Pipedrive’s Big Sales Interview: Andrea Waltz

“Yes” may be the word that all salespeople want to hear, but Andrea Waltz knows that to a salesperson, the word “no” is just as important, maybe even more so. She is one half of the two-person team behind the best-selling sales book Go for No!, which encourages salespeople to push for a “no” rather than avoiding it.

Waltz —  who got her start at LensCrafters and who now runs her business Courage Crafters with her partner, husband, and co-author Richard Fenton — has spent years training sales departments at some of the U.S.’s largest companies to chase “nos” in order to get more “yeses.”

Waltz is the first of Pipedrive’s Big Sales Interviews, a series of in-depth discussions with thought leaders in the sales industry. The Big Sales Interview goes beyond each thought leader’s sales philosophy, and even beyond sales. We ask each expert about their history in the sales industry, the mistakes they’ve made, their greatest triumphs and even favorite sales reads.

She talked to us about the importance of failure, why organization is so important when it comes to closing the deal and how she defines the term “salesperson.”

Who are you and what are you known for in sales?

My name’s Andrea Waltz. I’m probably best known as the co-author of Go for No!, a little book that we wrote back in 2000. It was finally in 2010 that it hit number one on the Amazon “Sales and Selling” list and it has pretty much been in the top 20 ever since.

I’m best known for that sales philosophy: “Go For No.” It really is all about not fearing “no,” understanding that going for “no” helps you get to “yes” more frequently. Quite frankly, if you are disqualifying prospects and being okay with “no,” it makes your sales all that more effective.

What was your first sales job, and what did you learn from it?

All of my sales jobs have been in retail sales, with the exception of my own business, which is our two-person operation, Courage Crafters — the company we founded in 2006 specifically to teach this Go for No philosophy.

My very first job was a retail sales clerk at a gift shop, and then from there, a wide variety of jobs. My biggest sales job was at LensCrafters, running one of their highest-volume stores. That’s really where I learned how to sell.

You went to school for criminal justice. How did you end up in sales?

Like so many people, I was going through college and working at the same time. I wanted to be a crime scene investigator, but at the time there were no jobs for that.

I was working at LensCrafters, and right when I graduated, they promoted me to Retail  Manager and then promoted me quickly thereafter. It was one of those things where I just said, “I love my job at LensCrafters. I’m really good at it. I am excelling. I might as well stay with this.”

While at LensCrafters, I met my now-husband and business partner. We had a lot of the same sales, customer service, and management philosophies.

He said: “There are companies out there who hire outside consultants, outside trainers, outside speakers. We can quit our jobs and we can go out. We can launch our own speaking and training company.” That’s what we both loved to do internally at LensCrafters for the corporation. I said: “That sounds great. Let’s do it.”

I had no idea what I was doing, but I did have my philosophies down: I knew the sales philosophies that I had learned, practiced and taught. I had customer service philosophies and management philosophies.

We quit our jobs and launched our company.

One of the very first clients we ended up getting was J.C. Penney. We did a tremendous amount of work with them, teaching them all of the sales philosophies, including Go for No. That really launched our business. We worked in the retail industry for about five or six years. Then with the success of Go for No!, we started getting into different industries — direct sales, insurance, finance, anybody who has to face failure and rejection.

“Salesperson” is a laden term. When did you first own that label, and what makes you proud to sell professionally?

It was at LensCrafters where I learned, probably because of something that my business partner and husband Richard taught me, this whole idea of “to sell is to serve.” It’s really incumbent upon sales people to get that mindset. I was lucky to get it early on. I didn’t see sales as something I was doing to people, but something I was doing for them.

I would see timid salespeople, people that were selling from their own wallets. A customer would come in, and maybe the salesperson wouldn’t sell them the best product for them. Later, the customer would end up having problems. They would come back, needing to upgrade to something more appropriate for their needs.

I got a really good lesson in seeing how, if you weren’t proactively selling people the absolute best thing for their needs, regardless of how expensive it seemed at the time, that could backfire.

I felt like being a “salesperson” was a great thing and not something to shy away from. Being in sales is something to be proud of.

It’s funny because nobody likes that title. I was at a sales and marketing trade show, and when I asked one of the people that had a booth there what they offered, he told me and then said, “But I’m not a salesperson.” As if it was a bad thing.  I thought: “Here you are at a sales and marketing conference and you’re telling me adamantly that you’re not a salesperson.” Even at that moment, I thought that was pretty sad.

How did you develop your core sales philosophy of “Go for No”, your “difference maker”? Was there an “aha” moment?

Richard was in the retail industry for many years, learned the whole idea of going for no, applied it to his job and eventually became an award-winning salesperson.

