439: The Fundamentals of Managing 1000 Salespeople at 21 Years Old | Nick Kane

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A renowned thought-leader on the fundamentals of managing salespeople and Co-Founder of Janek Performance Group, Nick Kane joins George Leith this week on the Conquer Local Podcast. At just 21 years of age, he managed 1,000 salespeople. Nick is widely regarded for his ability to distill the sales process and block out the excess smoke and mirrors. He lives in quantitative results and direct, A to B relationships- continuously enhancing what works. He has trained 15,000+ professionals worldwide and Co-Authored the book Critical Selling: How Top Performers Accelerate the Sales Process and Close More Deals. In this episode, he and George go over emotion and defensiveness in handling objections, how to reduce complacency in high performers, and how research has truly become Nick’s best friend.

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George: I’ve got a treat for you this week on the Conquer Local podcast. We’ve been trying to get Nick Kane on the show for quite some time. He’s the co-founder of the Janek Performance Group. I actually found out about Janek by speaking to one of our large customers that had Nick and his partner, Justin, come in and do a deployment and put a program in place. Nick and Justin wrote a book called “Critical Selling”, which I believe is the foundation for everything inside Janek Performance. They do deployments for large Fortune 100 companies, but they also have trained over 15,000 sales professional worldwide, and they have offices all over the world. So, we’re gonna get Nick on the show here in a moment and find out about how was he managing 1000 salespeople at 21, just one little nugget that Brett, our producer, found out about Nick. Plus, we got a ton of other great questions that we’re going to ask him, including you might get a little bit smarter about objection handling. That’s all coming up next on this week’s edition of the Conquer Local podcast with Nick Kane, co-founder of the Janek Performance Group. Another edition of the Conquer Local podcast. This week, we’re off to Las Vegas. I’d love to be actually going to Las Vegas. I miss the little things, like just a trip to Vegas play some blackjack. Nick Kane is joining us, the co-founder of Janek Performance Group, all the way from Las Vegas. Nick, thanks for coming on the show.

Nick: Pleasure to be here with you.

George: Nick, I gave the audience a bit of an overview in the intro of Janek, but I’d love to hear from you. You and your partner started this organization. You’re doing this a sales performance work all over the world. I’d love to hear from you as to how you guys came up with this idea and a little bit more about Janek. I think that would be valuable for our audience.

About Janek Performance Group: Sales Training

Nick: That sounds great, yeah. So, yeah, a little bit about Janek, we’re a full-service global sales performance company, so we do work with clients across the globe. Our mission in life, as an organization, is to work with organizations to improve sales performance, right? So, we do that in a few different ways. Primarily, it’s about increasing skills, behaviors, and attitudes of sellers and sales leaders through the training and coaching that we offer. We develop intellectual property, leveraging research and field testing that we do around top sales performance, and then we deployed that training, again, across our clients in a variety of ways. And then, we’re also an advisory firm at Janek as well, so we offer consulting services on really all things sales. So, any anything that has to do with improved sales performance is really our expertise.

George: And I see some massive logos on your website, definitely dealing with Fortune 100 organizations. When you go in and do a deployment, what does it kind of look like, a day in the life of Janek?

Nick: Yeah, so that could take shape in a few different ways, but I would say most commonly, when we’re delivering sales training to an organization, the first step is to really understand the way they go to market, the way they sell, common objections they face, clients they sell to, the industry they work in, et cetera. So, the term we use is to gain situational fluency of that organization in terms of how they go to market. And there’s a series of methodologies we’ll do to gather that information, interviews, surveys, onsite meetings in normal times, but perhaps some virtual meetings at this stage, document review, et cetera. So, there’s a variety of things we’re doing to gather that information, listening to sales calls, going out on sales calls if possible, to really gain that deep understanding. And then, once that information is gathered, then we are, you know, leveraging that knowledge to customize existing curriculum that we have in our library and deploying that across the organization.

How Publishing A Book Establishes Credibility and Cements Knowledge

George: You wrote the book “Critical Selling”, and when I go to the website, I see these different critical components inside there. Tell us a little bit about the book and, you know, what was the antithesis of coming up with that piece of work?

