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In today's fast-paced business environment, sales leaders are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to engage prospects, close deals, and exceed targets. Mastering effective sales techniques can be the key to unlocking greater success, but how can sales leaders identify the most effective techniques to drive results? In this interview series, we're speaking with CROs, sales professionals, trainers, coaches, and thought leaders to explore "The 5 Most Effective Sales Techniques Leaders Need to Know." As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Grant Van Ulbrich

Dr. Grant Van Ulbrich

Dr. Grant Van Ulbrich

Grant is the global director of sales transformation at Royal Caribbean International and the Founder of SCARED SO WHAT Ltd. He is also the first in the travel and hospitality industry to hold a master’s in Leading Sales Transformation as well as a Doctor of Professional Studies with an emphasis on sales transformation, through the Consalia Sales Business School and the Middlesex University of London. Grant is also a certified sales transformation coach and a founding fellow of the Institute of Sales Professionals.

Thank you for doing this with us! To begin, can you tell us a bit about your backstory and what brought you to this career path?

I started my career in sales back in the late 1990s within the apartment industry after serving in the U.S. Navy for almost 4 years. This was my introductory role leading sales, sales training, and education for apartment rentals throughout the San Francisco Bay Area in California. Several years later, after a skiing accident nearly ended my life, I took a year of recovery before joining the cruise industry. There, I flourished in sales and revenue operations and quickly advanced through the ranks whilst working on cruise vessels around the world for the past 20+ years.

Can you share an interesting or amusing story that has occurred to you in your career so far? What was the lesson or takeaway? 

In 2018, my supervisor asked me to relocate from Miami to Barcelona where I would lead sales improvement and create a sales manual for our international sales force. He thought we had a sales manual already, but one didn’t yet exist.

One of his longtime business colleagues suggested that I go to school to take part in the first master’s program exclusively for sales. When they sat me down and told me I needed to go to school in my late 40s, I nearly had a heart attack! I was a Navy guy… I didn’t have formal university experience and thought I would be a complete failure.

However, little did I know that not only would I graduate and build out the latest sales academy to include sales science and psychology, but I would also go onward to become a doctor in sales transformation, become a certified coach, author, and even a TEDx speaker! Going to school can change your life–at any age! It’s never too late to learn something new.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? Tell us about it!

Yes indeed. During my master’s program, I had to learn about organizational change and how to lead it for my sales teams and organization. However, I had a tough time absorbing that I had to take these models and use them ON my team members. I felt something was critically missing. That missing element was the individual involved. “What about their thoughts, needs, and feelings towards change?” I asked my instructor. People can accept or reject change, but these models do not support that. I was then told to perhaps create my own model. That’s just what I did.

I created the model to be inclusive of the individual. Salespeople are constantly going through and experiencing personal changes from deal rejection, ghosting, not being able to achieve quota, or the assigned key performance indicators and goals set forth by the organization. This causes severe stress and anxiety for our sales teams. The constant pressure from the organization and then the reverberation from the B2B customer puts an intense squeeze on the salesperson caught in the middle. How do I help them manage day-to-day change?

The model is called SCARED SO WHAT. SCARED focuses on your feelings and guides you toward making an informed decision vs. an assumptive one. Then, SO WHAT guides you in building your personal plan of action in how to manage the change outcome you want to achieve. I have assessed this now throughout the world with my own internal sales teams, our B2B customers, and now outward to countless others.

My latest venture has been to convey all of this work in my new book Transforming Sales Management: Lead Sales Teams Through Change, by Kogan Page. The book launched in May 2023 and literally is the first book to feature a complete and inclusive change management instructional guide for individuals and leaders to follow.

Additionally, I’ve taken the SCARED SO WHAT model featured in the book and put it into an app that is now available for individuals to use in managing personal change wherever they are. The app is free for individual use. For organisations, we can customize the app and open other features to make the app more inclusive within the work environment.

This is offered to organisations for less than the price of a cup of coffee for each employee per year! Imagine that. Giving employees the ability to learn how to reduce stress and anxiety, worry less, and be able to make better decisions from the palm of their hand? That’s powerful.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience with sales?

Certainly. In my early shipboard days, my first role onboard was being a port and cruise consultant. My job was to guide and tell our guests about all the various shops and restaurants and important sights to see at each port. We did this job by doing port talks in the theatre on the ship to about 1,000 passengers on the first day of the cruise.

Knowing there had to be a better way to get the message across, I decided to hire the onboard broadcast manager and give him some money to come with me and film the various sights, sounds, and experiences that our guests could enjoy whilst on their vacation. From helicopter rides over Hawaiian volcanos to strolling along on the beach after a nice lunch in Kauai, I wanted to give our guests a sneak peek at what was waiting for them.

I then took that video footage and put it onboard via the television broadcast system in every stateroom. Incredibly, our sales and guest ratings soared! Sales is not just doing the same thing we always have done. Sometimes you have to go out of your way and do something different to support the customer in finding what it is they want and need.

