Within each super salesperson is an expert detective as skilled as Sherlock Holmes. Now, Omar Periu, nationally renowned “high energy” sales trainer, provides readers with the secrets of becoming a top sales professional through investigative selling techniques. The author not only details vital skills, but also explains the most effective way to apply these proven techniques to a range of sales activities, from prospecting to presenting to closing.
My Inspiration for Investigative Selling
For over twenty years, I have been fighting a battle with the salespeople I’ve been training in my businesses. As I now conduct training for companies all around the world, I continue to fight the same battle with potentially good salespeople just like you. The battle is in helping each salesperson to reach his or her peak performance, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. That’s when selling becomes fun; when you are consistently outperforming your own expectations. Don’t we all want to do more of what we do best? The better your sales performance, the more you’ll sell. The more you sell, the more success and happiness you will experience.
It’s a chain reaction—positive action promotes positive
feelings promotes more positive action.
In the beginning of my sales and management days, not only was I experiencing a battle over how to teach selling skills that bring about consistently positive actions, but the battle was quickly escalating into a full-fledged war as well. The need to improve selling skills was the battle; the war was much more difficult to identify and win. It was a war in the salesperson’s own mind. Because my salespeople shared with me their frustrations in establishing ongoing, consistent success, I decided it was time to evaluate the source of their frustration and find a teachable solution. That’s exactly what I’m going to share with you in this book: How I won the battle and how you can too!
Consistency Was Critical
I needed to create a fresh strategy to form a mold that salespeople could fit themselves into and, in doing so, experience immediate and consistent success in sales. I got to thinking about the salespeople who were thought of as “naturals.” They all had certain characteristics that gave them consistent positive end results. That’s exactly how Investigative Selling was born—right out of the needs of the salespeople I train!
Getting into character! That was the key! I would encourage the salespeople to get into character. I had quite a bit of experience on stage—acting and singing—and realized that the same stage training could be applied to salespeople.
When I discovered how well the Principles of Investigative Selling worked, I decided to write a book on the subject and make teaching those principles my number-one goal. What would I accomplish? I’d win the war! I’d help salespeople to consistently act and feel like the professionals I knew they could become.
First things first, though. I had to discover what created the inconsistencies. I began to ask questions, listen, observe, and take notes in order to solve the problem of what made some salespeople outstanding performers while others appeared to work just as hard and get nowhere. Every day for five and a half years I would ask myself the question, “What did superstar salespeople do, or not do, that separated them from those who were average performers?” My research continued, and for two decades, I have observed the industry greats and listened to their messages. I have attended hundreds of seminars and watched and listened to every audio/video tape I could find on sales. I have read hundreds of books and recorded every detailed technique, no matter how seemingly insignificant, in order to discover the specific sales methods and strategies that separated the exceptional from the average.
I was focused on a mission—a mission to gather information on every aspect of sales and find solutions for every type of selling situation. As I gathered the information to write this book, it became apparent to me that I was also practicing the exact skills necessary to become a highly successful salesperson. I was asking questions, listening, observing, taking notes, problem solving, discovering new closes, and practicing effective follow-up. I was acting as an investigator! I also came to the realization that adopting this style is what I had been doing all along in my selling career, and it worked.
Telling when you should be asking is one of the easiest habits
to fall into and the most difficult to break.
One of the most important keys to successful selling I discovered was that almost all salespeople had a natural tendency to tell, not ask. Sound familiar? If this sounds like you, you’re keeping company with many other salespeople who have leveled off in their production and feel forever stuck in mediocrity. The challenge when you’re telling is that you are not discovering all the things that can most benefit your customers.
In this book, you will learn a method of control or, as I prefer to call it, a method of mastery. This mastery is not new in theory but is, for many salespeople, very new in practice. The theory is called “self-mastery.” Sure, average salespeople usually understand that they need to learn about their profession, but in that learning process, the two most important things commonly overlooked are:
1. Mastering the fundamentals of sales.
2. Understanding the need for mastering yourself.
You may be asking “What do you mean by that, Omar—that we will manage the sale by first managing ourselves?” Exactly!
Doesn’t “mastery” mean the same as “control”? There is a world of difference between mastery and control. The average salesperson will attempt to establish control and self-importance through nonstop talking. That is the kiss of death in sales. The first thing you must learn to do is master your own actions.
Choose to be as good a listener as you are a talker. Master your selling situations by mastering yourself. Make up your mind in the very beginning to do much more asking than telling!