Nick: Yeah, so “Critical Selling” is really the flagship curriculum and methodology that we offer at Janek. It is our most widely requested and most widely used program. The program provides skills and best practices for each stage of the sales process, from planning to closing, handling objections and servicing customers. And really, the intent of the book came after the deployment of the training curriculum in the marketplace, but the reason to publish the book was really to provide access to sellers and, you know, sales professionals, sales leaders, to be able to get that critical selling methodology, even without having to go through the training formally through their corporation. So, we wanted to get it in the hands of more people, to be able to continue to up-scale the sales landscape.

George: I remember in my early twenties, I was asked to manage people, and I had no bloody clue what I was doing. I notice in the notes that our team came up with, you were managing a team of 1000 salespeople at 21. How the heck did you do that?

Nick: Yeah, it was, when you’re in it and you’re doing it, you know, at that time, you don’t quite realize what you’re into and how overwhelming that could be. But, yeah, it was one of those things that I started off at that organization right out of school. Sales came very naturally to me, and it was just the meeting of, just a very fortunate situation. The organization was growing. My talent lent itself well to that organization. It just was an upward trajectory from there.

George: And over your career, in the notes, it says you’ve trained over 15,000 sales professionals. So, these are in the various deployments that you have with these organizations, but I also think it’s important, and unless I’ve completely missed this, you offer online training as well, if individual sellers wanted to learn some of the critical selling components or curriculum.

Nick: That is absolutely correct, yeah. So, we deliver training in two different ways. We call them private engagements or public workshops. So, private is kind of what we described earlier. Fortune 100 company, smaller, small to midsize business, but we’re training that organization exclusively. We also offer public workshops in 20 cities across North America. These are open enrollment workshops, smaller engagements, very intimate, and individuals or small teams from an organization can sign up for those workshops at any time. We also deliver those virtually, as well, on a regular schedule. Every 30 to 60 days, we’re running Critical Selling, Critical Teleselling, and we also have a curriculum called Selling Virtually, which we run through the public workshop format as well, so people can enroll, you know, based on the calendar.

How Sellers Are Causing Objections And Avoiding This Mistake

George: I’m excited, because, in the notes, it says we’re gonna talk about handling objections, and I love getting sales experts like you on the show, and then we can give the listeners a tangible takeaway. And maybe that tangible takeaway is I’m just gonna be better at handling objections, so let’s talk about objections. And you’ve got an interesting take that the seller might actually be causing these objections.

Nick: Yeah, yeah, objections happen. In our research, it tells us that objections happen for a few different reasons. It could either be a misconception, misunderstanding of the solution, or it could just be the communication that was provided by the seller. In most cases, or in many cases, I’ll say, sellers are the cause for that objection, mainly because they are moving to solutions or a features and benefits presentation or a pitch too early in the process. Customers are not comfortable with that solution just yet. They see no value in the solution. The seller’s just trying to provide a pitch without a clear understanding of how that solution meets needs or solves problems, or, you know, reduces pain, let’s say, and typically, that creates defensiveness from the customer, and that’s where those objections start to happen, right? Heightened emotion, heightened defensiveness, because they feel like they’re being sold rather than consulted with.

George: And it’s interesting that this is still a problem, because I think we’ve all been talking about this for quite some time. If you spend more time at the top of funnel, you spend more time clearly understanding the needs of the customer, you spend more time building that trust and rapport. Why do you think that this is still happening?

Nick: You’d be surprised, right? I mean, this consultative selling isn’t a new concept, right? This idea of leading with an understanding and needs is something most sales professionals and sales leaders are familiar with, but it’s much easier said than done. And I think most sales professionals have a tendency to want to revert back to where they’re most comfortable, which is their products, the features and benefits of those products, and a general product pitch. It does take a bit of art, right, to want to spend time really understanding the customer, their needs, their challenges, their pains, and even most importantly now, where they are in the buying process. You know, buyers have access to more information. They are more educated coming into the sales process. Some studies show that they’re as far as 70 to 80% down that decision-making tree before they ever engage with a sales professional, right? So, it’s really important that a seller take the time to understand where they are, provide the right level of education at the right time, and when they don’t, again, that’s when objections like this come up. So, I would say easier said than done. It is a skill that requires muscle memory. It requires consistent development, but top performing sellers, when you observe them, you clearly see that art in action. 

