The Key To Success In Sales And Entrepreneurship With Dave Kurlan
To be a successful salesperson, you don’t just have to want to have a desire to be successful, but the desire to be successful in sales. And you don’t just have to want it badly. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it. Chad Burmeister’s brain when it comes to these things coincides perfectly with that of sales expert Dave Kurlan, who joins him in this insightful conversation. Listen in and learn what matters most in modern selling, what you should focus on as a sales professional or leader, and where AI comes into the picture to make things more data-driven and efficient.
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The Key To Success In Sales And Entrepreneurship With Dave Kurlan
My guest is the Founder and CEO of two companies. One of which is called Kurlan & Associates that’s been around many years, and another objective management group that passed the $2 million assessment. We’re going to dig into that and how AI has leveraged inside of their platform. Dave Kurlan, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Chad. It’s great to be here. It’s great to see you and talk with you again.
You've been a CEO for many years. The math doesn’t compute for me there because we see you on camera, you must’ve been ten when you started this company.
I felt like it. I looked like it.
You’ve spent a lot of time and investment on this. I’m excited to peel back the onion here because we wrote the book on AI For Sales in 2019 in talking to 21 different CEOs, authors, data scientists, all different chapters. It seems to me that AI is starting to finally come above the threshold. People are starting to ask them, “What are you doing in AI For Sales?” At least 3 in 10 people go, “Let me tell you exactly what I’m doing.” Kurlan & Associates is an objective management group specifically. You’ve been leveraging artificial intelligence for many years across all of these different $2 million assessments. Before we get into that and how AI is used, tell us about how you got to where you are now. How did you get into this position? What caused you to build these two companies?
It goes back to 1973 when I was eighteen years old and selling knives, like a whole bunch of other college kids were. I was good at selling knives. That was code for I was the only one who didn’t fail out after a week. I was so good, I was a sales manager at eighteen. One thing that did happen was that I was responsible for hiring and training the new recruits. I seem to be better at it than everybody else. I recruited them, but I was able to keep them for more than a week. I was successful, and they responded to me. I didn’t know why or how. I didn’t know whether it was luck or my ability to select or to coach and train. I had no clue. I just knew that people were responding to me, and I seem to be good at it. I thought that would be the kind of thing I’d like to do when I grow up. I set a goal that by the time I was 30, I’d be in some sales development business. I didn’t have the words for it, but I knew in my head what that would be. When I was 30, I started Kurlan & Associates.
For other people considering making a move into running their own business, we talked before the show that the risk part of it is the scary part for a lot of people. Now that I’ve been doing this for many years, I’m in my lane. I’m in the flow. I map hard things with good skillsets, and flow is attained. It took a while to get over that risk factor. Do you remember back to when you started Kurlan, and how did you overcome that fear?
There are two sides to the theory. On one side, you need to have enough money stashed away to give yourself a long runway so you could survive the startup challenges. On the other side, it’s to do it like I did. I started when I was broke. I didn’t have an option of failing. There was no option for it to take 2 or 3 or 6 months or a year. I had to succeed out of the gate. It’s incredible what that kind of pressure will do if you can handle the pressure.
You’d been selling before that. You sold knives and some other things by that point. You had some level of faith, trust, and competence in your own capability.
That’s the thing. You’ve got to believe in yourself. I believe at Objective Management Group over the many years that OMG has been around, we have around 150 partners who resell OMG to their clients. I’ve seen 300 of them come and go. These are all sales experts of some kind. A lot of them came to us when they were starting their businesses, or they were fledgling businesses. I would say that the key to success was starting when you’re broke. The more safety net that these people have had, the longer they’ve given themselves to succeed is in direct disproportion to the amount of success they ended up having.
The key to success is starting when you’re broke.
I often talk on podcasts. I’ve probably been on 60 shows of my own and another 30. I’m approaching 100, the new mileage.
You are popular. Congratulations on winning the Best Producer Award. I saw that fly through my feed.
I enjoy getting to know people to a level that’s deeper than traditional. In sales, a lot of times, we go in, and we shoot the breeze for a minute or two, and then it’s, “What are you looking to solve?” What I’ve learned in the last 60 of these, and I learned it from a guy named Rich Littman, is if you can go and say, “Tell me about what you did in college, then tell me about when you were six. Now connect the dots from 6 to 60.” You can see someone’s eyes light up.
They’re like, “When I was six, I like to ride big wheels," or "I rode my bike, and I remember going off jumps," or "I skateboarded.” Whatever that thing was when you’re a kid, usually, if you’re living in the zone now, you knew it when you were a kid what you wanted to do. We didn’t go back previous to the age of 1973, which by the way, was when I was born in March of 1973. When you were a superstar knife salesman, I was poking my head out into the world.
