215: Developing Top-Tier Modern Salespeople | with Derron Steenbergen

“How do we do more with less, but with more to sell?”

Derron Steenbergen, President of the Swagger Institute poses the question that plagues modern salespeople who face growing targets and growing product offerings.

It’s all about the needs of the client. Discover key insights into how the Swagger Institute is helping salespeople of all experience levels master their craft. And listen in to learn the 6 most important words in sales…

All of that and more on this week’s edition of the Conquer Local podcast!


George: It’s the latest addition to the “Conquer Local” podcast, and this week I’m going to go back to an episode that we recorded in Orlando, Florida a couple months back. Got the privilege to go to the radio show, the RAB Radio show. I’ve been going to it for the last six years and it was back in Orlando and I’m walking through the beautiful Hilton Bonnet Creek and there is my old buddy, Derron Steenbergen. So I grabbed him, got the recorder, pulled him into a quiet corner, and we got some great footage. Let me give you a little bit of background on Derron. He runs 17 radio stations out of Glasgow, Kentucky. He’s Chief Revenue Officer for Commonwealth Broadcasting. He had a whole bunch of sales reps. He’s been doing it for over 20 years. Where I met Derron is about four years ago, I was speaking to the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters with my old friend Sean Luis [SP], one of the top sales trainers in the radio space in North America. And Sean brought along this guy, Derron Steenbergen, who was going to speak, and we did a session with the three of us on stage doing some role-playing for the over 150 sales reps that were in the crowd and I’d always thought in the back of my mind, “Damn, if I ever run across Derron again, I’d love to get him on the ‘Conquer Local’ podcast.”

Derron continues his role as Chief Revenue Officer, but he also believes very strongly in training sales reps and he created The Swagger Institute, which is all about building confident sales reps that can speak to solving the problems of the customers. We’re gonna dig into The Swagger Institute. We’re gonna dig into Commonwealth Broadcasting. We’re gonna dig into the challenges of radio sales reps in the south. And that’s all coming up next with Derron Steenbergen on the “Conquer Local” podcast.

The Swagger Institute

George: Derron Steenbergen joining me on the “Conquer Local” podcast. We’re actually live at the RAB 2018 here in beautiful Orlando, Florida. And, you know, you and I met a number of years back in beautiful Nashville, Tennessee and we were sharing the stage with one of one of the top sales trainers in the business, Sean Luis and your career has moved you into fulltime sales training and consulting. Can we talk a little bit about your company, The Swagger Institute?

Derron: We can. I started The Swagger Institute probably three or four years ago. Honestly, I’m still in the business. I’m still running radio stations in Kentucky as well and keep my feet in. I like being a broadcaster. I started The Swagger Institute because I got fatigued with going to a lot of sales seminars and leaving unfulfilled. And so, I thought, “You know what, I think I got something to offer.” Jumped in and I’ve been doing it ever since.

George: So, when we met, let’s talk a little bit about your career and what got you to the chair of general manager and running a radio cluster. You know, where did this all start? Where did the sales game start for you?

Derron: Got out of college to be a school teacher. Thought I wanted to coach. Very quickly realized I couldn’t do that the rest of my life. Got into media sales. Started out selling for a 50s and 60s, Oldie station. We had a pink cat as a mascot and honestly, I’m trying to sell a station I couldn’t listen to. Spent the first year thinking I had it figured out. I went out, I told my story to as many people as I could tell it to and a year in, I’m getting my teeth kicked in. Very little results and I had to reevaluate, and one day it hit me, I’ve spent an entire year making this about me and when I began to make it about the client and their story and not about my story, it all flipped. It all turned. And I’ve been doing this ever since.

Needs-Based Selling

George: It’s funny. I attend a lot of sales seminars, and conventions, and things like that and listened to a lot of podcasts and I hear this needs-based selling thing like it’s…people are talking about it like it’s brand new, but as you’ve identified, as soon as you turn it around and make it all about the customer and solving their problems, and we’ve been doing this for a long time. Any comments on why people think that that’s a new thing, to do needs-based selling?