As you can imagine, with over 20+ years in sales generation both onboard and off ships, I’ve come across many great and poor examples of sales practices. Some people say sales is an art, but I say it is a career pathway. It can be strengthened and learned now through a proper degree pathway with a full-on master's in science.

Gone are the days of the 1980s consultative sales tips and tricks to overcome objections, probe people, and close, close, close, the sale. We don’t live there in that time frame any longer. Buyers and sellers have changed with the advancement and availability of the internet, the freely available data and research capabilities of both the buyer and seller, and now AI to help advance the journey.

Sales is no longer the old art of going door-to-door with a suitcase full of wonders and goods. It is an ever-changing career pathway that demands an understanding of the customer's wants and needs whilst focusing on the behaviours and values necessary to sell to those customers in the way they want to be sold to. Times have changed and so must the sales professional.

How do you approach developing a sales pitch that resonates with potential customers and sets you apart from the competition?

Within our account management sales, we sell primarily to our B2B customers. Whilst most account managers start their week by planning excessive agendas, our approach is science-based. We know the points we need to uncover but the first conversations must be about the customer to uncover their wants and needs. Our account managers’ role is to support the accounts in growing their business units. If we achieve that goal and help them to grow, then we will also prosper as we grow with them.

Our approach comes from our partnership with the Consalia Sales Business School of London using their proprietary methodologies I was privileged to learn in the sales master’s program.

When selling to different types of customers such as small businesses versus large enterprises, how do you differentiate your sales approach?

Your sales approach must be genuine and unique for each customer and client. We sell primarily through account management structures. We use a methodology that allows us to think of our customer's needs first. No matter if they are large or small, when you focus on growing their portfolio, supporting their customer's needs, and championing overall satisfaction and service in supporting them, everyone wins.

If you are working with a cookie-cutter boilerplate PowerPoint presentation someone made months ago to use with every customer, you might as well stop. Each customer deserves a unique perspective and relationship. It is our job and responsibility to support everyone uniquely, individually, and professionally with the highest sales ethics.

Regarding sales ethics, we also support our customers and our salespeople by becoming certified sales professionals that have ethical accreditation by learning and passing the F.A.I.R. Ethics accreditation program offered by the Institute of Sales Professionals. Every customer deserves to buy from someone that has invested in sales education, and continued professional development (CPD), and is ethically bound to deliver service and sales ethics. The testing is not easy and yes, even I do it myself.

How do you handle objections during the sales process, and what tactics have you found to be most successful in overcoming them?

We no longer believe in teaching the 80s consultative tips and tricks on how to “overcome” or “close” someone. We just don’t live in that time anymore. When was the last time you went to buy something and a salesperson went hard at you to get you to buy something? When you experience this, what is the first thing you do? You tell them to stop, say no thank you, or you simply leave. Sound familiar? It’s because we don’t want to be “Sold To”.

We don’t want someone to force sell us something we may not want or don’t need. Therefore, with our sales team learning about sale science, values, and the beliefs and behaviours that we need to show to customers to foster relationships, we have a much more relevant sales experience within today’s modern environment.

Relationships are key and they always have been. But more so today living in what is known as the “emocracy”. This is described by Dr. Julian Birkinshaw and his work on how we are beyond the world of bureaucracy and now are living in a time where both the customer and the seller have equal co-advantages. It is a time when we must relate to each other’s appeal and sense of emotions within the sales and buying experience. Consumers are now making buying decisions based on emotional aspects or aspirations toward a good or service. Relationships and appealing to those emotional aspects are critically necessary.

You cannot achieve this by merely “handling objections.” We must relate and express empathy, care, and concern. We must sell in a way that is so authentic that we are not afraid to lose the sale but are focusing on ensuring the customer gets what they want or need. In the end, if they don’t buy from us today, through our authenticity, they will refer us to others if not return to us themselves.

Rapid-Fire Question Round

Rapid-Fire Question Round

What quality is most important in a leader? Authenticity

What bad work habit should cease to exist? Fear management

What other company are you admiring right now? Consalia Sales Business School

What are you reading right now? The International Journal of Sales Transformation

What is the most valuable software in your stack? Our sales team apps with 2VizCon

Can you share a time when you failed to close a deal despite your best efforts, and what you learned from the experience?

In my early 20s and 30s, I have failed to “close” the deal many times. Often upon reflection and through what I’ve learned, it was because I pushed too hard. Each time I pushed and lost the deal, it was because I was using the old-fashioned tips and tricks, and listening to what others were telling me to do. It just never felt normal for me and was not part of my values. The conversations must be real, they must be honest, and they must be about what the consumer wants–not what I think they want. Fortunately, I no longer do that. I made it a point to make sure my salespeople do not do that either.

What metrics do you use to measure the effectiveness of your sales techniques, and how do you identify areas for improvement?

