: If you were looking for a new organisation in theory, what would be the non-negotiables?
Joe: First, I am very blessed. I found exactly what I am meant to do. I truly love what I am doing, and I will never retire. I’ll repeat that, I absolutely love what I am doing. But to answer your question, it is going to come right back to: do they care about me, do they have my back? That has to be there.
Jamie: If you were aspiring salesperson, how would you test for that? How would you make sure that is the case?
Joe: Testing culture is such a hard thing to do. There are little techniques that I try. If I am interviewing someone, or someone brings someone into my organisation, or I am going to join someone else’s, if possible, I would like to have dinner with the other person, their spouse, and kids. If I can, I’d try to bring my kids and ask they bring their kids. You see so much more that way. It is just incredible. It is extremely hard to do, and it may be a tad weird too. They have thoughts like “Why are we going to dinner with dad’s boss and our potential boss?” Their spouse and kids probably do not want to do it, but it strips away a lot of things. We see how they are, how they treat their kids, and how they are interacting with the staff, and how they talk to their spouse. That is huge. If it is a high-level opportunity or a “big deal” position or partnership, then one little dinner is definitely worth it.
Jamie: Before you went into consulting, how did you pick your products to sell?
Joe: I pretty much got lucky with the first one. I was selling books, with Southwestern Advantage, and I am a big believer in education. I was convicted in the product, and everything lined up. So, I lucked out on that piece. Then I went to Tom James, a sister company of Southwestern. It was pretty much the same culture and the people. I was familiar with Southwestern, and I saw a lot of similarities to Tom James, and there are still great people – still, some of my best friends are still in that organisation.
Jamie: Would you recommend everyone picks their first few jobs on the people rather than the product?
Joe: If you can, yes, but that sometimes takes a while to really see what a culture is like, what people are like.
They are both important because I could not work with an organisation if they had a crappy product. There is no conviction there. I would move on right away.
You know, Tom James, in my opinion – probably biased but fairly accurate – have some of the best people in the world. Quality garments, quality fabric, quality staff.
Jamie: What is the single biggest piece of advice you would give to an aspiring salesperson?
Joe: Well, get a coach. Hire me. [Laughs]
I would say it is to think big. Do not be too limiting in your thoughts. I coach against this all, I challenge them to take the time to really think big and clarify that vision. I am a big believer in Vision Boards and clarifying your vision.
That is a big piece. If you are going to go into sales, well actually in any career, really clarify what you want and why you want it. You will get it. You need to look at it every day. If you think about something long enough, it is going to happen. If you put something on your vision board, it will happen. And I’ve got hundreds of examples. We all know Vision Boards work. My clients are great examples of how this works. I’ll repeat this, if you put something on your Vision Board, it will happen
Jamie: If you had your career again, what would you do differently?
Joe: I would start sooner doing consultancy much sooner. However, things happen for a reason; I think I am successful with what I am doing because of my work experience and history. Having that those experiences were and are a reason for my successes. I probably could have been doing this much sooner, but I am not disappointed in how it worked out.
Jamie: And as a coach, how would you recommend that coaches position their offering to make it so that it can be a full-time career? How do you find the right price point that your clients are willing to pay?
Joe: It is funny because I am in transition right now. I am about a month away from finishing my book. Historically, my business has been 100% referral-based. I have been doing this for 4-5 years, and I don’t even have a website. I meet 3% of my clients at the most, and of them only once. I met only one client first before they became a client. The other few clients that I met, I was travelling. So, I had very minimal face-to-face contact with my clients previously. It was all done remotely. Now I am shifting gears with my book coming out; I’ll have a website, and I will be looking at other different avenues, but I do not think you can get too far away from referrals. Referrals are the key, not just for coaching, but for any industry.
As far as price point, I strive to sell value, not price. If I am talking too much about price, I am making the wrong sale. People buy value, if I deliver value, the price doesn’t seem to matter as much.
Jamie: What advice do you have for getting good referrals?
