Nov 8, 2021 • Podcast

What is Bulletproof Selling? with Shawn Rhodes

Paul talks to nationally syndicated columnist, speaker, former marine, and author of Bulletproof Selling, Shawn Rhodes.

Show Notes 

Hope is not a strategy. Replace hope with certainty.

“What things do you need to learn during this call to justify not only their time (your prospect’s time) but your time, because your time is valuable as a salesperson as well.” Shawn Rhodes

Do you know the difference between a sales process and a sales system?

“What you plan for today and what you think is a best practice as a sales leader or a senior salesperson may not be the thing that’s really going to work best for your team.” Shawn Rhodes

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What is Bulletproof Selling? with Shawn Rhodes

“I was following a team of U.S. Marines into a house. They were doing a lot of house clearing and Fallujah in 2004. And what that means is that they weren’t walking in there with brooms and cleaning materials. I mean, there were people in the house, their job was to get out of the house and those people did not want to leave. So, when I saw these Marines go into these very darkened buildings, they’d never been in there before, they’d never been up that stairwell or peaked around that blind curve, and yet—and you’ve seen this in any war movie you’ve ever seen, Paul—where they actually become kind of like one central mind, where rifles are pointing in every which direction, but nobody’s flagging another Marine. Everybody’s moving as a singular unit, singular entity.

And when these folks would come out of that building, I’d ask him, you know, “How are you able to do that?” And we realized it wasn’t because they had superpowers; it wasn’t because they could mind-meld. It was really because of all of the times that their predecessors hadn’t been bulletproof.” Shawn Rhodes

Paul: On today’s show, we have an exciting guest. His name is Shawn Rhodes. Now, Shawn Rhodes leveraged his former life as a war correspondent to become and international expert in how the best teams continuously improve pipelines and performance. He’s a Tampa-based TedX speaker.

Now, his work on studying teams in more than two-dozen countries (some of the most dangerous places on the planet, by the way) has been published in new outlets including Time, CNN, NBC, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and Inc. Magazine. His clients have included Deloitte, Con-Agra, John Deere, and dozens of similar businesses.

Shawn is also a nationally syndicated columnist with the Business Journals and author of the books, Pivot Point – Turn on a Dime without Sacrificing Results; Universal Export – a Guide for Over-achievers and Working Less and Enjoying More. And his newest book, Bulletproof Selling which is all about systemizing sales for the battlefield of business.

I’m thrilled to have Shawn on the show today. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Paul: Hello friends. Welcome back to another episode of the Q and A Sales Podcast. On today’s episode, we have the privilege of Shawn Rhodes joining us. Shawn, how you doing today?

Shawn: It is a beautiful day, sir. How’re you doing?

Paul: I’m doing great. I want to share with the group how we first met. So, for the podcast community here, I had the privilege of hearing Shawn speak at a conference—I think it was the Building Material Distributor Association, probably three or four years ago—and that’s when you were talking about Pivot and I was just gripped by your stories. And just listen to you speak, it was wonderful. So I, unfortunately though, had the opportunity to follow Shawn right afterwards. So I had to speak right after Shawn, which is an unfortunate position to be in. But yeah, that’s where we first met was talking about a Pivot and we just got to know a little bit about our business. But would you mind just sharing a little background about your company and what you do, Shawn?

Shawn: Yeah. I was a little non-traditional path to get into sales these days. So my life, my career started off as a war correspondent. I was enlisted in the U. S. Marines and my job was to embed inside of their combat teams. And that took me to more than two dozen countries, multiple combat tours. And my job was to study how these men and women were able to achieve the impossible—go into a building that was full of people that wanted to do them harm. And more often than not, they’d bring all of the other Marines back out in one piece. And the Marine Corps and the Department of Defense said, “We need to know more about how that happens.” So I began studying best practices: how they shared them, how they constantly adapted and iterated. All things that good salespeople do.