George: We’re doing some work internally. Our sales org is growing quite dramatically as we continue to grow our company, and one of the challenges that we’ve been working on is a repeatable onboarding and training process for those sellers. And one of the components that we worked on was customer journey mapping, and I’ve done a number of those throughout my career, and I found the funny part was, as we started to deploy it into the organization, it was the tenured senior sellers that were breaking that piece. You’re like, don’t you guys consider where the customer is in the journey? And you know, one rep the other day, I’ll give him a lot of credit, he was very honest. He said, “I just forgot. I just forgot to put myself in the shoes of the customer.” It actually is pretty common in my experience. What has your experience been? This isn’t just, you know, a snowflake or something out there, whether that is just one seller. It actually happens a lot.

Nick: Yeah, I think it’s funny that you say that. I hear that from clients and sales leaders all the time. There’s this misconception that tenured folks, you know, those that have more experience in sales, tend to do things better. In my opinion, sometimes it’s the opposite, right? Like they tend to form bad habits, let’s say, or they’re so used to selling a certain way, which is, again, sort of leading with features and benefits, being assumptive around the needs of the customer, being assumptive around how their solution meets those needs, and they start to lose sight of the importance of being viewed as a consultant, being viewed as a trusted advisor. So, I think our viewpoints are very consistent there. I think an organization that wants to establish a methodology, a consistent onboarding and training curriculum, best and cost organizations understand the importance of having that consistency, regardless of experience, when somebody new comes in. And I’ll add one other thought to think about, too, and this is something we’ve seen as a trend, especially the last year with COVID and everything that we’re all experiencing, the talent pool has shrunk tremendously. It’s much more difficult to find strong talent, so even this idea of bringing experienced people in is much more difficult, and certainly much more costly. So, I think organizations are realizing they have to hire with a bit less experience, put the right training program in place, just like what you described, George, is very much in line with top performing organizations.

George:I wonder, and I’ve been looking through to see your background, I know you’ve been doing this a long time and you guys are experts at this, and that’s why I was excited to get you on the show and get some of your learnings. Why is sales, and some of the things that, probably, you and I take for granted, because we’ve been doing it for a long time, why isn’t it more a part of business training? Like, you know, we get these folks that come from a university or college or post-secondary, and they’ve taken a business course, and then we have to go in and give them foundational sales training. You’re sitting here going, you have a business degree. How the hell wasn’t this part of the curriculum? Why do you think that is?

Nick: You know, in some organizations, that’s not the case. You know, I think those that are more sophisticated, sales has a seat at the table, right, and they are, you know, shoulder to shoulder with the C-level organization. But I still think sales is just viewed as a, sort of the stepchild, if you will, right? Like, it’s just not, for whatever reason, it’s not viewed in the same way as other departments within an organization, operations, finance, even marketing in some cases. But I think that is changing, right? I really do. I think, as organizations bring in additional departments like sales enablement, sales operations, and they’re bridging that gap between the C-level and the marketing team, I think those organizations that are more sophisticated understand the true value of sales and the sales organization, and they’re starting to get the seat more and more at the table.

Managing Complacency In Top Performers: The Tom Brady Method

George: I was thinking the other day about a couple tenured sellers that I’m working with on a daily basis, and we’re trying to build out some new skill sets so that George doesn’t have to do the enterprise, every enterprise call. We’ve got a couple other folks that could do the enterprise call, and we were going through a curriculum, and one of the reps who’s been there for a long time, earning very, very good living, you know, top performer, they’re like, kind of rolling their eyes. Why the heck do we have to do this? And, you know, I said to him, do you really think that Tiger Woods, when he was winning all of those championships, wasn’t on the driving range? And I find, I just want to see if you can validate this, I find that those tenured sellers, they get bad habits. They don’t like being coached around it, because why would, I’m making quarter of a million dollars a year? You know, that mindset. But if they just worked on some of those skills, my feeling is they would make way more than that. Like, they’re actually limiting themselves. This is pretty common, right?