Joe: I would get a coach. I don’t think we really appreciate the value of referrals. I have a quick story if it is all right. This is back when I was with Tom James. I called on a guy at a company. He was a financial advisor at Lutheran Brotherhood, now called Thrivent Financial. He was a referral, I went and pitched him, and he said ‘no’ to me, but he gave me four referrals. Over the next 18 months, those four referrals turned into 80 clients at that organisation. That was a huge eye-opener. This was when I was first starting out with Tom James. Similar story with another company called St. Paul Companies, now The Travelers Insurance; a big insurance company.
I sent a mailer to an executive and got him booked for an appointment. He gave me three referrals. Two years later, I had 150 clients at that company. I had my own ID and my parking spot at their headquarters.
The referral phase is a huge part of a sales call. We all undervalue that.
The second part of what I have found that when we start selling, we suck at everything. You do, I do: we all suck at everything related to selling. Then, through repetition and experience, we get better at certain parts of the sale. Maybe it is establishing rapport. Maybe it is closing. Maybe it is finding their needs. Maybe it is connecting and building trust, or the development of the relationship. Because of that experience and repetition, certain areas of our business have become excellent. We are experts. We are professionals. We are really good at this piece or that piece. That is how we succeed. But I find consistently when it comes to referrals we are all rookies. When we ask, we say. “Yeah, I kind of maybe would like to have a referral, but it is too much trouble to ask. Never mind, here are a few business cards.” We are passive in our referral ask, but there is nothing passive about referrals! If we can take that one area and get it on par with all the other areas of business, you are going to grow.
Jamie: So, you would say referrals are an opportunity for almost everyone who you coach now?
Joe: Almost everyone in general. The average for referrals in business is close to 0. In my business, it is 100% over the phone or Zoom; completely referral-based.
Referrals are given to people, not to your company. So, if you can establish a relationship where they like you, you should get referrals.
Jamie: You mentioned a story when you got told ‘no’ but got referrals anyway. So, you would not shy away from asking someone for referrals just because they did not buy?
Joe: Absolutely. You realise referrals are given because of the relationship or they like you, even if they have not tried this out or it is not for them. I just shifted and said, “I realise you have not tried me out, but based on the idea, who else should I talk to?” You get away from the product and focus on how I treated him. That’s where referrals start. This assumes that you have a good product or service, and you treat people the right way. He like me, He wanted to refer me. I just asked and gave him the opportunity.
Jamie: Could you tell me about a time when you did not make a sale, and it really stung, but it taught you something?
Joe: Well, I have a bunch, but there is one, in particular, that resonates. This is again when I was at Tom James, and went out and sold a gentleman. His name was Dick Cochran. And Dick bought a couple of suits and gave me four referrals.
I kind of think referrals are like fish or relatives. If you do not use it within three days, they start to stink, and they need to go. So, I try to call my referrals right away.
The first guy in the referral list was a guy named Mike Reier. I called Mike. “Mike, it is Joe Pallo. We have not met yet. You know, Dick Cochran mentioned your name,” and he cuts in and says, “Yeah, I am not interested,” and he hung up. Okay, that happens. That is not a big deal. So, I went on to the next name, and it was a guy named Marty Fitterman. I called Marty. I got lucky, I talked to Marty, and I said, “Marty, just so you know, I am going to be across the street on Thursday. Can I stop by and see you?” He said, “Yeah.” I sold him some suits, and he gave me some referrals, and he gave me Mike Reier’s name again. I got back to my office, and I thought, “Well, Mike was obviously having a bad day yesterday. And it is rare for us to have bad days two days in a row, so now is probably the best day to call.” So, I called him back. I talked to Mike and said, “Hi, it’s Joe. I know we just talked yesterday when Dick Cochran mentioned you, but Marty Fitterman also mentioned your name today.” He again said he wasn’t interested. He hung up again.
Every now and then, I have been told I am stubborn. My dad told me I am stubborn. My wife tells me I am stubborn. My kids tell me I am stubborn. And I am going to prove them wrong if it kills me! This time I got stubborn. I said, “Dang it. I am going to sell that guy.” And it was on. I sold everybody in his organisation. I keep saying, “Hey, you know Mike Reier?” Again, I got referred to him. I sold his neighbours, and I left a message. “Hey, Mike, just to let you know so-and-so mentioned your name. Hey, Mike, just let you know someone’s…” He would be going to a dinner party, and I would know about it. I would have the referees; mention my name at the party. I would talk to some of my clients’ wives, and ask if they knew Mike’s wife. I would ask them to give Mike’s wife my name to call. It was all pleasantly and professionally done, with a touch of humour.