And then, when I began to start my own business career and path, and started consulting with other organizations, we realized that that operational mindset of constantly getting better, even if it’s just a little bit every day, was so helpful for most companies. But the real magic, the real fairy dust if you will, where [it] really unlocks a lot of energy and power, is when you apply that into the revenue generating areas of a business—when you allow salespeople access to that methodology, to that way of being.

And so now, I help make sales teams bulletproof, helping them capture processes and systems and implement them in a way that gets them miles ahead of their competition without needing to invest $5 million in a new piece of software.

Paul: Man, absolutely. And you know, I do love the book Bulletproof Selling. I listened to the Audible version and what I was hoping to kick this off with is really just maybe explain, what is Bulletproof Selling, and give everyone just an overview.

Shawn: So the time when it really crystallized for me, I was following a team of U.S. Marines into a house. They were doing a lot of house clearing and Fallujah in 2004. And what that means is that they weren’t walking in there with brooms and cleaning materials. I mean, there were people in the house, their job was to get out of the house and those people did not want to leave. So, when I saw these Marines go into these very darkened buildings, they’d never been in there before, they’d never been up that stairwell or peaked around that blind curve, and yet—and you’ve seen this in any war movie you’ve ever seen, Paul—where they actually become kind of like one central mind, where rifles are pointing in every which direction, but nobody’s flagging another Marine. Everybody’s moving as a singular unit, singular entity.

And when these folks would come out of that building, I’d ask him, you know, “How are you able to do that?” And we realized it wasn’t because they had superpowers; it wasn’t because they could mind-meld. It was really because of all of the times that their predecessors hadn’t been bulletproof. And what I mean by that is, anytime a Marine is injured or even close to being injured in a situation like that, they take it very seriously because it’s life and death on the line for these folks.

And so, they capture what happened and what they could do differently next time in order to not get injured, not lose a teammate or to not have that close call. And instead of just saying, “Well, that’s great. Let’s put it on a shelf somewhere or get it on the whiteboard. Maybe we’ll get around to it,” they immediately And by doing that, they’re staying miles ahead of their competition, which can’t think like this, can’t react like this. And if you think about doing that in a field of sales, it’s capturing the objections that you hear, capturing the challenges that you encounter as a salesperson every single week. And not just getting that on a notebook or bringing it up with your sales manager once a quarter, but figuring out, “How do we take some small step to solving this today?” And if we can do that, then we can be bulletproof salespeople as well.

Paul: Man, Shawn, that is powerful. Especially that whole idea of continuous improvement—getting better. It reminded me of something I read the other day. And you mentioned, we can’t wait until once a quarter to get together and talk about how we need to improve. And you may be familiar with this given your military background, but in the aviation industry, there’s called the 1-in-60 rule. So when a plane takes off, a plane takes off, and let’s say it veers just one degree off course, which doesn’t seem like much, but for every 60 miles they travel one degree off, they end up being one mile off from their intended destination. So you could see how quickly could stack up on a cross-country flight, cross-world flight, whatever it may be.

And what’s interesting about that is you think about how that parallels salespeople. And, as you mentioned, they’re constantly looking to get better, but if they’re only getting better or focusing on one habit every three months, they’re going to veer off course and it’s harder to get back on track. So, really interesting concept. I love it.

And one thing I noticed in your book, and I’ve heard you mentioned this before, is that hope is not a strategy. And my question for you, I have a couple of thoughts—Why do salespeople default to hope versus having an actual strategy in place? And I’ve got a couple thoughts, but I’d love to hear your perspective on this.

Shawn: Yeah. The reason that we find most salespeople default to hope is because they’ve never been shown another way. When you think about the industry of sales, most of us are dropped into our first sales role, whether it’s inside or outside, we might be handed a group of leads and say, “All right,” you know, “go sell stuff,” and we don’t quite understand what we’re selling, what benefit it has, so we have to figure it out on the fly. A lot of the sales positions are very much sink or swim. And even if you have training, think about that, was it three months? Was it six months? Was it, you know—. Some companies are going 18 months of training before they release a salesperson into the wild, so to speak.