During my sales seminars, I found myself spending the majority of my time trying to get salespeople to limit their talking, and training them to ask insightful questions and gather important information instead. It was my goal to convince salespeople to focus most of their attention on being active listeners. Although salespeople heard my message and practiced these skills for a while, the natural pattern seemed to slowly fall back into talking rather than listening. They did master their actions; unfortunately, their habitual actions were the ticket for a quick exit in selling and an income far below what salespeople are capable of attaining.
By learning better selling skills, by thinking and acting like an investigator, my own personal production and the performance of those I was training grew to limitless proportions. Not only did the performance levels of my people continually go up, but they were also able to sustain their best sales performance peaks.
This is what Investigative Selling does for you. It allows you to maintain consistently high levels of production. No more peaks and valleys in sales, or better yet, no more burned out feelings of total failure. That is my purpose for writing this book, to teach you to set aside your natural tendency to tell instead of ask. In the process, you’ll become a superstar salesperson all the time, not just during one or two high points every sales quarter.
Being an investigator is a “slump-proof” method of selling!
Assuming a character is not a new concept. It’s something we’ve all known how to do since childhood. Do you remember playing “pretend” games when you were a child? Everyone has at one time or another. You may have taken on the characters of your favorite television hero or a sports figure. Perhaps you even pretended being another member of your family. Girls often pretend being “mommy,” while boys pretend filling their dad’s shoes. When we grow up, many of us forget how much fun it was portraying someone else. Some of us, however, continue the magic through theater or singing opportunities and it can prove to be a great advantage.
When I was young, I trained to be a professional opera singer. In the opera, singing and acting requires much more from you than just learning lines and staying on key. To deeply move the audience, you have to really get into the song and live the part until you become the person in that particular piece of music. It is no longer a pretense but, instead, you are in a changed state. You have taken on new traits, feelings, and actions in this new state. To make your part come to life for your audience, you must become the part. True top performers draw on their own experiences, causing them to feel and act the same way as the characters they portray.
Believe it or not, you can apply the same principles to becoming an outstanding salesperson. How?
The role of investigator is really very simple to assume. Think about it: You’ve grown up watching this role played by dozens of people who all adopt the same characteristics. They all ask questions. They all search for facts and information, and in the end, with a lot of hard work and determination, they solve the case.
Get into character. Just like the great singers, actors, and actresses who move their audiences, you can get into the character of a great investigative salesperson and move your customers to own your product and service.
What I have learned, and what I teach, is the importance of becoming a warm and friendly fact-gathering professional who listens to answers and takes notes. I have learned the value of being a salesperson who leaves no stone unturned to discover any clue that will help the customer. How did I do this? I got into character and became the investigative salesperson. I asked questions! I soon discovered the only way I could learn while I was talking was if my words were in the form of a question.
The following story illustrates how my sales career skyrocketed to a level I’d only dreamed of achieving, simply by becoming an investigator. Here is the story of my experiences and how some of those experiences influenced my selling career.
Early in life, I felt all the odds were against me. I was born in Cuba, but was brought to the United States at the age of seven. It was 1961, and communism in Cuba was closing in on successful businessmen like my father who prospered by doing business with American-owned companies. My father knew that Castro’s propaganda about the evil Americans was not only a lie, but would also end up crippling the Cuban economy and the spirit of its people. There was nothing left for my father to do but plan his family’s escape to America.
Although I remember very little about our secret flight to Miami, I do recall the fear in my mother’s eyes as we left my father behind, telling our neighbors we were taking a short visit to friends. We couldn’t take the chance to leave as a family for fear we would be detained and Castro would discover our plan. Communism not only destroyed our financial security, but also threatened to take my father’s life. Circumstances had dealt my parents a terrible blow, but they chose to turn their loss into one of life’s great lessons for themselves and their children.
My parents’ journey was a long one to freedom, and it was then that I learned one of the most important lessons in my life. Free enterprise is rarely free! It had cost my father his business and successful career, my mother her home, and all of us our friends and family.
As it turned out, I was very blessed! My father did not give up! Instead, he got out of Cuba, following us to Miami several weeks later. We were poor, but safely deposited on American soil. To this day, I thank God for St. Patrick’s Church, which sponsored our family and welcomed us to the United States. It was a stressful time for all of us and those early years in America were tough on everyone, but I always felt protected by the love of my mother and father and their reassurance that we would find happiness.