Derron: I don’t know that they think it’s a new thing. I think it feels new because so many people are doing it poorly. I think the majority of our sales force, whether it’s broadcast media or any industry, we got a lot of peddlers out there. We got a lot of people out there just pushing their product. And when you reset, you kinda figured out that the magic sauce here is the needs of the client and what they’re trying to accomplish. It probably feels new today because so many people have been doing it poorly for so long.

The State of the Radio Industry

George: So, when we… You and I have been to this convention a number of times. What do you feel as far as the vibe of the convention is all about? What do you think the state of radio is like in North America?

Derron: I think it’s strong. I think our industry strong. I think we’re still delivering for our clients, the listenership is still there. I think the biggest thing that at times really fatigues me is that we’re not doing a good job of telling that story. I think we’re, at times, we’re giving up our place. You look at the penetration nationwide and the percentage, 92%, 93% of the public listens to the radio on a weekly basis. Well, you bring any competitor in that could deliver those type of numbers, we’d be scared to death. But I think we’re all too often, sometimes quick to relinquish our place. We are still king. The magic is still there, we’re still delivering, we’re getting results for our clients, but I think it’s up to us to kinda get our swagger back just a little bit.

George: Well, there you go. There’s The Swagger Institute. That’s the name drop right there. Before we get into what you’ve been doing with The Swagger Institute and the training that you’ve been doing, I wanna talk a little bit about the radio business. There’s a lot of automation happening. There are, you know, cutbacks where not as many people in the newsroom and things like that, but isn’t one of the real key components for radio, the fact that it’s plugged into the local community?

Derron: If it’s not plugged into the local community, then we’re just a jukebox. And, you know, if you look right now, we’re in an election year in Kentucky and these local candidates realize they need radio. And if we’re not local, then we were relinquishing really one of our strengths over the years. And radio is local. And I feel like we’ve probably lost our way for a little while, but I think we’re getting back and I think the localism’s there and I think as we embrace technology and the digital side of our business and everything that we can do, I feel really good about it and I think we got great days ahead.

George: Yeah, it’s interesting to see the investment that’s being made into live production studios right in-house so you can bring artists in to perform on the air. I don’t know if we would’ve saw that 10 years ago. So, there’s been a change.

Derron: There has. And I think that that connectivity, we understand… You know, we talked so much about needs-based for our clients. Well, we gotta identify what the needs of the listener is and the listeners are there and I think we’re getting back to giving them some of the things that they crave and we can make it. We can help them feel a connection to those artists that I think is one of the things that we bring to the table that kinda sets us aside, makes us unique.

The Swagger Institute Cont’d

George: So, when you and I first met, we were in Nashville at the Association of Broadcasters for, for Tennessee and Whit [SP] invited us to speak and Sean put on one of his seminars and I listened to you motivate that group of people. Tell us about The Swagger Institute. Tell us about the curriculum that you are professing to salespeople all over the United States.

Derron: Well, The Swagger Institute is all about… It’s sales training, it’s motivational speaking. It’s business consulting. It’s about delivering the energy with the basic tactics that have been successful for years, and years, and years. It sounds redundant, but it’s about the needs of the client. It’s about teaching local direct tactics that help salespeople have more success. And listen, it’s not about this national business, it’s about what’s happening in our communities and it’s about those local clients because they need our help. Our local clients need us to help them deliver their message and build their brand. And The Swagger Institute is about helping salespeople understand that there may be a better way. It’s also helping them see that there’s a level of energy, and enthusiasm, and passion that they have to have and show for this business and that their clients deserve. And that’s, in a nutshell, that’s probably what The Swagger Institute’s all about.

George: So, what are you seeing as, you know, the general manager of those stations? I’m sure you talk to lots of local business people. What do you think some of the biggest points of pain for local business people are?

