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Sales Mindset – How to Think About Selling as a Service Provider

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
16 min read

Mentioned in this episode:

Schedule a Strategy Session with Liston
Mindset by Carol Dweck
The Brain Audit by Sean D’Souza

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

Sales Mindset – How to Think About Selling as a Service Provider:

Full Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Show. My name is Liston, and I am here to help you build a better agency, a better consulting business, a better professional services business, and I want to thank you for being here. Once again, I really appreciate that you’re here listening.

Now, in today’s episode, I will be talking to you about what the consulting sales mindset should be. If you’re selling services, if you’re selling consulting, something that’s maybe a little less tangible obviously than a product, how do you think about approaching that sale in the right way so that you’re going in with the best mindset to give you the best chance of actually winning that sale? And really, let’s be honest, doing right by the client?

I’ll be talking in this episode all about mindset, but before I get into the contents of today’s show, if you’re looking to improve your mindset or your team’s mindset about sales, whether you’re looking for coaching or training, I’d love to chat with you. All you have to do is go apply for a call with me. It’s really simple, takes two minutes or less. There’s a form there. I’ll just ask you a few questions. I’ll take a look. If there’s a fit for us to potentially work together. I’d love to chat with you about helping you with sales at your business. All you have to do is go to Liston, L-I-S-T-O-N .io/strategy. Once again, that’s If you fill that out, I’ll take a look at what you have to say. If we do talk on the phone, I promise to give you a minimum of three insights that you can go apply to your business immediately, whether you decide to hire me or not. Again, that URL,

Let’s talk mindset, shall we? When I think about mindset in consulting, the first thing that comes to mind is going in and having the right things on our mind so that we’re actually there to serve someone. Let’s take a step back. Why should we even care about mindset? Well, you’ve probably been involved in conversations before that might seem a little adversarial or your prospect is just putting up a wall and not willing to give you information that you need in order to help them or in order to even determine if you can help them. And so, if you’re feeling a little stone-walled or you’re regularly meeting with prospects who feel guarded or you’re not able to find the information that would produce sales opportunities, these are all signs that maybe your mindset could use a little bit of word. And so, in today’s episode, you’re going to come away with some concrete ways of thinking about this differently. I promise, I swear I’ll get to that.

Before we get into your mindset, let’s get into the mindset of the person who’s buying from us. Whenever someone buys something, I always ask, “Well, what are they really buying?” The example I like to use is, Roundup. Roundup is a chemical agent. You spray it on your lawn and it gets rid of the weeds. It kills the weeds. It’s a chemical agent that kills the weeds. And so, if you buy a bottle of Roundup, on the bottle, it says, “Roundup, weed killer.” That’s kind of the tag line. So, we know what it does.

But the question is, are people actually buying weed killer or are they buying something else? Are they buying the result of the weed killer? What I would argue is, people are buying a great-looking lawn when they buy Roundup. People are buying even a step further than that, the envy and the social validation of their neighbors. They’re buying people walking by their house, passersby, complimenting them on their landscaping. That’s really what they’re buying. That’s what’s motivating them. Maybe a husband wants to make the lawn beautiful for his wife. And so, it has relationship benefits. There are all of these downstream things that are happening as a result of the Roundup that are the real reasons and the real motivators for getting people to buy the Roundup in the first place.

Now, obviously Roundup can’t account for all of those situations. They’re a mass market product. They put it on the shelf at Home Depot, you go and buy it, and you go use it. All you need to know is that it kills weeds, but there are all these other reasons and you can see this in their marketing and everyone else’s marketing; they tend to market for emotional reasons. The frustration of not being able to kill weeds, the frustration of not having the best lawn on your block. These are really the things that they’re advertising. And the reason is, they understand what people are buying. Now, you have an advantage as a consultant, as an agency owner, as a service provider. You get to be in a one-to-one selling relationship. The advantage that that conveys is, you’re able if you ask the right questions and you ask open-ended questions and you’re patient, and you have structure with the way you’re approaching this, you’re able to uncover and get to those core reasons why people are buying.