Going to school in a country where you can’t speak the language came with its own set of special opportunities. To most of my schoolmates, I appeared to have nothing. My father taught me otherwise. He taught me to be a winner! The more he reinforced my ability to achieve, the more I did just that. When I wanted to win the 100-yard dash or become the number-one weight lifter in my school, my father told me stories of the long line of men in our family who were the fastest and the strongest in all of Cuba. He gave me a precious gift—an unwavering belief in my abilities to succeed, no matter what. He instilled in me the true spirit of a super salesperson.
I hope to achieve with you what my father did with me—creating that “I will succeed” belief in yourself that refuses to be compromised by hardships and temporary failures. I didn’t even recognize the importance of what my father was teaching me back then, so distracted was I by rejection, failure, and countless disappointments.
I am no smarter than you, but I have learned to use my skills and take massive action in order to get the best return on my time and efforts. Do you give up or get up? I chose, like my father before me, to get up, but I must admit to a stumble or two before getting my bearings.
If you have great personal difficulties that sometimes get in the way
of your success, you have two choices:
1. You can choose to let them burden you and inhibit your performance
2. You can choose to rise above the occasion and follow your dreams.
One stumbling point was when I was nineteen years old; I felt my future slipping away. Suddenly all my plans had gone awry. I was studying voice performance at Southern Illinois University. Halfway into my third year, my father suffered a serious heart attack. There was no question about it: I flew home to be by his side and offer him the love and encouragement he desperately needed. Having been away from school for a few weeks, my return to the university was less than the welcoming home of the prodigal son. Professors had already administered and graded finals, and they were none too excited about the prospect of make-up examinations. I was just another kid who had his whole life ahead of him. What was a six-month delay going to hurt?
To them, six months was nothing; to me, it was a lifetime. I wasn’t about to lose that time, so I decided to show them. I quit school! Looking back I realize it was a big mistake. I’ve always regretted not staying in school and getting my degree. I guess there are few people who could say they have lived their lives with no regrets. One thing I’ve done, however, is learn from that mistake. I help others do the same by speaking to students around the country on the importance of staying in school. Instead of dwelling on the negatives, I choose to move forward and be productive. In sales, we must practice that same principle.
Dropping out of college solved nothing; it only served to make me depressed, desperate for money, and incredibly angry! Forget it, I thought! I would save some money and go to California and make it as a top recording artist. However, in order to save money, you have to make money. So, I lived in my brother’s basement in Joliet, Illinois, and found a job as a laborer in a stone quarry.
Dwelling on the negatives only makes those negatives stronger,
but learning from them makes the experience worthwhile and will
bring about future successes for you and others around you!
I don’t know if you are familiar with what working in a stone quarry is like, but let me give you a little picture of my own corner of hell. It’s ten hours a day working approximately thirty feet under the ground, wearing a complete hearing and breathing apparatus, and decked out in a hardhat and padded clothing to protect you from the flying stones. For me, it meant swallowing more stone dust than solid food. Day in and day out, it was my job to repeatedly clean and grease the pulleys that were caked with the residue of finely crushed stones. I came home every day with a broken back and, even worse, a broken spirit. It was a hopeless, thankless job and that is exactly how I felt. Have you ever had a job that you hated so much it brought tears to your eyes? If so, you’ll know exactly how I felt. Angry! I hated my job. I hated my life!
After almost a year, I saved up enough money to pack my GTO with a U-Haul carrier on top of my car, and off I went to California. The thing about life is that events happen that you least expect, and so went my trip to stardom. A heavy wind blew the U-Haul carrier off the top of my car and all was lost. When I arrived in California, I paid for the damaged carrier and had just enough left to rent a tiny studio apartment. My voice had taken a beating working in the stone quarry, and my pocketbook was just about as empty as my dream of becoming a singer. Being resilient, I turned to the one thing I knew better than most: Weight lifting and training.
Since I had broken almost all the records in lifting, from high school through college, and knew how to build up the body through proper nutrition and exercise, I got a job working as a trainer in a health club. Now I could have some luxuries in life, like food on the table and a roof over my head. Being a personal trainer was natural for me, but I needed something more.
That is exactly what I saw. All around me, salespeople for the company were able to make a lot more money selling, so I decided to give sales a try. That “give it a try” attitude was my first mistake. I don’t need to tell you that nobody ever made it big in selling with the attitude that they would give it a shot, right? It wasn’t much different for me. I wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire with my $147 monthly income for my first nine months in sales.
Believe it or not, that need for more is the emotional rocket that acts as the
catalyst for many extremely successful salespeople. What other career besides
sales can offer you financial freedom and limitless opportunities to succeed?
