Josef (Pep) Dvorak is a legend. He’s constantly positive, extremely driven, and one of my favorite people to be around. His latest challenge (after 9 summer seasons selling door-to-door) is starting up a division of SBR Consulting in the Czech Republic – which is, by all account, going brilliantly.
If you imaging the interview below spoken with passion and enthusiasm, you’ll be spot on.
Jamie: Josef, just possible when you think about your career and your sales career thus far, what has been the most fulfilling?
Josef: The freedom. It’s kind of enjoyable being your own boss and knowing that at the end of the month, the end of the year when the results come in, you feel a certain level of pride, and I think in different careers you probably don’t have as much of that. You know that you are responsible for all the good, and unfortunately, the bad stuff as well.
Jamie: How do you deal with that downside?
Josef: That would probably be one of my biggest motivations. I found out lately that I’m quite way motivated. These feelings that it might go wrong if you don’t work hard are probably motivating me a lot more than achieving some kind of success – like trying to avoid the negative consequences of not working as hard as you should.
Jamie: What skills do you believe that people should exert naturally going to sales?
Josef: I don’t think they need any specific skills. It helps if you are communicative, which is not to be confused with extroverted, and it helps if they are eager to go for a challenge – that is more like something you are born with. Some people are scared away from challenges, and they want to take the easy route. For sales, risk-taking is extremely important. Being able to communicate also helps massively.
Jamie: Do you think there’s a personality type that is best suited for sales?
Josef: We’re working with a client that has mostly introverts in their salesforce. Those introverts believe that they cannot be as great of a salesperson as an extrovert. We’re showing them that it doesn’t matter. Personality type doesn’t matter. You can be an introvert or an extrovert. You can be “C” in the DISC methodology. You can be different types of personalities and still be a great salesperson.
I think you need to be able to and willing to go outside of your comfort zone, be ready for a challenge, be a communicator, but then everything else is a skill that can be learned.
Jamie: Have you ever observed any correlation between a personality type and more sales success?
Josef: No. Just to give you an example: I’m coaching a couple of partners in transaction advisory services in one of the big 4 at the moment. These are very smart financial people who almost have computers instead of brains; extremely, extremely intelligent people. Most of them are introverted and great examples of how an introvert can be an outstanding salesperson because he listens more than he talks.
Jamie: Would you recommend that anyone sells books?
Josef: Yeah, I believe everyone on this planet should do it once. You can tell the people who go through it. Somehow they are humbled, mature, and appreciate things more because going through such a difficult challenge at such a young age is a formative experience. I believe everyone should do it for one summer. Everyone who doesn’t speak English should do it for two.
It amazes me how many skills you learn. Everyone who wants to be in B2B sales should probably do it for three or four summers just to learn how to build teams. That is the big sale when it comes to Southwestern Advantage. Selling books worth $500 is not that difficult. Selling someone on going for their student summer across the Atlantic, paying for their own flights, visa, accommodation with zero guarantees – this is the big sale, similar to B2B sales later on if they want to pursue that career.
Jamie: Would you recommend that anyone goes into sales consulting?
Josef: I still haven’t fully figured out what sales consulting is myself, but it’s definitely not for everyone. We say internally that to be a successful junior sales consultant, you need to be a great presenter, to be a great proposal writer and you need to be a great closer. These three skills are quite rare in one person. They also need to be combined with a ridiculous work ethic. Not everyone should go into sales consulting, and only a proven salesperson can go and teach others how to sell.
Jamie: In sales generally, is there any advantage in terms of age, gender, a physical appearance that you’re aware of?
What I found quite challenging, and ultimately proved myself wrong, is that it’s going to be quite difficult to sell to a partner from the big four who is in his 50s when I’m in my 30s and advise them how to sell. We were able to do it here, very successfully, and continue to do so, so I guess age probably doesn’t matter as much as I thought at the beginning.
Gender definitely doesn’t matter. Appearance might. I’m not saying that you have to be beautiful, but it’s good if you have a personable face, connectable face, sympathetic face, communicative face, whatever label you prefer. You just need to look approachable, I guess, is a simple description.