Nick: Yeah, I would say it is. You know, I think sometimes sellers that are high performers, you know, tend to rest on their laurels, if you will, right? But I think, like any other profession, sales should be no different. You have to keep honing your craft and keep getting better. I think sales is no different than any other profession that is constantly changing, no different than the doctor has to keep up with certifications, or an attorney or any professional out there. There’s ongoing education that is required to stay up to date on, CPAs, you know, up to date on what the industry is telling them. Changes in sales, to me, is no different. I just think sellers, for whatever reason, tend to rely on their previous wins, right, versus focusing on that growth mindset that is really valuable. But I think you give some great insight around Tiger Woods or any professional athlete. I mean, look at, you know, at the start of the football season. Tom Brady’s the first one in the locker room, looking at plays, working with the coaching staff and the GM around players they can bring in. He’s not just stopping, because he’s won so much in the past, and he continues to work on this craft consistently. Salespeople shouldn’t view it any differently.

George: I noticed, as I’ve been watching your organization from when we first met, you’re constantly adding new content to your various channels, and I see that research is a big part of your practice. Give us a little idea into the depth and the bench strength that you folks have, because I know there’s a lot more than you and your co-founder there. You’ve built out a heck of an org.

Nick: Yeah, yeah. Research and field testing definitely lives at the core of what we do. We’re always trying to offer solutions that we know are proven, that reduce risk when you purchase solutions from us. and that you know that are going to drive results. In total, our team across the organization is around 60 in total. That includes those that work in Vegas, but certainly across the country and abroad. We also have a few franchise partners in other countries as well. We have one in the Middle East in Jordan, and then we have one in Greece as well that represents our European clients.

George: You mentioned earlier that the pool of talent is shrinking and it’s harder to find top talent. I noticed that talent management is one of the key components of your offering. I assume, so I’d love for you to validate this. I assume that this is because your customers are saying we need you to come in and help us build a process to attract talent. Is that something you’ve done from day one? Or is this something that you guys evolved into with your organization?

Nick: No, it was added over time. You know, as needs of our clients became more evident and they became complimentary to the other services we offered, those additional services were added. But, yeah, under that umbrella, we offer assessments that help an organization bring on the right talent in the right roles, right? So, help scientifically validate likelihood of success of that candidate in that role. We use those assessments for development as well. We can write, you know, competencies related to a job role, interview questions, you know, anything that’s required to attract and acquire, and then, ultimately, retain that talent within an organization.

More Than Commission: Intangible Benefits That Your Salesforce Is Looking For

George: One of the things that I saw here recently that I thought was quite smart, and I’m wondering if you folks are adopting the same type of an idea, is when the job posting is placed, rather than that usual list on the scorecard of the items, talking about intangible benefits of the organization, because everybody has that laundry list, right? Are you finding that you’ve got to be a lot more creative to attract that talent?

Nick: Absolutely, yeah. I think candidates in today’s environment are looking for a lot more than just that standard list of job responsibilities and standard benefits and that sort of thing. They want to buy into the organization’s mission. They want to buy into their culture. They want to be sold if you will, right, on the organization that they’re joining, and again, especially in this environment, where they have some options. So, yeah, we are getting creative in terms of how we write the ads, where we place the ads, you know, the selection around copy and that sort of thing to really make sure that we’re attracting that talent, yes.

George: So, a number of challenges in the sales business right now. Janek Performance Group’s come up with a great way to solve a bunch of these, with the “Critical Selling” book and curriculum and the various training and programs. Now, we did mention that you’ll do a deployment for a large organization, so for our sales leaders that are running large organizations, Nick is somebody that you might want to reach out to, but also we have that individual training that is available. How, if I were a sales professional, and I like what I heard today, how would I be able to get access to that, Nick?

Get In Touch With Nick Kane And Janek Performance Group

Nick: Yeah, so I think the best way to do that is visit our website at janek.com. It’s J-A-N-E-K dot com. On the website, you’ll find the full calendar for upcoming workshops, if individuals want to enroll, or if a small business or large organization wants to inquire about private training, there’s a variety of ways to contact us through the website. I’ll also mention, too, we publish a lot of content at no cost, white papers, blogs, eBooks, research reports, et cetera, just a variety of, videos, a variety of content that’s on our website in the insights section, so if you’re a sales professional out there or a sales leader that’s just looking for additional ways to improve your performance, it’s a great resource for you. Encourage you to take advantage of it.