About the only thing I was able to set on fire was the carburetor of my ten-year-old GTO. In fact, my friends used to tease me that it smoked more than the burning city of Atlanta in Gone With the Wind. I didn’t have to worry about what my dates looked like; I couldn’t see them anyway for all the smoke and fumes. My car smoked so much oil I couldn’t see the light change at the intersection, and revving my engine put the entire neighborhood in danger of respiratory attack. By all outward appearances, I was far from being special.
The other thing I couldn’t see was how I would ever be able to make a go of selling. Instead of thinking about improving my skills and increasing my income, I was too busy feeling sorry for myself and being angry. Was success meant for everybody but me? Here I was, personal trainer to the stars, surrounded by highly successful people, and I was getting angrier by the day. There just had to be a way to get more out of life! Pardon my intrusion in the story, but many salespeople look at top producers and ask themselves the same question: “Is success meant for everybody but me?” Let me take a moment to assure you that you are on the road to success right now as you read this book. It is meant for you. It’s definitely meant for you!
However, I didn’t quite believe this concept, yet. One day’s worry ran right into the next until the discouragement and depression were driving me further and further from a desire to sell. Even more important, I began to doubt my belief in myself. Since I was a young boy, my father had taught me to love America, to believe in my ability to become anything I chose. I knew he wouldn’t have lied to me all those years. Why would he have brought me from Cuba to America, the land of opportunity, if I didn’t have as good a chance as everybody else to become a great success? Without even realizing the importance and impact of what I was doing, I began to question my situation and myself.
Late one afternoon I was sitting at my desk at the health club where I worked, gazing out the window. Many of you would probably recognize the activity. It’s what many unskilled salespeople call “prospecting” (yeah, right). I had, once again, failed to close a membership sale and my thoughts were of an empty wallet and an empty future.
Suddenly, my attention was taken by a larger-than-life black 6.9 Mercedes that pulled up outside our doors. I had never seen a car like that before, and being a mechanic’s son, its smooth lines and powerful sound intrigued me. But what intrigued me even more was the handsome, well-built man who stepped from behind the wheel. He wore the clothes and jewelry of a powerful man. He just reeked of success. He walked with direction. He knew where he was going and how he would get there. “Wow,” I said to myself. “If I could be just like him!” Have you ever seen a man or woman with that kind of presence? Right then, I knew what I wanted. I wanted the same success, the same self-confidence, the same respect he had.
He walked inside, met with the owner, and then left before we had a chance to meet, but I was determined to discover more about him. That evening I talked to David, the club owner, and asked, “Who was that man who came in to talk with you today?” I was right. He was as successful as he looked: part owner in the health club and a multimillionaire, and his business was sales. I then asked one of the most important questions of my career. “David, would you introduce us?” I got my wish even sooner than I had planned, as the owner of the powerful Mercedes would be returning the very next day.
“Omar Periu, I would like you to meet my friend and partner, Tom Murphy.” There was no more buildup; David left the rest to me.
“Mr. Murphy, I’m happy to meet you,” I said, as I offered my hand. Then I did something my mom and dad had taught me. I asked, “Would you mind if I asked you some questions over lunch or coffee today?” I sensed he could tell I was hungry for success.
If you want to learn from successful people, ask them to lunch or out
for a cup of coffee and then question them about their success.
“Certainly Omar,” Tom said. During lunch, he asked, “What do you do at the health club?”
“I’m in sales,” I said.
“What’s your average income?” he asked.
“About a hundred forty-seven dollars a month,” I whispered, expecting him to begin a heavy conversation of everything I should be doing to become a success just like him.
Instead I heard him say with an undercurrent of humor, “Well, there’s room for improvement!”
For the first time in weeks, I was able to laugh at myself—a very important thing to do in sales: Keep your sense of humor.
Highly successful salespeople can laugh at their mistakes. They recognize
that everybody makes them, but the difference between learning from your
mistakes and letting them kill your career might be in the ability to laugh
at yourself. Laughter is a great medicine!
Tom advised me to see a seminar given by a man named Tom Hopkins, the nation’s number-one sales trainer, and it just so happened that Tom Murphy was CEO of the company running the seminar. It sounds very impractical now, but I invested my last $155 to pay for the seminar, and Tom kept his promise to give me books and tapes called How to Master the Art of Selling for free. The rest is history, but it certainly wasn’t a story of overnight success. “Murph” became a great mentor in my sales career and a close and respected friend, introducing me to other greats like Zig Ziglar, Earl Nightingale, Dr. Maxwell Maltz, Og Mandino, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Dick Gardner, and many others willing to share their successes.