Jamie: Apart from those natural gifts, what skills do you need to develop?
Josef: To become really world-class tons, hundreds! Well, if I stick with our main principle, I’m sure you heard from Lars Tewes our Habits Triangle. We believe that salespeople need to be proficient in three different areas that then spin off into hundreds and hundreds of individual skills, but those sales skills such as questioning and qualification and listening and closing are taken as a given.
Then there is a huge area that is of utmost importance and difficult to grasp as well around sales motivation. Things like self-talk – that’s a constant battle for everyone. It’s never-ending. Interestingly, you asked about these skills; I was just over in London, delivering some training to Rackspace. I had nine solution architects and techies in the audience, and one salesperson; a very seasoned salesperson. He had 20 years of sales experience under his belt, and it was beautiful to see how he was still open to learning more. When I asked him: “What would you like to get out of the next three days?” he went: “You know what, I believe that sales skills are a never-ending journey that you can always, always improve.” From my humble observation that distinguishes average salespeople from the top performers.
Whenever you speak to a top producer, they will always adopt a humble attitude and always be willing to work on their skills. The average salespeople usually say something like “Well, you know, I’ve seen it all. I know it all.” That’s a fair indication if you’re talking to an average or an exceptional salesperson.
Jamie: Could you expand a little bit more on the idea with self-talk you touched on earlier?
Josef: Self-talk is the little inner voice in your head. It’s constantly going on for everyone and salespeople especially. It’s extremely important, and today just before I dialed into this call, I needed to work on it again. It is the difference between you looking at your phone and going “I know I should call this guy. But actually, let’s leave it for tomorrow” and actually picking up the phone, and pressing the green button, which is the major difference between success and non-success in sales.
You can always find a way, and you can always find an excuse. Another great example of how to distinguish between average and professional salesperson. How are they able to navigate the little inner voice?
I have my “to call” list here at my right hand, and every time I look at it, my brain automatically tends to come up with an excuse, why I shouldn’t call now. Just then, I heard myself going “Well, you know, you have this interview with Jamie in half an hour. Why don’t you leave it for later.”
Picking up the phone and actually calling the prospect or client is a great habit to get into. And that’s all about managing that inner voice – self-talk. From a practical point of view, it’s just persuading yourself to do the things you know you should, but you don’t feel like it.
Jamie: What are the biggest challenges within sales consultancy?
Josef: Self-talk would be one, and not believing your own excuses. When we set up here in Prague about five years ago, it was me, myself, and I with a phone in a dark room and the Yellow Pages and a great list of names and clients list from London. The first year was very challenging because we would approach a company and said we would help them with their sales. They would ask us, “Who are you?” and we wouldn’t have really anything to say or show proof of results from the Czech Republic. Thanks to a lot of persistence, we got some big names. It became a lot easier once we had that track record, but the beginning is always the hardest, as in anything else.
Jamie: How do you deal with organizational complexity?
Josef: That this one of the biggest challenges. We try to not sell to HR but rather go to the business side. Most people approach the company through HR because it’s easier. HR is more willing to speak to you, but it’s actually harder in the end because they are not always the only or the main decision-makers. We try to balance both of these and qualify the decision-making process in as much depth as we can.
I’ve observed that most people qualify the budget, the authority, then the timeline, and they’re done. Especially when it comes to the decision-making process, that is the most important to understand; it is a constant process of qualification and understanding the way a client makes a decision.
Jamie: Do you believe there should be a division between selling accounts at any business and serving accounts?
Josef: Difficult one. People who are normally in the “hunting” selling, acquisition type of sales are quite selfish and very driven. Because they are so selfish and so driven, they usually do well in hunting whereas people who are better at account management (or farming) would be a lot more relaxed and relationship-oriented.
Jamie: How does the sales consultancy industry treat its salespeople?
Josef: Fairly, brutally, and with radical candour. We are 100% performance-based, which is brutal. Every month we’re starting with a zero. By the end of the month, if you do everything you’re supposed to be doing you’re smiling. Very generous. You get a big size of the pie. But you have to bring your own pie.
Jamie: What are be the biggest downsides of working in sales consultancy?