Derron: I think that the biggest thing that’s happened over the last several years as we’ve all… And it’s probably this is an industry riddle that we’re all trying to figure out. How do we do more with less, but with more to sell? So, think about that. We’re all trying to get more done, but in many cases, with fewer people, but all of a sudden now with digital offerings and dotcoms and translators, we’ve got more to sell than ever. So, we have to make sure that we’re not guilty of splintering the pie so much for our clients. It used to be, if you just had one station or two, you went and focused on frequency getting schedules on those properties. And now we’re looking at… we’re taking their money and we’re putting, you know, we’re scattered it in so many different places. And, you know, a key principle with any marketing campaign is whatever you do, own it. And I think we’ve got to be careful that we don’t splinter things so much with clients that they’re not owning anything.

Advice for New Salespeople:

George: I always like to, when I get somebody like you, experienced sales trainer, general manager, you’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m sure that you see some rookies and you’re like, you know, “How do I help this person not make the mistakes?” You’re gonna give any advice to a brand new salesperson, what would it be?

Derron: Structure, structure, structure. One of the great things about our business and especially those successful salespeople have been doing a long time, they buy themselves some lifestyle, but some flexibility. But it’s that flexibility that puts so many young people, new people, out of the business because they can’t handle the lack of structure. And one of the things that we try to do in our company, with The Swagger Institute is show how you can provide structure and in a world sometimes it doesn’t have it. And, you know, way too many of us started out with a bunch of clients and just go get ’em. And that doesn’t work anymore. And our new people need structure and they need accountability and we gotta make sure we give it to ’em, but they’ve gotta understand that the flexibility is one of the best things about this business. It’s also the thing that puts a lot of people out of business.

George: That’s a really great point. We just have come through what I called a Master Sales Series where I try to come up with 12 key things that we could work with, you know, refreshers for the veterans and foundation for the new reps. So, let’s dig into this structure thing. I think you’ve touched on something that I didn’t really think about. It’s the fact that you’re a local sales rep, you got a lot of flexibility because we put you in a car and you go see customers. But with that flexibility comes the ability to maybe not make as many calls as you need to make or not put together the presentations you need to do or… Is that where you’re going with this?

Derron: It is. It starts… Listen we’re all trying to be successful through the dysfunctions in our life. As managers now, I think there’s more distractions than ever for our employees, more for us. And so, one of the things that we really believe in, and we try to teach in our company, is you gotta win the morning. And one simple thing that we encourage and we teach, it’s called one before 9:00. It’s, see one account every day before 9:00. Salespeople, way too often, spend so much time in the office and they spend so much time on their phones, distractions. So, we really encourage, see one account every day before 9:00. If you do that, you’re gonna see more people are gonna be more productive. You’re gonna get more done because you started your day earlier and you were more productive early in the day.

George: You know, I would argue that is probably one of the best times to see a customer as early in the day because they’re not busy running their business and they’ve got a little bit more time for you before they’re flooded with customers.

Derron: If you ask a salesperson, if you say, “Okay, a client’s gonna give you the option, you can meet with them at 8:30 in the morning or 4:30 in the afternoon.” Without fail, salespeople will tell you, “No, I wanna meet with them at 8:30 in the morning because they’re fresher and I’m fresher.” But way too often, we’re going to battle the second half of the day when everybody’s fried.

George: So, what do you say to a salesperson that is out, you know, calling on their clients and they do a couple of drop-ins or they have a scheduled meeting and the client doesn’t show up?

Derron: Listen, when a client doesn’t show, many cases, that’s an opportunity for you to do more business with them. Now, the client knows they’re not gonna show up. And I think the thing we do way too often is we take it personal. “Ah, they just don’t wanna deal with us. They’re busy.” They’re busy. So, don’t take it personally and use the fact that they didn’t show up as an opportunity to get the next appointment. People are busy, people are distracted, people are gonna forget. And I think what salespeople make the mistake of too often, is when that client doesn’t show up, then they go away. And it’s our job to earn the right to get the opportunity to meet with them.

George: And I’ve found it to be very powerful to remind them that they missed that meeting. And, you know, you’re not really throwing it back into your face, but you kinda are and remind them that they owe you the time and if you brought enough value, you’ll get that other appointment if you have some persistence.