Time passed and our relationship matured. I shared with Murph my desires of becoming a professional singer and how I thought selling could get me there if I could ever get the hang of it. At first Murph laughed when I told him how much I thought salespeople were like those investigators I saw on television. I told him that because of my opera training, I was able to pretend. I was able to become the investigative salesperson. The more we talked, the more we kicked around the idea that there were a lot of common practices between great investigators and great salespeople.
More lunches, more workouts, more meetings of shared ideas, and Murph and I began to envision this whole Investigative Selling process. He encouraged me to develop the investigative comparison, and soon I knew that was the key to success, and my increased sales performance was evidence of that fact. Murph was actually the consummate investigative salesperson, and he helped me to identify and develop the principles in this book. Not only did they make me a top salesperson in the sports medicine, health, and fitness industry, but they also moved me into the arena of international speaking. Both Tom and I have certainly seen the overwhelmingly positive results of utilizing and teaching the Principles of Investigative Selling. I’m more than convinced that you can experience those same positive results as well.
As our friendship grew, and my skills as an investigator improved, so did my sales performance. I went from being a 147-dollar-a-month salesperson to being the top salesperson in my industry, but I didn’t stop there. Next, I moved up to the position of general manager of eighteen health clubs, still practicing the same proven principles with my salespeople that had consistently worked for me. That’s right! I trained the salespeople in our health facilities to use the Principles of Investigative Selling, and soon decided to purchase a health club and sports medicine facility of my own.
I not only discovered how taking on the character of an investigator could help my sales performance, but I also found that all those skills could be duplicated. Other salespeople could find the same success by practicing the same principles.
Salespeople who worked for me began to enjoy increased sales as well. By teaching them to stay in character, to ask questions and gather information, they were prospering right along with my health clubs. The first club I owned was approximately 7,800 square feet and had a membership of well over 10,000 people. Within six months, my Principles of Investigating Selling increased our sales volume by 400 percent, and I was on my way to owning nine of the most successful health club and sports medicine facilities in the United States.
It soon became apparent to me that my clubs weren’t experiencing the large employee turnover rates of other health clubs. Why? My salespeople weren’t on that burnout, roller-coaster ride of sales, loving it on the way up and hating it all the way down. Instead they were learning. The more they learned, the more their incomes grew. By developing investigative skills:
• Salespeople’s success was no longer dependent on market trends or on a fluctuating economy.
• Salespeople no longer experienced the peaks and valleys of the industry.
By being investigators, we were all experiencing consistently increasing sales volumes and developing long-lasting relationships with our customers.
Within the first year, we attracted some salespeople in the business who wanted to join our team of winners. The more evolved and developed my Principles of Investigative Selling became and the more I shared them with my sales force, the more everybody benefited. My inner questions continued. If I could teach my own salespeople how to become that successful, why couldn’t any salesperson in any field benefit from the same knowledge? That became my priority—to discover whether the Principles of Investigative Selling could be duplicated in other areas of sales.
In 1988, I sold my health clubs and sports medicine facilities and began my dream of teaching and mentoring others to achieve their dreams. I can honestly say it hasn’t been for the money, but rather for the personal rewards of seeing and hearing about the countless successes of sincere students who have attended the seminars I have taught throughout the world in English and Spanish. It all started and it continues because I’m able to stay in the character of an investigator, asking questions of all those I meet.
Salespeople who left my seminars began to feel as I did, that there was nothing better than a career in sales. When owners saw the difference in their salespeople turned investigators, they actually began offering to pay me to develop ongoing teaching programs specifically for them. I thought, “Hey, here I am back on stage, only instead of giving an inspiring performance, I’m being inspired by all those putting the investigative principles to work and sharing their stories with me.”
Well, that’s some of how I got here, but before you begin embarking on your own investigative sales adventure, I’d like to take a moment to thank those who have meant so much to me in my career. I can’t tell you the benefits of being associated with Tom Murphy and Tom Hopkins. Their knowledge and experience has contributed so much to my success. I benefited from Tom Murphy’s knowledge as mastermind behind the marketing, promotion, writing, speaking, teaching, and training programs of Tom Hopkins International, Inc., and from Tom Hopkins’s skills as an outstanding stage presence and exceptional presenter. My years of experience with Tom Hopkins International allowed me the opportunity to master the delivery of my message. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of their team, experiencing the wonders of speaking to organizations from coast to coast, continent to continent.
Now, it’s time for us to get started on your training.
Let’s get into character and start investigating!