Still, after that, training is done, it’s like, “We’ve given you what we’ve given you. Go make it work.” And for so many salespeople, it forces them to flounder. It causes a lot of lost revenue. And when you think about the other side of a career, Paul, when somebody’s been in their field for 30 years—and I know you and I both know salespeople that have been at it a long time—these folks are so naturally good, they can walk into a sales meeting with nothing but a blank sheet of paper, if that. And I asked myself, ‘How are they able to do that when these junior salespeople, which might have a higher IQ score, might have a higher standardized test score in every area, can’t make that happen. And it’s because that senior salesperson has learned, through a lot of bitter, lost sales what not to do.

And so, the question is, how do we replace hope with the systems, the certainty that that senior salesperson has been able to develop over decades of a career? It doesn’t happen overnight, but it allows us to, one little piece of a sales process at a time, to replace hope with systems in finding new leads, in reaching out to them, in driving meetings, in providing value, in negotiating and in generating referrals. There’s no place of a sales process that this can’t apply to. But if we start to replace hope with certainty in just one or two areas, we start to see really massive results, because we’re no longer having to hope. We remember what we heard on that great podcast, or hope we remembered what we heard when Paul was on stage in front of us that one time. Instead, it’s taking what you teach and implementing it in a way that we can track, we can see, we can measure across our sales cycle.

Paul: Gosh, that’s, great. That powerful, powerful stuff. And when I think about that hope-as-a-strategy component, I see, and maybe you see this as well, you know, the amount of salespeople that just don’t plan before they go into a sales call. They don’t have a plan of attack for their number-one opportunity. And what’s interesting, we did some research, and I’ve mentioned this on my podcast before, that 95% of top-achieving salespeople routinely plan every single call that they go on.

And this happened a few years ago, we were having a conversation—not we, but me and the group I was speaking to, rather. We started talking about pre-call planning, and the top salesperson for this company looked around when I asked the group, “How many of you routinely plan every single sales call,” and only one hand went up, and it was that top achiever from that company.

And he could not grasp that people don’t plan every single sales call. They don’t have that habit, that routine, that system or process in place. And I wonder what gets in the way of that. I think some salespeople may believe they don’t need to. They’ve achieved so much success that it’s easy to go in there and just make things happen. They don’t plan properly. Maybe they don’t want to, maybe they don’t have time. Maybe they’re just lazy. That’s, another thing.

Shawn: That’s going to wing it, you know? “Yeah. It’ll work out.” Sure.

Paul: When we know that that just doesn’t work out. Imagine if Marines that you were with, if they would wing it when they’d go into a building. It’d be disastrous.

Shawn: Oh, it’d be a train wreck. And I can tell you what it would sound like too, because it’s a good visual. Instead of the really tight mission plans that we usually used, it would be, “We think there’s some bad guys in that building. We’d like you to go and just start pounding on the door until someone opens it, and just ask, ‘Is anybody home?’

You know, like that’s, that’s essentially what a lot of salespeople do. Even if they’ve got a calendar appointment. It gets even worse when you just happen to call and get ahold of the decision maker, and suddenly you’re in a conversation with someone that could buy from you. But even if you’ve got a calendar appointment, just showing up and knocking on the door and saying, “Hey, we scheduled this three weeks ago. Here I am. Let’s have a chat. What’s going on in your life?” Maybe not the best way to go about that, because that person’s got better things to do than just have a conversation like you’d have at a barbeque. They’re there to figure out, “Can you help me? Are you making this worth my time?” And if you do not plan that by doing a little pre-call research, figuring out where this person is in your pipeline, what things do you need to learn during this call to justify not only their time, your prospect’s time, but your time, because your time is valuable as a salesperson as well.

And I may not make the sale, but if I learn a couple of things, like I qualify them for budget, I get a budget range, I find a buying window, you know, the basic things that we should be doing as salespeople and getting that into our CRM, getting it into our pipeline. If that’s all that happens in the call, I’m better off now than I was beforehand. And I’ve always set the next stage for, “You might not be able to buy from me now, but I know your window comes up in February. So let’s set that calendar appointment now, so we can get back in touch.” That’s a great way to do it, but without pre-call research, you’re just shooting arrows in the dark and hoping you hit something.