Derron: You will. And many times, if I call a client, I like getting their voicemail because that voicemail gives me an opportunity. I leave them a message and then follow up with a handwritten note that we’re really big on in our company. You follow up the handwritten note that just says, “Hey, sorry I missed you. Left your message. Look forward to talking to you soon.” The next time you call, you’re gonna be different than you would’ve been if they’d answered the phone originally because you took that opportunity to send them a note in the mail.

George: Well, and, you know, you bring up a really good point. I love the thank you card in the mail. Send it out after every order. People aren’t getting a lot of mail nowadays, so it’s something that’s very unique. But the other thing I like to do is to keep some of those same cards in my briefcase and when the guy isn’t there, you just write a little note to ’em and put it in an envelope and ask the receptionist to leave it on their desk.

Derron: Think about this. I offer hope in this sense. It’s never been easier to stand out positively than what it is today because so many people are doing it poorly. But if you wanna stand out, be a thank you note in a pile of bills for a client. So, a client who’s going through their mail, it’s bill, it’s bill, it’s bill, it’s bill. Oh, what’s this? This is something different. They open it up, it’s a note from you in the mail. So, you wanna stand out, be that handwritten note in a stack of bills one day and that they’re going through their mail and you’re gonna stand out very quickly above everyone else.

George: You know, in an upcoming episode, I’m gonna get Devon Hennig, our Vice President of Marketing on the program. He is doing some amazing work with his team around account-based marketing. And when I first read about this account-based marketing thing, I’m like, “Oh, so you actually might send a gift with a brochure about your company to a prospect that hasn’t done business with you before.” And you and I been doing that for years, but it’s really interesting how those small things, they’ve been forgotten, and you’re right, absolutely, that most people are doing it very poorly.

Advice for Experienced Salespeople:

George: So, we got the new salesperson, we’re gonna get him some structure, and now we’ve got the veteran, the grizzled-up old veteran like myself or you, and we’ve been doing it a long time. We find ourselves in a rut. At The Swagger Institute, what is your recommendation for that rep that’s in a rut?

Derron: One of the things we teach is we show you a pyramid and what that healthy pyramid is. And the foundation of a healthy pyramid is activity. And then it’s informational meetings with appointments that funnel stuff to customized proposals. What generally happens with experienced salespeople when they begin to struggle is that pyramid gets flipped. And all of a sudden, the activity is not there. They’re not seeing enough people, they’re only focusing on a few accounts that they think are gonna spend some dollars with ’em. And if you do that over a period of time and the activity wanes, you’re gonna have problems. And what I see with veteran salespeople, when they maybe lose their way a little bit, it nearly always goes back to activity. And they’re not seeing enough people. They’re not… You know, we talk about the old sales funnel, been around forever, but it’s just true. And veteran salespeople get themselves in trouble when the activity begins to really wane.

Sales Insulation

George: So, cancellations are gonna happen. The big word is reducing churn. Churn’s been around for a long time. How do you come back from that? What’s your advice to a rep that just lost a big account for whatever reason?

Derron: Well, I call it sales-insulation. Accounts are always gonna cancel. I mean, there’s different percentages on how much is it gonna cancel every year, but some of it’s gonna go away every year. Sales insulation starts with you being a good prospector. It’s when you don’t prospect that it really hurts you when that account calls up and cancels. If you’ve got plenty of things in the funnel when somebody calls you… And we never want that cancellation, but they’re gonna come and we have to expect it. But if the activity is not there, and you’re not prospecting, and then you get that call, man, it can be a killer.

George: So, sale’s changed more in the last five years than it has in the last 50 years. What do you think is one of the biggest changes that has occurred?

Derron: I think we talked about it a little bit ago. There’s so many things out there. Our clients are confused, they’re more confused than ever and they’re depending on us to help them. Clients aren’t owning anything any longer. You know, the days of a television station, a couple of radio stations, maybe a newspaper, those days are gone. And so, clients are overwhelmed at everything out there available to them. So, what happens is they start spreading a little bit over too many things and they’re no longer getting results because they’re not owning anything. And that’s what I worry about. And I think we’re contributing to that in our own industry right now, as we’re taking the money they have and spreading it out across too many different properties. And we got to help them own something, our clients have to own a message with an audience. And it’s getting real fragmented today.