The world is better for that.
The world is a good place no matter what they say. Think about when you were six, what was your thing then?
One of my things was baseball. You can connect the dots between my love of baseball and baseline selling. The other thing I found myself doing, I lived in a different time. My dad was an eye doctor, and he had an office in the City Downtown. Back then, as a six-year-old, I was allowed to wander Downtown and wander through the office building. Nobody had to worry in the world about what would happen to me because it was a safer place back then. I kept wandering into the five and dimes. There were two big ones back then. One was W. T. Grant. The other one was F. W. Woolworth. They were national chains.
I spent all my time in the stationery section. I was fascinated by teachers’ planners, ledgers, and all the things that teachers would use, although I never had any inclination that I would teach. I did end up with Kurlan & Associates training. Back in the early days, it was the classes where I would take attendance. I was using the very tools that I used to be fascinated by when I’d walk into the five and dime. I can connect those dots easily.
Readers, if you’re not living in the place where when you were a kid and what you’re doing now with what excites you in life, there are thousands of different career paths you could take. Let’s dig into that. The one thing that when I was on these soon-to-be 100 podcasts in 2020, they always ask the question, “What makes the salesperson successful?” I always go back to the book and OMG say, “The number one thing is your desire, not just to be successful, but to be successful in sales.” Does that still hold up in 2020?
When we worked together back around 2008, 2009, 2010, or whenever it was when you made a point of telling me, “Look at your client roster and see how many of those are becoming inside sales organizations.” It was you. It’s your fault. It caused me to realize that the migration had taken place, and it was in full force. Look at us now, 100% inside. That’s been a great thing. Can you imagine how difficult this lockdown would have been for sales organizations had that migration not began to occur ten years ago when you pointed it out to me?
Be successful in sales.
It was a desire for success in sales, but that’s shifted. Over the years, commitment has overtaken desire is the single most important competency and the willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed. It started with the 2008 and 2009 economic crises. It happened again in March, April, and May 2020. It mattered how badly salespeople wanted to succeed, but it mattered more about their willingness to do whatever it took.
In March, April and May 2020, it took a heroic effort to make things happen for most salespeople. A lot of them were afraid to ask people to buy anything. A lot of them were uncomfortable asking them about money. A lot of them went into service mode and hoped that everything would work out. There’s a small group of salespeople who said, “I’m going to work harder. I’m going to try harder. I’m going to do more. I’m not going to let anything affect my company, my wallet, and my commissions. I’ll help. I’ll be empathetic. I’ll be there for my customers, but I’m not going to stop selling.”
I remember one trainer that I was working with through The Sales Experts Channel said, “We’re not going to do anything. At least 3 to 6 months, all we’re going to do is call and say, 'I know how hard it is. Good luck. I hope you make it through it.'”
We’ve got our clients through that three months by working harder at selling, not just go into service mode.
The folks I feel that fits in that category of the 300 that came and went because I could feel it. It’s either you’re a 0 or a 1. You’re nowhere in between. They were a zero. I’m like, “I get it. They’re in financial services. Maybe they’re not going to sell their next $1 million policy, but the world continues to revolve. Why don’t you at least educate these people or let’s go create relationships.? Tell people about the podcast.” You don’t push pause on the tape.
At worst, it’s pipeline building during that time. At best, there were two industries that were devastated. You’re not going to sell to them, and you’re not going to sell to the people who sold to them, but everybody else was still running even though, at changed or limited capacity, they were still buying to stay in business. It was a great time to sell because there weren’t that many people selling.
It thins the herd a little bit. Let’s think about that. I heard your passion there and mine too of someone sitting back and not doing anything. If you’re going to hire a set of 1, 10 or 100 salesperson and you could pre-understand what’s under the hood. Are they going to be that person that says, “Let’s pause the tape for six months, COVID is here, let’s have a super long Christmas or holiday week?” No. How does AI get under the hood and figure that out? That's an important question.
It's a great question and we’ve used it to a limited degree in our candidate assessments over the years because it isn’t learning in real-time, but it’s learning. With a database of $2 million rows of sales candidates, we know what’s predictive of sales success right down to the role, and we know what isn’t. Number one, we’re looking for a candidate who not only can sell but will sell. Number two, we’re looking for salespeople that have DNA that will enable them to go out and do the things that they learned how to do. We’re looking for them to the tactical selling competencies, the capabilities that say they’ve done this before and they can do it again. We apply AI in certain areas. For instance, while they’re completing an assessment, we have them record a video, and they recite their value proposition and their elevator pitch.