I would summarize why people are buying like this: they are buying a solution, a fix, to something going on today that will provide them with the tomorrow that they want. You might think about it as, people are buying a better tomorrow, a different future, an improvement upon their current situation. If I’m selling digital marketing, what people really are buying, and you all know this already, what they’re really buying typically is more predictability int he number of leads they’re getting. They’re buying more quality leads, but they don’t really want quality leads; they want more sales and better clients. That’s what people are buying.

Now, the more competitive your market, and the more other people who are going after your particular market, the more specific you’ll have to be in the outcomes you provide. As a market gets more crowded, you’re going to have to be a little bit more specific with what you can do and how that benefits your client, and how that gives them a better future than they could otherwise have. But in order to be driven to buy something, and you can kind of see this coming, someone already needs to acknowledge and identify and be aware of a problem that exists. Because in business, we’re typically not going to go after something unless we think that a problem exists.

Now, there are exceptions to this, but in most cases, this is the case. In most cases, people identify a problem, they want a solution. You can provide that solution, there could be a match. The first thing we really need to focus on is understanding. Does this person think they have a problem? How bad is that problem? Maybe help them clarify the depth of that problem. Now, if you want more information on the process of how people make buying decisions, the book I would recommend you start with is very short, very simple, and I highly recommend. It’s called The Brain Audit by Sean D’Souza. It’s excellent, especially in the context of creating content and walking people through a sales cycle. But basically, what he says is, “If someone doesn’t have a problem, we can’t sell to them, and so we really need to get them to understand what their problem is.”

Now, what I’ll say is, you can sell to markets that aren’t aware of the problem that they have, but the only issue with that, or I should say the complication with that, is you first need to educate them on the fact that they have a problem. Then you need to educate them on the fact that a solution exists, and only then can you show them that you have the solution; that you’re the option that they want. It gets more complicated if people don’t know that they have a problem, and they don’t know that it can be fixed. That’s the first thing when it comes to mindset, is to internalize this notion that people are buying a better tomorrow, a better future. That’s what we want to give them.

Going back to the digital marketing example, it’s very transactional to say, “I’ll help you with SEO,” search engine optimization. But selling the better future is to talk about more and better traffic, and being able to predict how many people are coming onto your website, and at what rate you might grow in the future, in terms of your overall traffic. That is the future that someone wants. Now, notice in there, I never talked about you. I didn’t say anything about who you are, what your solution is. It all starts with the problem, so people aren’t buying from you because they want to help your business, or simply because they think you’re so awesome, although being awesome definitely helps. I’ll get into relational parts of the mindset in a second, but they’re not here to help you meet your quota.

I once had a sales rep from a very large software company, public company, sell to me and tell me that his goal was to buy a new apartment in downtown Boston. My reaction … Surprisingly, I didn’t say this, because I usually say what’s on my mind. For those of you who know me, you know that that’s true. Maybe I say what’s on my mind to a fault, but my reaction when he said, “My goal is to get a down payment, and I need $70,000 to do it,” and I thought, “I don’t give a shit. There are things I want in my life too, and if we can find a mutually beneficial relationship here, I’d be glad to contribute to your apartment fund,” however indirectly that was. But the idea that he would share that and this would be some sort of driver for me in the buying process quite frankly was very insulting.

Now, I’m not saying that you ever go into things with that in mind, but just know that when you have a quota to meet or you have a certain number of activities to execute, even if it’s not a revenue quota, or you have to build this business line by X number of opportunities within Y number of months, you’re not going to get there by focusing on that. No one cares about what your internal goals are, nor should they, right? You don’t care what their goals are, only insofar as you’re looking for ways to help them. So, the question is, fundamentally then, what is the point of a sale? I would say it’s very simple: I’m looking for a win-win situation. My client has a problem that they understand, they articulate. They’re not quite sure how to solve it, or they can’t solve it fast enough, and the goals that they have in solving that problem are worthwhile goals that solving the problem will actually help them achieve. Okay, great. That’s a good start. They know what they want to do, they know where they want to go, and they know how fast they want to get there. Great start.