This went on for 18 months. And finally, I came into my office to find the lights blinking for a message. I hit play. “Hey, Joe, it is Mike Reier. You are obviously not going away. Please call my assistant to set up a time.” It was awesome. I called up his assistant, set up the time, and I said, “Hey, just curious. Is Mike in?” And she goes, “Yeah, he is in,” and I hear him in the background, “What does he want? Put him through.” Mike is kind of really a driver type of person. He goes, “What do you want?” I said, “Mike, are you a busy guy?”, and he said yeah. “I need to ask you three questions that can save us time when we meet.” So, I qualified him. It was that perseverance finally coming through.
A couple of days later, I went in to see him, and it was a battle. He was thinking, “I am going to let Joe come in. I am going to be able to hear his pitch. I am going to tell him ‘no’, and he’ll finally leave me alone.” I am thinking, “I am selling him! He is as good as sold.” As it works out, he bought. He bought some clothes, and he bought Joe Pallo. In the middle of it, we had a couple suits laid out, some shirts, and he goes, “You are one of these.” He holds up his hand, palm facing me. “Mike, I am not sure what that means,” I say. “You are one of the five best salespeople I have ever met.” That was so cool, so awesome. I told him “I appreciated that, and I am going to need the name of those other guys, and we need to get some sport coats.”
Here is the bigger piece of the story. When I left that office, you would think that I would be on cloud nine. The guy that said ‘no’ to me, and shut me down. I spent18 months constantly working on it, and I finally get in with him and sold him – a good size order, and he gave me referrals. But I didn’t really feel that good about it. I could not figure out what it was. He said I am one of the five best salespeople he has met, and he meant that as a great compliment, but it was that comment that bothered me.
I realised: I do not want to be known as just one of the five best salespeople; I am more than that. I started to ask, “What do I want to be known for? “Who are people that have influenced me? Who are the five most influential people in my life?” That resonated.
My five are as follows: The first one is my dad. My mom died when I was nine, and Dad pretty much taught me how to work, the importance of faith, the importance of doing what you say you are going to do. He is a great guy and still one of my best friends.
The second is Father Schneider. He was the principal at Mankato Loyola, the Catholic School went to. He perceived that I was a leader when I did not. This helped me to understand that leadership was action when there was an issue that we needed addressing. I went up to talk to him about it, and it hit me that leadership is action. You have to act. You have to do it in order to be a leader.
The third person is Spencer Hayes. The guy was a majority shareholder of Tom James and Southwestern. Pretty much everything we have talked about is a derivative of what I have learned in that guy’s companies. Phenomenal person. He was 80-something when he passed, but he would just say every day, “I feel healthy. I feel happy. I feel terrific.” He just really showed me a positive attitude about everything.
The fourth person is Steve Gray. He is one of the managers at Tom James. We were talking, having a beer after white-water rafting in Colorado. We talked about his kids and the importance of confident and educated kids. How important confidence is; especially with girls because they seem to be so hard on each other. I was engaged at that time, and I did not have any kids, but that comment resonated with me. Years later, when I had Sam, my firstborn, I would give him a kiss goodnight and say, “You are neat, and you are strong, and you are fast and important.” This worked on building his confidence. I did this for all of my kids. I have great kids! That was a big influence on me. Steve is one of the best mentors I have ever had. He is awesome.
The last person that is Lisa, my wife. She challenges me, and she makes me a better person. She helps me see my faults, and what I have to work through, but she is an awesome life partner. You know, she will probably laugh when she reads that – I can see her thinking “If I am that influential in Joe’s life; why can’t he put his dirty socks in the hamper.” She is my best friend.
I do not want to be known as the best salesperson. I want to be known as one of the most influential people in as many people’s lives as I can. I want to be one of their top five, and my consulting, coaching, and my books are all vehicles to do that.