There are numerous metrics to use as I suspect is the case for any individual business or organization. Key Performance Indicators or KPIs are always necessary to ensure the sales force is actively achieving the base functions and needs of the organization. Some of course may include revenue goals and attainment, quarterly forecasting against those goals, number of customers within the pipeline, actions and activities that are performed and benchmarked, calls, attempts, reached, and conversion for our call center teams. There are quite a few standards.

But I also think it’s incredibly important to focus on personal and professional development. Therefore, I also include Continued Professional Development or CPD points attained through learning and accreditation. As I mentioned earlier, we have a partnership with the ISP or Institute of Sales Professionals. They accredit our internal sales academy by awarding CPD points to individuals once they learn a new course or skillset for personal and professional development. We highlight this practice and share the monthly results within the salesforce and reward our teams for their personal development.  Salespeople are not just there for the money. It’s great and yes, we want and need it, but there has to be something more – they need to feel they are growing and maturing and gaining professional and personal knowledge. I must enrich that journey.

What role does technology or AI play in the sales process, and how do you leverage it to enhance your or your team's sales performance?

I can tell you it plays a significant part. But as our cruise industry is extremely competitive, I will not be sharing any internal secrets! Let’s just say, if you are not advancing with technology, then you are not advancing.

Based on your experience and success, what are the 5 Most Effective Sales Techniques Leaders Need to Know?

My “techniques” are more of leadership responsibilities via traits that people want to experience and receive from their supervisors to foster an inclusive and developing atmosphere of personal and professional growth and development. They are as follows:

1. Practice and demonstrate a transformational leadership approach. Telling people what to do is not leading. Anyone can do that. But people do not follow transactional leaders. Leading transformationally means you are willing to do the job with them. And when they fall, you pick them up and teach them. When they soar, you give them the credit and not yourself. You measure yourself based on the number of people that climb past you and champion them on their way.

2. Be their coach: The individual doesn’t win if you are always there giving your advice. When you coach, you transfer ownership. There are times when you need to share advice and that’s fine. However, if you have the chance to ask an open question and use coaching, so they can find the answer themselves, then you all win. Ownership and development are fostered in a coaching environment.

3. Express humility and be vulnerable. Gone are the days when the macho-feared leadership style is called for. It is gone and truly never had a place where anyone developed and thrived. Being a humble leader in sharing your skillsets whilst developing others allows for a connection and a professional “relationship” to be fostered. Being HUMAN allows us to see through our experiences that all things are possible. Allowing someone into your world can unlock hidden possibilities and potential when a person can see a pathway forward that may be like their own. People follow leaders who express these traits.

4. Learn change management and foster change inclusion. Learning for yourself how to manage personal change allows you to support your sales team when they are experiencing frustration, fear, and anxiety from situations of personal change. SCARED SO WHAT method is the world’s first – learn it, use it, and share it to foster growth and unlock opportunities.

5. Be Authentic: As a leader, you never recover trust and respect when you do not live or lead authentically. Trust is one of the most influential values between a customer and a salesperson. It’s the same for a salesperson to their supervisor or leader. If you are not authentic in what you practice and preach, then you lose the trust and respect of the salespeople you oversee. This can have tragic consequences for you personally and professionally. People want you to be you!

We’d love to know, what is the most effective sales technique you've used to close a deal, and how did you come up with it?

The framework comes from the Consalia Sales Business School and is a licensable program complete with tools that support global account management. The framework is called the Winning Value Proposition™ (WVP) program. The components of the account management program feature a vast array of account management tools that support a foundation known as THEM, US, FIT, PROOF. Our team members use this methodology and practices to support our customers in their sales and buying decisions and working relationships to help them, and ourselves, grow together.

Notice, the foundation starts with THEM. That’s because, in typical sales processes, a salesperson starts the discussion off with what they have to sell. That does not fit in today’s emocracy. As account managers, our role is to help our accounts achieve their wants, their needs, their goals. That’s how the relationship should be supported and grown. Then we follow the remaining foundation pathway until we achieve PROOF that our efforts work for all involved.

Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?

The biggest gift I would love to share is one of my top 5 effective techniques and that is leading change management to support the sales individual. It works not only for our sales teams but for everyone. You can follow me on this journey and learn so much more by visiting me at www.scaredsowhat.com. Be sure to download the SCARED SO WHAT app and try it out for yourself and of course, you can get my new book with a discount offer on the website as well.

How can our readers further follow your work online? 

Connect with me there and on LinkedIn by sending me a connection request.


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Phil Gray
By Phil Gray

Philip Gray is the COO of Black and White Zebra and Founding Editor of The RevOps Team. A business renaissance man with his hands in many departmental pies, he is an advocate of centralized data management, holistic planning, and process automation. It's this love for data and all things revenue operations landed him the role as resident big brain for The RevOps Team.

With 10+ years of experience in leadership and operations in industries that include biotechnology, healthcare, logistics, and SaaS, he applies a considerable broad scope of experience in business that lets him see the big picture. An unapologetic buzzword apologist, you can often find him double clicking, drilling down, and unpacking all the things.