Paul: Yeah. And that’s a bad spot to be in for sure. One thing I’m curious [about]. In my training organization, we teach salespeople a process to follow. And I wanted to understand, what’s the difference between a sales process and selling systems. Because I almost view them as the same thing, as synonymous [with] one another. You don’t say that they are. I mean, there’s something different there. So maybe you could share with us your thoughts on that—the difference between a sales system and a sales process.

Shawn: So, I’ll bring it back to something that happened very often to us in the military. In 2003, when we first went into Iraq, we were in these soft Humvees. And I say soft in that there was no armor on them. It was basically a truck, but not even a truck bed. We just had a piece of tarp, like cloth, covering the whole thing. And it was designed that way because we were there to move fast.

Now fast-forward a year later, we’re not just moving fast to try to take Baghdad, we’re on daily patrols out in these areas. And these folks have realized we’re always on that route about that time of day; that’s when they can hit us. So they started planting IEDs (improvised explosive devices). So those soft covered vehicles we had would no longer hold up to that. I mean, stuff would just shred right through them. So we had to start up-armoring our Humvees—strapping steel plates to the side of them, essentially. What you notice there is going in with a soft covered truck, essentially is a process. It’s a way to get something done. But if it’s not improved as the situation in the environment changes, then it’s no longer going to help you achieve your mission, which is why we had to change the armor on our vehicles.

So if we apply this into the world of sales, you might’ve had a process, and maybe you’re even one of the rare people that took the time to map it out at some point. But we’ve seen in this world of sales change a lot in the last 18 months. A lot of things haven’t changed, but a lot of things sure have, especially in the minds of our prospects and buyers. So if we don’t adjust our processes, then we’re, by default, using something that may be horribly out of date.

Now, the difference between a process and a system, in this case, is a system is something that you regularly reflect on and you ask, “Is this working as well as we want it to? How do we make it even better? Even if it is working, how do we supercharge it? How do we find the pieces that are absolutely destroying our goals and really crank those up, do more of that?” That’s a system, and a system by a definition, in this case, cannot be static. It’s got to be something that’s fluid, it’s changing. As the new variant of COVID comes out next year or whatever, it’s, you know, it’s slated to come out, that’s going to affect the economy again. If I’m not updating my processes and making them into systems and getting them ready for an uncertain future, my competition will. ‘Cause there’s always somebody younger and hungrier getting ready to try to go after the same prospects that I am. If I’m trying to provide more value, trying to be the first top-of-mind person when that prospect thinks of buying my product or service and it better be using a system that’s up to date to what that prospect needs.

Hopefully that answers the question. The difference between a process and a system, at least in my mind.

Paul: No. Absolutely. And I love that piece about how the system is something you’re, enhancing and improving, tweaking, changing. Absolutely.

Speaking of that, I mean, speaking of systems, we need salespeople to go out there and build systems, and some of them may not have systems in place right now, so, where should they start? I mean, how did they get started in building that first system?

Shawn: Yeah. Great question. Because I get to do this for a living, in companies, I’ve tried it one way, which is unsuccessful, and that’s, Let’s just systemize everything that we do as quickly as possible. That’s a terrible way to go about it. It’d be like hiring you, Paul, and saying, “I need you to give me value by selling everywhere in my organization, and I need it done by next week.” And you’d be like, “Well, I could give you all of that. I could build it for you, but the chances of success are going to be very slim because this does take a little bit of time. We have to retrain the way that a lot of people think about how they sell.”

So, for systemizing sales, what I advise companies to do is pick that one area you really want to see improvement in today, and just work on that. Just build a system so that you’ll know, in that area—and it might be getting new prospects in the pipeline; it might be driving more meetings. Whatever that is for you—figure out what are the five or six or ten steps that your best practices are for that area, for that one thing you need to see improvement in. Build that plan out, hold your salespeople accountable to using it or a segment of them for using it. If you don’t want to do this across the entire team, choose a beta test. Choose a small team to do it with. Have them execute those steps consistently for a period of time, and then you can go back and say, “Did this work? Maybe we got mediocre results, but we really saw a lot of results in step two because we qualified people in a way that we know we should have always been doing it, but very few of us do. So, let’s make sure that we start to qualify people better. And then we work on every other step in this process.”