Now, the question is, am I the provider of the solution that will help them get there? And, do I think their goals are realistic and on a realistic timeline? If the answer to those questions is also yes, we have a win-win situation. That is the kind of mindset I want you to go into a sale with, and it’s not … Notice, it wasn’t really about selling something. It was about understanding what the person wants and how I can help them get there, and if I’m the right fit. That’s what it’s about.

Now, this starts to beg lots of question about, well, what happens if my sales are really difficult and what if I need to push people and what if they don’t make decisions fast enough, and what if, and what if, and what if? My feeling is, a lot of those things are upstream problems. If you’re having a really, really difficult time selling whatever it is that you’re selling, you may have a problem differentiating from the competition. You may have a problem with targeting the wrong people. You may have a problem with talking to people who aren’t decision-makers. You may have a problem with misalignment of your offer to your market. There may be all kinds of other problems. But the idea that you can go in and force someone to buy is just wrong. That’s not something that you can do. You can’t control whether or not someone buys from you. That’s just not within the realm of things that you can absolutely, directly control. What you can do is facilitate the best possible buying experience, and that’s our goal.

I couldn’t have a discussion about mindset without at least acknowledging the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. In this book, her killer insight is the types of mindsets that lend themselves to relative success in life. So, generally, right? What do high performers have in common that other performers don’t? What Dweck asserts is that there’s a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. The fixed mindset looks at the world as being very limited in resources. People with fixed mindsets tend to have an external locus of control, meaning they’re looking outside of themselves and they place blame when things go wrong. A fixed mindset person, if they lose a sale, they might say, “Well, that was a bad prospect,” or they might say, “Oh, that person sucked anyways. They were just wasting my time.” Whereas, a growth mindset person would look at the world as being abundant. They would look at win-win opportunities versus the fixed mindset would look at zero-sum or win-lose. Very, very big, different things happening there. And the growth mindset person, if they lost a deal, they would ask, “What could I do differently next time? What did I do that maybe cost me this deal?”

Now, let’s go back to your prospect input. If you have a fixed mindset, you would say, “Oh, that prospect sucked.” Well, that could be true, but then if you had a growth mindset, you may say, “That wasn’t the right prospect. How can I get better prospects in future business development? How can I get better prospects in my outbound outreach funnel?” And finally, I would contrast two other words, which are contracting and expanding. A fixed mindset person would look at, let’s say you work at a very, very large company and you have big deals, like your average client is in the millions and millions of dollars and you have multiple pieces of software, and you have different service lines. If I had a fixed mindset, I would go to one of those clients and I would think, “Well, I better not rock the boat, because I might piss off this client, and they might tell me to get lost.”

Whereas, the growth mindset person would look at that client and say, “I wonder if there’s anything I can do to help them more. I think they’ll appreciate it at least if I ask them,” and have an open conversation about what their internal goals and projects are, and maybe I can help them, and maybe I can’t. That is a big, big difference in mindset. So, if you haven’t read that book or at least aren’t familiar with that idea, I would just go to Google and type in, “Growth versus fixed mindset,” or maybe, “Dweck Mindset PDF,” and you’ll be able to get a quick synopsis of it. But I’ll link you to the book on Amazon in the show notes.

All of this brings us to our point at arrival, which is the fundamental piece of advice that I have for you when it comes to selling services, and that is serve, don’t sell. In all of those instances when we enter a sale and we feel pressured or our prospect feels pressured, or maybe we’re on the other end of this, right? Let’s say you go buy a car. Do you feel pressured on the car lot to buy a car? Of course you do, because most sales people are oozing with desperation. They’re trying to get you to sign onto loan financing that they provide because they get extra points on that deal. They’re going into it with the mindset of, “How can I make myself better off?” But as a service provider, your job … and this may seem like so obvious, why even say it? But your job is to provide service. The way that service starts early on is learning. If I’m going to be in service to a client, first I need to learn what’s going on with them. What’s going on in their world? What changes would they like to make? What goals do they have? What’s bothering them? What’s making their job absolutely frustrating? It’s this information that creates the most powerful sales approach imaginable.