George: Great, and anywhere that you get books, you can find the book “Critical Selling”. It’s Nick and his partner, Justin, that have put this together, and we really appreciate you taking time out of your day, Nick. I was excited to have you on the show and get you introduced to the Conquer Local audience so they could learn more about Janek Performance Group and the great work that you folks are doing. And next time I’m in Vegas, you and I are gonna go grab a steak. That is a promise.

Nick: That sounds great, George. Thanks again for having me.


George: Well, first off, it’s pretty easy to tell Nick is a pro and has been doing this for a while. I admire their organization. If you look on the website, we’re talking about a global sales training company. They work with some of the biggest companies on earth. And you know, when they talk about that going in and doing a deployment and delivering a sales training plan to an organization, they’re really looking for that situational fluency that Nick talked about, and what that is is needs analysis, taking a good, hard look at how they’re going to market. So, you’re like, okay, how does this apply to me? I’m a local seller selling to hardware stores in Ballarat, Australia. You need to understand their situational fluency. You need to get involved with the owner of that business and understand how they’re going to market, the way they sell, who are their customers, and how might we go find more of those, or how might we work on their virtual doorway? So, what I would love in talking to somebody like a Nick, that is basically selling their services and their consulting to large organizations, is we can learn things that could be deployed in any transaction that we’re having. So, there’s a new phrase for you, situational fluency, from the folks at Janek. The other piece was this objections piece, and, you know, I’ve talked a lot about handling objections over the years. I’ll never forget this training I was at with a sales trainer from Xerox, and I love sales trainers of tangible objects, especially like photocopier sales people that have been training in that space. And I’ll never forget this woman, her name was Elizabeth, and what she said was, “The prospect that that I don’t know what to do with is someone who won’t give me an objection.” And she said, “Without an objection, you have nowhere to go.” You know, I call it presenting to a Sphinx. It’s pretty tough to get a response from a Sphinx. Just go to Egypt and try it. So, what you need to do is to be looking for those objections and then knowing how to deal with them. And a lot of it is you haven’t listened properly, or you haven’t presented the message properly, or you haven’t built enough trust, or you’re trying to rush it through the pipeline. And you’ll note that Nick didn’t talk about rookies. He talked about the veteran tenured salespeople he finds when he goes into these large organizations. That’s where the bad habits have happened. And, you know, he talked about them creeping in. I actually think they come rushing in. The bad habits rush into the organization, and then you’ve got those tenured sales reps that, oh, I’m looking at another job. Why is that? Well, I don’t think I’m gonna earn what I earned last year. It’s actually on them, because they have these bad habits. They’re not running the sales process that they know is effective. It also is this thing of misconception and miscommunication. They rush, and it’s because maybe they haven’t hit quota in the last 45 days, and they’re feeling some anxiety around that and the manager’s putting pressure on them, so that leads to heightened emotion and defensiveness when it comes to the salesperson. So, you know, a lot of times, when people go into objection handling, it’s like new sales rep, we need to teach them how to handle the objections. And what Nick was talking about, and I asked about it a couple times, he always went to the tenured reps, that it’s those seasoned sales reps that you fully expect know how to handle these situations, where you have to remind them of what good looks like. Just a great episode and a great organization. I encourage you to go to the speakers notes to learn about the book “Critical Selling” and that entire curriculum, and what I found, and Nick mentioned it at the end, they produce a ton of content that is just on their insights tab. So, maybe you’ve got some problems you’re trying to solve in your day to day operations, or maybe it’s just you as an individual contributor that are looking to hone your skills, go to Janek. We’re gonna put the URL in the show notes. Go to their website, go to the insights tab, and there is just a plethora of great content there that you can do some learning on, or reach out to Nick and Justin and see if you can get them to do a deployment for you in your organization if you see fit. We’re really excited to continue to bring these top sales training leaders to the Conquer Local ecosystem. We think it’s really valuable for our listeners to hear from folks like Nick and his organization that deal with sales teams all over the world, and some of the common trends and common practices and what good looks like, that you can then deploy some of those learnings in your day to day. It’s the Conquer Local podcast. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.