One of the things that AI does is measure things like words-per-minute. We’ve correlated that the speed at which a salesperson talks, correlates directly with the sales percentile. The magic number is 130 words per minute. It’s the speed at which the best salespeople talk. There’s a certain pace with that 140 and a certain passion, emotion, and intonation. We use AI to capture all of that. It correlates perfectly. The worst salespeople talk way too fast and way too slow. Those good ones are right there between 130 and 140.
It matters how badly you want to succeed, but it matters more how willing you are to do whatever it takes.
I keep saying that as AI enters the workforce, how do you say in the speed at which you say there are many things that can be applied to? It seems to me that emotional intelligence becomes more than intellectual capacity and IQ. You beat IQ. Have you seen that in the data?
We don’t measure EQ exactly, but we have complementary or parallel competency called sales posturing, which is our adapted for sales version of EQ. If I had to put a couple of words on it that would make sense, I’d say the first impression is memorable. There were about ten attributes of our sales posturing competency that account for some of the things that salespeople do. It’s not one of our 21 core sales competencies that we measure, but it’s an important competency, nonetheless.
I’m going to drop a future prediction based on where things are headed. The first one was how many outside people are doing the role of inside? Now it’s 100%. Let’s go women, men in sales. You’ll find like the Baltimore woman that ran for Baltimore. There’s a lot of women in politics. Women in sales is growing like crazy because I’d rather have someone with the ability to connect emotionally, listen, and understand me than somebody. I talked to this guy on a podcast. I’d ask a question, and it would be a 180-degree different answer. I’m like, “I’m talking to rock here.” I think you’ll find that the F versus M will start to pop up here over the next couple of years.
We're already seeing that. The balance has been shifting. We don’t collect demographic information. It’s anecdotal, not statistical. We can go through the database and make some broad assumptions that people named Mary, Janet, Beverly, and Susan are females and folks named Mark, Steve, Robert, and William are male. I have pulled subsets of data out and done some random comparisons. The results are stunning.
I’m doing this new workout called 75 hard. It’s 75 days, 2 workouts a day, 45 minutes each, and one has to be outside. When I booked the trip here, I was like, “This is going to be great. They have a gym inside. One of the exercises has to be outside.” I don’t know what I’m going to do for my 45 minutes.
Is the gym open?
I haven’t even checked that out. The place is big enough that I’m doing my Peloton TV interaction work. It’s great to talk with you.
We can do this again.
I appreciate your sharing. This is part one. We’ll have to do part two of a deeper dive. If you’re looking to get ahold of Dave, go to ObjectiveManagement.com. I highly encourage you to check out.
The blog is a better place, OMGHub.com.
I love the assessment. I’ve used it for many years. I don’t even talk to a candidate if they don’t come through the Objective Management Group scorecard. I’ve shared that with a lot of people, and they too believe in the same process.
Thanks for being such a friend, a great guy, and such a leader in AI for Sales.
It’s fun to be here. It’s good to have partnerships with companies like yours and people like you, Dave. Thank you.
Thanks, Chad. It’s great to be with you.
We’ll catch you on the next episode. For now, catch you on the flip side.
About Dave Kurlan
Dave Kurlan is a top-rated speaker, best selling author, radio show host, successful entrepreneur and sales development industry pioneer. He was inducted into the Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame in 2012.
Dave is the founder and CEO of Objective Management Group, Inc. (OMG), the industry leader in sales assessments and sales force evaluations and named the Top Sales Assessment Tool from 2011-2017. Dave is also the CEO of Kurlan & Associates, Inc., an international consulting firm specializing in sales force development. He possesses 30 plus years of experience in all facets of sales development, including consulting, training, coaching, recruiting, systems, processes, and metrics.
Dave has been a top-rated speaker at Inc. Magazine’s Conference on Growing the Company, the Sales & Marketing Management Conference, the Sales 2.0 Conference, Inbound, and the Gazelles/Fortune Sales & Marketing Summit.
He has been featured on radio, television and in print, including World Business Review, Inc. Magazine, Selling Power Magazine, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine and Incentive Magazine. Dave is a regular contributor to Top Sales Magazine and the Salesforce.com Blog.
He was the host of the weekly business radio show, Meet the Sales Experts. He is the author of Mindless Selling and the best-seller, Baseline Selling – How to Become a Sales Superstar by Using What You Already Know about the Game of Baseball. He created and wrote STAR, a proprietary recruiting process for hiring great salespeople, and he writes Understanding the Sales Force, voted the Top Sales & Marketing Blog from 2011-2016. He is a contributing author to 4 other books including Stepping Stones, with coauthors Deepak Chopra and Jack Canfield.