Josef: It’s closely connected to the upside. It is challenging, and sometimes my little inner voice is telling me: “Well, wouldn’t you be happier in a corporate job where you would probably get only a little bit less, but no one would expect anything from you and you wouldn’t expect so much from yourself? You will be there nine to five, go home, and you can switch off.” That’s the biggest downside.
Jamie: How did you get into sales consultancy industry?
Josef: I went actually straight from Southwestern Advantage, and I wanted to start a sales training company of my own here in Prague because the market here was pretty easy to impress when it came to professional selling, even though it’s getting more competitive now. I wanted to start on my own, and I spoke to Dan Moore, Southestern’s President who suggested I should go to London and watch what Lars and SBR have been doing there. As soon as I did, I figured out that I still have so much to learn and joined them.
So I started learning from our senior partners in London and set up a branch of SBR here in Prague. Looking back, I’m very glad that I did do it with them and not on my own. I would still do all right, but I would grow a lot slower, and it would be a little more difficult to figure it out on my own.
Jamie: What advice would you give to aspiring salespeople?
I would ask them if they were ready for a challenge. Because sales equal challenge; constant and never-ending challenge. This is actually the main reason why I am still in sales. I would really get bored being in a “normal” job.
The challenge, even though it’s one of the downsides, is also the upside for freaks like me and for people who want to really succeed. My main advice would be to aspire to master one’s inner voice and not really expect to fully master it, ever. When you interview Ron Alford he’s one of the gurus when it comes to self-talk. You know, honestly asking him, “Have you mastered it yet?” Because I’ll be interested. He is 15 years ahead of me, and definitely one of the strongest people I’ve ever seen. I’d be interested to know if would say: “Yeah, you know, I control myself 100%.” or if he would say, “Well, no I struggle with the same way I struggled my first day. I just handle it a little bit better.”
Jamie: If you could start your sales career again, what would you do differently?
Josef: My instant reply would be “nothing” but thinking about it for a second time, I would probably stop just trying it and go into things as if I was in it for life or at least for the next 14 or 15 years. That only changed when I started at SBR. Before that, my mindset was one year at the time, and my focus was short-term. I think I left some money and skills on the table by having a short term focus.
Jamie: What behaviour specifically would change if you had a long-term focus?
Josef: It would be a lot easier for my inner dialogue – my favourite topic. I wouldn’t be suffering because of those short-term challenges. I would accept everything just because of the learning experience because I would have a lot more perspective. I would probably close some sales a bit later and softer for the sake of better account management, especially at the beginning of my sales career. I might have been a little bit too aggressive and eager in sales.
Jamie: Can you tell me about a time when you didn’t make a sale, and you learned something really valuable from it?
Josef: Dozens of great ones but the first one that popped in my mind was about two years ago, I was trying to sell a big deal. The company was huge. I was talking to three division directors here in the Czech Republic and coming back to the decision-making process, there was a CEO as well, so four decision-makers in total. I knew that I needed to sell to each of them individually. I sold the idea to the three division directors and thought that was enough. Well, actually, I didn’t think it was enough, but my inner dialogue persuaded me that to sell the idea to the CEO was too much outside my comfort zone, that the three division directors would sell it to him, and I didn’t want to do that anyway. I came up with an excuse that three of four were enough and invested about two and a half months into this deal.
Then the CEO came and crushed the whole thing because he wasn’t sold on the idea himself, personally.
That taught me a lesson; that it’s better to be outside my comfort zone at the beginning of the process, rather than feeling the pain of regret at the end. I should have, could have, would have talked to him and got over that feeling of discomfort. It was a huge lesson. I’ve never done it since.
Jamie: Can you tell me about a time when you made a sale, and it used the skills you’ve developed throughout your career?
Josef: The latest playbook that we sold is one. The playbook is a sales strategy for a company. We come in, and we help them with their entire sales strategy for one of their products. We sold to one of the large software houses here in the Czech Republic. The main reason why I did that is that I learned how to build trust over a long time. I wasn’t in for a quick win. I was there serving the client as much as I can over a long period. I didn’t push it until they asked me, and then when they did the deal came together quickly.
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