When he taught it to me, I thought I was a superstar salesperson. I thought I had a great rapport with people. I wasn’t afraid of recommending the best products and services we had; I thought I was pretty great. Then I realized, when I learned what Go for No was, that I had a fear of hearing the word “no,” even though it wasn’t obvious to me. I discovered that oftentimes I would sell, and if I got that one “yes,” I would be done. I would end the sale, close it down, and send the person on their way.

When I learned Go for No, I realized that I was always so happy just to get the “yes.” I didn’t want to look pushy or aggressive and was operating from a people-pleaser mindset.

As we’ve taught it throughout the years, watching people have their own epiphanies has been a great motivator for me personally. I think a lot of people feel the same as I did and then they have the same transformation, which is really cool.

In your book, you talk about the importance of getting “no’s” from prospects. Why is it so important to actively attempt failure?

My favorite point to the whole philosophy is that successful people understand and salespeople know that they want to get a “yes,” but you have to face the possibility that you’re going to hear a “no,” and then you go for it.

That is fundamentally what Go for No! is all about. It certainly isn’t about ever being a “failure,” but many of us equate hearing a “no” to failing. We have all been taught and trained — especially salespeople — to “Go for yes. Be a success. Failure’s not an option.”

The “go for yes” philosophy actually creates that aggressive, pushy, what-will-it-take-for-me-to-get-you-in-this-car type of salesperson.

The Go for No philosophy is the exact opposite. “No” is a perfectly acceptable answer, but the point is, I’m going to have the courage, persistence, and tenacity to ask all the appropriate questions and possibly face that “no.” That is where the idea of failure has to be turned around in people’s minds. That’s why we talk about failure a lot, because underlying that fear of failure is a mindset of “I can’t fail, I have to succeed. Yes is the only answer.” That’s what creates a lot of stress for salespeople. That’s why we talk about failure and success in relationships.

Can you talk about the first time you actively went for a “no” yourself, knowing that’s what you were doing?

We’re a small company, just myself, my husband Richard and our cat.

I’m reaching out to Fortune 500 companies knowing that we have a lot of value to offer, but for me, my greatest Going for No example is not letting the fact that we’re a small company stop me from prejudging and deciding that, “Who are we kidding? A Fortune 500 or a Fortune 100 Company is never going to hire us.”

That’s probably where Richard and I have used Go for No the most — not shortchanging ourselves and our business; really going and playing at a much higher level because we understood that when you go for a big “no” you have the opportunity to get a big “yes.”

What’s the one thing you would have done differently when you started out in sales? How would you approach it now?

I think one of the things I wish I learned early on was to be a really good fact-finder and asker-of-questions. I learned that later.

I wasn’t like that when we first launched our business, which, is of course, B2B sales. I’m out there selling workshops and in-house training to large corporations. I wasn’t able to get on the phone, probe for needs, and find their gaps. It was me pitching [products as a salesperson] and thinking of things transactionally.

I think I would have gotten clients faster had I seen myself as a little bit more of an equal to those people, and being more of a consultant [than a salesperson], but I did learn that lesson later.

In Confessions of a Winning Poker Player (as quoted in the movie Rounders), Jack King wrote:

“Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career.”

Drawing that analogy to sales, what was the worst beat you had?

One of the things that we like to say is that a good “no” is better than a bad “yes.” All salespeople know that deep inside somewhere, even though they don’t want to believe it sometimes.

But this one time, I ignored that rule and said “yes” to a client that we had pursued and finally did business with. I knew it wasn’t a good fit. At one point, I actually went back to them and said, “I can tell where this is going and it’s probably not a good fit.” In other words, we got a bad “yes” in the deal. They said, “No, no, no, it’s fine, it’s fine.” They pretty much wanted us to train all of their material, not train our material. We had no desire to do that.

We went down a horrible path, and in the end, it cost us a lot of time and expense. It was painful, it was stressful — all because we didn’t listen to our intuition and missed that it was a bad “yes” from the beginning.

What’s your greatest sales accomplishment to date?

I guess it was probably getting our first big client in our business.

We had no idea what we were doing. I say we got lucky, yet the smartest thing we did from a sales standpoint was to identify our target market.

We knew who should hire us.

We knew who we should be working with and who we should be working for and — as bad as our marketing materials and sales presentation was — we still had the guts to go out and try to get those clients, and we did.

From that standpoint, being willing to define our niche and target our market, I think was probably the smartest thing we did. To me, the biggest success was not being fearful.

I think a lot of people go out and they think: “Our product’s for everybody, our service is for everybody.” They end up so general that nobody’s interested and selling becomes really difficult. It almost takes more courage to really niche down, identify the target market you’re perfect for and become an expert and become known for that. In general, I feel like we’ve done that really well.

What skills have you honed in sales that you use in your everyday life?

In sales, you have to have confidence and be detached from the outcome. You have to focus on your sales activities and your sales behaviors.

It’s almost like when you’re digging a hole and you want to dig and dig, but every minute you’re concerned about how much dirt you’ve gotten out of the hole. You keep weighing it and measuring it and looking at the pile you’ve created outside of the hole. That is really counterproductive.