But if you do not start at the thing that you most want to see improvement in, and you try to kind of just throw a grenade in there and see what happens, you’re not going to get the results that you’re after. So, with systems, go to the pain point in your organization. Where are your folks dropping off on their numbers? Where do they need to see more results? What would really equal a win for them coming at the end of this quarter? And make sure that you’re building a system for that, execute it, implement it. And we can talk about the process for doing that if you’d like, Paul, but that’s how you build a great system that people actually want to use.

Paul: Yeah, gosh, it makes so much sense, is starting with that one area, that one piece of the process or the challenges that you’re facing and focus on that first—focusing on that first.

From your experience, have you found that doing that one thing, focusing on that one thing, almost generates momentum into other areas, or by fixing that one problem you end up fixing other problems you didn’t even know you had along the way?

Shawn: Absolutely. And the way that happens is not just saying, “Well, here’s the ten-step plan. Go out and do it,” but it’s meeting with that team that is executing that system. And I recommend to do this weekly. I think it’s a fast meeting. It doesn’t take much time. But to be able to say, “All right, where are we running into problems?” Because if you do not iterate this new system that you’ve built, what you plan for today and what you think is the best practice as a sales leader or as a senior salesperson may not be the thing that’s really going to work best for your team. And so, what I’ve found is, I can create the outline of a system, but as a team executes it, I want to make sure it’s getting better every single week so that at the end of four or five weeks of being used consistently, it’s going to look a lot different than it was on day one.

But because your people are giving you feedback along the way, “Hey boss, that doesn’t work. We really need to make sure we don’t do that again,” or “Yeah, this piece won here. But if we start our prospecting with a phone call, we’re getting massive results instead of waiting three months and trying to get people direct message in LinkedIn for all this time.” Whatever that is that your people are giving you feedback on, allow that to improve your system so that, by the tail end of it, you’ve got a whole list of things to do for project number two. And I promise you, that list of things is going to really make your organization better outside of that one pain point area that you started with.

Paul: What you’re mentioning now. It reminds me of something I mentioned on the podcast probably about a month ago. There was an entrepreneur who I did some training with. He’ll buy the companies, come in and fix them. And he told me a story. He said:

“When I bought this company, one of the long-tenured employees said, ‘I don’t know why you wasted your money on this company. We’ve got 50 problems and all you bought was a bunch of problems.’” And his mindset was, “Okay, hey, there’s 50 weeks in a year,” well, 52, (laughing). But he goes, “Let’s tackle one problem per week, and by the time we get to the end of the year, we’re going to be on track.” And it’s about breaking that down into bite-sized chunks.

So how can people get ahold of the book Bulletproof Selling?

Shawn: So, we’re on Amazon. You can get it hardback, Kindle, or as you mentioned, also on Audible. And a lot of great things that we’ve got to help salespeople begin immediately today as well. So if you don’t have the scratch for a $9 e-book, we can also help you out in a couple of other ways, too.

Paul: Awesome, Shawn, and how can folks get a hold of you?

Shawn: Yeah. So I’d say, best step, go to Bulletproof hyphen, or We stood up a five-minute sales assessment there because we recognize systems for salespeople might be a whole new way of thinking. So if you take that five-minute assessment, you identify what part of your sales process you want a system built for, and we have a machine to do that, to send it immediately to your inbox so that you can begin benefiting from sales systems right now.

Paul: Awesome, man. Well, Shawn, I’ve got to say thanks for being on the podcast here. And, I was just thinking about this. We’ve got Veteran’s Day coming up here in just a couple of weeks, so, thank you for your service to our country and really to all the veterans out there. But thanks again, man. And I appreciate you being on the show.

Shawn: My pleasure, Paul. Thanks for having me.

Paul: Make it a big day.

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