While working for a PR agency, Sam Richter stumbled into his first speech, teaching his co-workers about how to use Google (in its very early years) to help their sales process.
A few years later, he began his professional speaking career.
He’s now one of the most sought-after sales and business keynote speakers, a best-selling author and operates a sales training and intelligence program called Know More University.
Sam visited the Brandpoint office and chatted about sales intelligence, balancing technology and relationships, and how his grandfather practiced the Amazon model decades before Amazon was founded.
DISCLAIMER: Sam Richter is a member of Brandpoint’s Board of Directors.
The following transcription has been edited for clarity and readability.
Nels: Have you always been interested in public speaking or was it something you stumbled into?
Sam: I stumbled into it. I was working at a public relations agency around the time the internet was gaining traction. I was using Google to help find information on prospects and I got pretty good at it.
I wrote a speech called “The Little Engine That Could” and taught it to our staff.
I moved on to another position and, as part of our marketing, we would give internet “road tours,” teaching people all the stuff you could do online — the magic of banner ads and email marketing, things that, back then were really new and very confusing and technical.
Then I went to work for a nonprofit, the James J. Hill Reference Library, and built a lot of online tools that were marketed nationally. But we didn’t really have a marketing budget. So I started to do some speaking and people would make a donation to the library in exchange.
The library’s marketing director at the time told me I’d be a professional speaker someday. At the time, I laughed but eight years later, that’s what I was doing.
N: When you started out, were there any public speakers you emulated or admired?
S: I used to have a TV in my bedroom and, when I couldn’t sleep, I’d turn it on and listen to the late-night preachers. I always admired their passion and energy. When Bill Clinton was elected president, I’d watch him. He was a master speaker. I’d pay attention to where he held his hands and when he paused and when he smiled.
I’m also a member of the National Speakers Association and I try to make it to their conferences. Obviously, they hire pretty great speakers. So I listen to their content but also pay attention to what made them a good speaker.
The first few years of public speaking is mastering the content but getting to that next level is about mastering the art of the performance.
N: You recently conducted a Social Media vs. Sales Call experiment. Tell me a little about that experiment and what you think it might look like five years from now.
S: I wanted to find out what would happen if I spent an hour a day just on social media or an hour a day making sales calls. In my calculations, I assumed the average business deal would be worth about $10,000 (for easy math). I figured that, if I did social media better than anyone for an hour a day, I might make $100,000 a year, which, for just doing social media, is pretty good.
But the same experiment with just doing sales calls yielded a significantly larger return.
The point of the test was to show that, while social is an important part of your marketing and sales strategy, it’s not the only component, like so many business leaders think.
In five years, I don’t know if that experiment would be much different. We may use technology even more than we already are to build the relationship before a phone call happens.
What WON’T work in five years is irrelevant content. I’m a best-selling author and I say so right on my website. But I still get emails asking me if I’d like to write a book.
I also think we’ll see the marketing and sales teams working closer together to make sure the messaging coming from both are consistent with each other.
N: What are some key ways to make sure your sales and marketing teams are rowing in the same direction?
S: They have to sit in the same room together. Marketing has typically been responsible for generating leads and sales is responsible for closing deals. CRM and social technology, as well as artificial intelligence and the need for personalization, are all starting to merge the two teams.
If you think about sales very simplistically, it looks like a Venn diagram. In one circle is what the buyer is interested in and one circle is what you have to sell. Where they intersect is relevancy and that’s the only time the sale ever occurs.
It’s important not to underestimate the feedback the salespeople can offer marketers, too. That’s why CRMs are so popular. They’re powerful sales tools but marketers can also log in, see all the touch points and find out what was important to the customer and what wasn’t.
I think it’s ultimately going to go back to the R in CRM: relationship. It’s usually too costly to know 300 customers all that well. That’s where the sales and marketing interplay is going to make the buying experience much more personal.
N: You give lots of talks and master classes. How do you encourage your audience to implement the lessons you teach?
S: It’s focusing on the “why.” When I first started speaking, almost all of my program was focused on the “how.” I would talk about how to use Google and social media to find people and I’d dig into the technical and mathematical ways to do it.
But to get someone to act, it’s about the “why.”
People are massively passionate about themselves. But all too often, we talk about ourselves. Helping the buyer understand that we care about them, WHY we care about them and why the results matter is the key.
Let’s say you’re an account manager with a $50,000 bonus incentive and I have a product that can help you sell more. If I can convey that not only will my product help you get that bonus but also help you connect that bonus to the new kitchen you’ve been thinking about for four years, I’m going to have an easy time selling.
It comes down to asking good questions and really working and using the tools you have to understand what’s really important to each person you’re trying to work with.
N: Is that the biggest challenge you see companies struggling with when it comes to marketing?
S: It’s a big challenge because most modern-day marketers understand all this stuff in theory. The challenge is actually implementing it and creating relevant messaging.
With big data and artificial intelligence, it’s easy for technology to take the personal aspects out of the message. So when I talk about sales intelligence, I talk about using that impersonal data to re-personalize your relationships. So, in a weird way, we’re trying to use technology to bring us back to how we sold 25-50 years ago.
My grandfather owned a corner drug store and he would hand-deliver prescriptions. And when he was out, he might drop off something else. He’d bring some ice cream if he knew the customer liked ice cream or would bring a model toy or something if he knew the customer had kids.
He knew his customer, he went above and beyond in creating value, and hand-delivered those prescriptions. He was doing what Amazon does now, well before Amazon existed. Every good salesperson did that back then. So really, all we’re doing in sales and marketing is going back to the way things were done 100 years ago, just on a much grander scale.
N: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
S: Be genuinely interested in other people. Meet with people even when it’s not immediately beneficial to you. Be nice to people. It’s not much more difficult than that. If you’re genuinely interested in other people and help them achieve their goals without keeping score or worrying about whether or not it will benefit you, eventually, it will benefit you.
This blog is part of the ongoing content marketing interview series where we talk with marketing professionals about their career, unique perspectives on the industry and some key advice they’ve learned along the way.