Effort and Attitude

George: So, you’re doing motivation, you’re doing sales training, you’re doing keynote speeches at events. If someone was interested in getting you to come to their team to do some training for a day, like what’s the curriculum and what are some of the things that you’re offering?

Derron: Well, we start with the basics and we start with… Listen, it starts with effort and attitude and we talk a lot about effort and attitude. We can’t help you fix anything a tactically if your attitude’s poor, if your effort’s not there. So, we start there and then we began to work our way through the basic principles of sales to where we try to funnel at the end towards delivering effective, customized proposals. There’s too many people out there peddling things and we wanna help you be different. We wanna help you understand how, if you identify the needs of the client and you can go back to them with what I call the six most powerful words in sales, which are… And they’re very simple words, George, but they’re “based on what you told me”. And when you can say, “Based on what you told me,” to a client, “Here’s what I recommend,” you’re gonna be different. You’re gonna be different than your competition. And that’s the process we try to take you through to put you in a better position to have success. It’s working. We’re hearing from too many people out there. But, you know, everything we do is about someone else. It’s about the client, the listener, the community, but it starts with us.

George: Well, and I love the fact that you’re walking… You’re talking the talk and walking the walk as the general manager, how many reps do you have at your organization?

Derron: We’ve got 16 reps within our company. And we’ve got some veterans, we’ve got some new ones. They’re all over the place. But the thing we try to help them practice what we preach. And it’s going well. We got good people. And it’s good salespeople, and it’s good sales managers and if you’ve got good people, treat ’em the right way. You know, that’s a big stepping stone to success.

George: So, when you’ve added these new reps, where are you finding that the new talent? I know that that’s always a big challenge of managers, and the owners, and sales, you know, sales VPs. I could use some talent. Where are you finding it?

Derron: I wish I could give you one place. We’ve had some success lately in a couple of areas. One, hiring sales assistants and grooming them for a year, moving them into the sales force. Honestly, we’ve had a couple of really successful transitions from a traffic person that moved into sales. They’d been sitting there seeing this forever. But one of our biggest successes lately that I would really encourage everyone in the radio world to take a look at is when you have some on-air people that have been with you for several years who have built a brand in your region and in your communities who desire to make more money? And we’ve got a couple who are just killing it right now, who have been on the air and are now on the street. And guess what? They’ve got a brand in the community. People know ’em, people trust ’em. They’ve shown they can connect with people. And we’ve given them an opportunity to move into sales and they’re killing it.

George: Well, it’s good to hear that that’s still is a thing because I remember about 26 years ago, I made that move from on-air into sales. Still miss the on-air a little bit. Thanks for joining us on the podcast. Really appreciate it and we’re gonna make sure that inside the notes, we get your website in there so people can reach out to you and I appreciate you taking some time here at the RAB.

Derron: Pleasure, George. It’s always good to see you.


George: Well, Derron believes in making sure that those reps are able to deliver a message to the customer and able to follow through on what they’ve sold. And needs-based selling just keeps coming up over and over again. You’ve gotta be solution-based. You’ve gotta build that relationship with the client. You’ve gotta prove to them through delivering on your promises, over delivering on your promises that you are the person helping their business. It’s an ongoing theme that we have inside the additions of the “Conquer Local” podcast seems to be pretty much every guest talks about those same tactics.

Really appreciated having Derron on the podcasts. Great speaker and a great trainer if you wanna get him into one of your conventions to do some work, I highly recommend him. You could find him online at swaggerinstitute.com. My name is George Leith. I am your host of the “Conquer Local” podcast. Producer Brock doing a great job. Sound engineer, Mr. tBone. Thank you, gentlemen. And we will be back again next Wednesday right here on iTunes, SoundCloud, Google Play or on our website at conquerlocal.com. My name is George Leith. I will see when I see you.

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