Having that information will absolutely change the way you approach the sale. It will absolutely change the way your prospect will react to whatever you present, because now you can contextualize it to what’s happening with them because you know so much more information. And since people are buying a better future, a better tomorrow, we really need to understand, what does today look like and where do you want to go tomorrow? That’s why we serve and we don’t sell anything. We’re only looking for a fit here. Remember, they don’t care about you and your quota, or your company’s internal desire to launch a new service line, or whatever it is. They don’t care about any of that crap. So, if you serve them, sales will follow.

Now, what I don’t want you to take away is, Liston told me that I’m supposed to do a bunch of free work because I’m in service and that’s all my clients care about. No, I’m not telling you that at all. What I’m telling you is, the service mindset means looking at first and foremost, how can I affect change for this person in a way that will make them way better off? That’s not the same as free work. I’m just looking to gather information. You’re not going to go present some giant strategy document. That’s not part of it. All we need to figure out is, what are the symptoms of the illness? And how would you know if you got better, and what would that look like in your life? Then we can make a prescription to them. Free work is primarily the business of nonprofits, and we’re in business. We’re not here to give away free work, but what we are here to do is really serve and help people.

That brings me to the final point of this whole talk on mindset, and the final point is, story is so powerful. The mindset that you should have is to think about what is the narrative or story this person might want to tell themselves if we fast forward six, 12 months, however long your engagement might be? How would that story play out? What is the fairy tale to take them from where the are now in this absolute moment of pain into a future where they live happily ever after? Now, you may want to go back and listen to my interview with Raj Nathan in order to learn more about the power of story. He has some really great and specific suggestions about how to tell story in your business. But the bottom line is, we buy for emotional reasons, primarily. You know what doesn’t have emotions? ROI. Statistics. Facts and figures. All of that stuff is devoid of emotion. It’s not relational; it’s transactional.

Now, I’m not saying those things don’t have a place, because obviously you need to make a business case for what you’re doing. You need to show the value. You need to have case studies. All those things help. But those aren’t going to be the ultimate reasons people buy from you. How many times have you made a decision based on a, quote, “gut feeling”? I just felt it in my gut, it was the right thing? Well, that’s always shorthand for emotionally, it felt better. Something in my hand just told me to do it, despite offsetting factors that maybe made this not the perfect choice. It just felt right. We make these buying decisions based on emotional reasons. And so, you really need to tell a story about where the person is now, where they’d like to be in the future, how you can help them get there, and then give them reassurance that you can legitimately help them get there.

One of the stories that I might tell to a client, just by way of example, is you can see the tagline on my website and it says, “I help agencies scale sales beyond the referral.” So, the story might go like this. You started your company and you’re really good at networking, and the company’s been growing, but you’ve reached a plateau where you’re the only one bringing in business, and maybe your previous channels have dried up, or you’re just too tired to get on the plane and go around and shake hands anymore. What you really want is a sales department that you’re able to influence and scale and predict the number of meetings, the amount of revenue you’re bringing in, and you can incrementally add people to multiply your efforts and predictably grow your business. I can help you do that through a unique mix of consulting, coaching, and training that I’ll deliver to you and your team 100% remotely, so that you can start to put together this plan to predict and scale up your sales, and we can start working together within 30 days. I recently did this with a client who, in their first few months of working with me, was able to book an additional 20 plus meetings and land three new projects that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Okay, so end of commercial for me. I didn’t intend for that to be a commercial, but I did want to demonstrate how this story might work. Notice in the beginning, it’s 100% about them. Right? The only times I’m talking about myself is insofar as it relates to what they want. That’s the power of story. That is the synopsis of the mindset that I want you to have when it comes to selling your services, your agency services, your consulting services. Whatever it is that you’re working on, that’s the mindset that I want you to have.

Just to recap really quickly, these are the major things to consider. Number one, what causes people to buy? Number two, focusing on those factors about them and not about you. Number three, having a growth mindset. Number four, because you have this growth mindset, you’re going to serve, not sell, and finally number five, the power of story. Tell a story, and it will greatly affect the way people perceive whatever it is that you have, and it’s going to make your calls and your sales process go much, much smoother and lead, really, to better conversation. So, I hope this was helpful and I hope you have a fantastic day. Bye.

Modern Sales Podcast