One of the things we have focused on in our business, and that we teach people as well, is just focus on your activities and focus on your behaviors and don’t worry about the results. Just detach from the outcome. I think in general that has given me more confidence, but has made the process a lot more fun.

I find so much less stress and less pressure in my own business because I practice the Go for No philosophy. I do the sales behaviors, but I don’t get overly attached to the possible result.

It has created a really enjoyable business for me, which is basically my life, because quite frankly, as a sole proprietor entrepreneur I work 24/7. I There probably are three days I take off for the whole year. Christmas, maybe New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving, and that’s it, because I do love it so much. That mindset has really impacted me as a person.

What does the sales industry need more of?

I love the idea of having ways that salespeople can track their progress.

As salespeople, we’re great at schmoozing and having conversations and even asking questions and figuring things out. But the second part — the negotiation, the follow-through, when prospects start dragging their feet, the follow-up to “nos”? That second half of the process is still wildly lost for [many] salespeople and organizations.

We all do really well at the beginning of the sales process, but in that second half of the sales process, there’s still a huge opportunity for the sales industry.

That’s why things like having Pipedrive CRM, for example, is so necessary. It’s great if you can master pulling in leads and have numerous contacts. But if they’re all just floating out there, you have no idea what’s going on and you have a conversation and never follow up with someone, it’s turning all your invested time into nothing. We should be turning invested time into profitable time.

That’s the job of a salesperson and I think it’s still getting lost.

For example, I’m a big advocate of social selling, but I think social selling is just one more tool that helps us start the first half of the sales process. Then the question is, how are we doing on the second half? Are we following through and getting those sales closed?

What’s the most misguided philosophy or practice in sales today?

I’ll go back to social selling again. It’s the trendy cutting-edge thing, but I think it’s become this panacea, fix-all: “This is the answer. We’ll just all start social selling and creating content and then sales will be just fine.”

I think you have to look and say, “What is the process? What does it look like? How are you driving people through a sales process?” I think there’s a lot of misconception about what that process is.

You’re a big fan of social media and are very active on Twitter as @goforno. Do you have a vision of what social selling looks like when it’s done right?

Absolutely, I do. I break it down into three pieces.

One is listening.

Two is engagement.

Three is influencing the influencers.

Any salesperson has got to be out on these platforms, and they’ve got to be listening, paying attention and engaging.

I’m still shocked at how bad people are at engagement and how poor a job people do. Whether it’s Facebook or Twitter, a “Like” is not engagement. You have to comment. You have to add to the conversation, actually respond to somebody, add a point of view or — if someone has something that went well — add a simple “Congratulations.”

That engagement is how you make your social media community and platform pay off.

Then, when it comes to influencers, who are the influencers in your space? Who are the people that you would like to influence — in other words, your customers or your prospects? Follow them, listen to them and engage with them. Don’t just like the stuff they say every now and then. That’s not engagement.

What book do you think everyone in sales should read?

All our philosophies come back to this whole idea of mindset. For salespeople, I always recommend books on success that motivate and inspire you. I oftentimes have salespeople who get the whole idea of Go for No intellectually, but they still have issues around the practical aspects, as well as fear and anxiety.

One of the best books for that is The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz.

All four agreements are very important, but I can’t think of two things that are more important for salespeople at any skill level than “don’t take things personally” and “don’t make assumptions.”: “Don’t take things personally,” because as salespeople, we do tend to read into why somebody hasn’t called us back. And, “Don’t make assumptions,” or, in other words, don’t decide what somebody else is going to decide, do or spend.

I think The Four Agreements is great for any salesperson. It’s more on the mindset side of things, but can have a major impact because — if something’s holding you back — oftentimes it’s not about skill as much as mindset.

How do you define “salesperson”?

I define “salesperson” as somebody who consults (with the customer), who really looks at the features and benefits of their products, who asks great questions and then makes appropriate recommendations.

A salesperson, to me, is a consultant with the customer’s best interest in mind.

Thank you very much for your time, Andrea.

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AJ O'Connell

A.J. O’Connell is an author and journalist, and serves as a field reporter for Pipedrive. Elsewhere, her work has appeared on several trailblazing websites, including The Next Web, The Mary Sue, The Establishment, The Billfold and SkilledUp. Read more of her work at ajoconnell.com.

  • It’s a good thing you shared Andrea’s interview to everyone, AJ! I learned a lot from her journey through sales – from her rookie years to how she’s become successful now. The ‘Go for No’ mentality sure is tough to instill in an industry who are all aiming for a ‘yes’. But I agree with this philosophy. When a salesperson tends to be over eager and too pushy, it can something turn customers off and would think twice of that ‘yes’ they just gave you. Best of luck to Andrea on more successes to come!