Welcome to the Books, Brands, and Business podcast with your host, Chris O’Byrne, from JETLAUNCH.net.
My guest today is John Hoskins. John is the author of Level Five Selling: The Anatomy Of A Quality Sales Call Revealed and his soon-to-be-released book: Level Five Coaching System: How Sales Leaders Are Developing Preeminent Sales Teams.
Chris: Hi, John. Welcome to the podcast.
John: Hey, Chris. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Chris: I really appreciate this. Why don’t we just jump right in, and I’ll start asking you some questions. What is your latest published book, and who is it for?
John: My most recent one, which is about to be on Amazon, is called Level Five Coaching System. It’s kind of a sequel to my first book called Level Five Selling. The target audience in the case of the coaching system book is really sales leadership. It could be a chief revenue officer, vice president of sales, even frankly a frontline sales leader who wants to understand how they can develop a preeminent sales team using our coaching system.
Chris: What made you decide to do the coaching book after you did the selling book? Because the book on selling was a few years ago.
John: Indeed. Frankly, as you may recall, that book was a bucket list thing for me. I had it inside me and it came out and I put it out there, not with any expectations at all. Lo and behold, my phone started to ring and my email system lit up with people saying, “Gee, I love this concept called level five selling. How do I get my sales force to sell like that?” The first book really just presented the model, but as we began to work with customers over the last two years and helping them actually transform their sales organization into a level five selling machine, if you will, we learned that this coaching system is the way to go. That rather than doing sales training, what we advocate is doing sales coaching.
John: That’s based on our philosophy that the past has been filled with lots of shiny new objects, sales training parade going through most organizations where every year they adopt a different discipline. We actually had one client say to us on a call one day that they had had a whole parade of training programs through their company, but he was unable to find any evidence of any of it sticking. That was what drove us to put together the coaching system.
Chris: Yeah, that makes sense. I’ve seen that happen in organizations that I’ve been in and involved in. Your writing process, whether it’s the first book or this book, what was your writing process like and looking back, would you do anything differently?
John: Well, the first book, I actually hired a writing coach, and this happened to be again,, like most things in life, you have them happen to you without any preconceived notion of how it’s going to happen. It’s serendipitous. I was introduced to a guy who was a sales writing coach to Tom Hopkins. He actually lives here in Scottsdale. I reached out to him and chatted and told him I had this idea to write a book. I engaged him really as someone to keep me honest about the deadlines and also to really help me with my writing style. I had not written a book before. I have a tendency to write like I speak, like I talk, and therefore my run on sentences, my grammar, my spelling, all of the punctuation, etc. is not my forte. I liked having someone who held me accountable to deadlines. That was the first effort.
John: On the second effort, I had the good fortune, again serendipitous, running into my current business partner, a guy named Dr. Richard Ruff, who was Neil Rackham’s business partner and coauthor for many years and is an excellent writer. I penned out the Level Five Coaching System material, and he provided me insights on how to make it sing. Also, we did find a professional editor, who we work with in San Diego, who made sure that everything was in the correct formats and grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.
Chris: Neil Rackham. He’s the one who did the SPIN Selling book, right?
John: Yeah, probably the all-time best-selling sales training book ever. Dick worked with Neil for 25-plus years and was in charge of research. Again, it was one of those things. I was standing in line at Starbucks one day and I saw him and I thought that’s Dick Ruff. I haven’t seen him in years. I said, “Dick.” He said, “John, what are you doing?” I said, “Having coffee. Let’s have it together.” We started chatting and one thing led to another. He was telling me he was about to downsize his home here in Scottsdale, and he and Janet were going to move into a smaller place. They have a place over in San Diego to escape the heat as well. I said, “Well, gee. What are you going to do with all that great intellectual property that you’ve developed over the many years that you’ve been in this industry?”
John: He paused, he looked up in the air and said, “I think I’m going to have a bonfire.” I said, “Don’t do that. I’ve written this book. I would really love to get your feedback on it because I respect you so much and the writing that you’ve done.” I ran to my car and gave him a copy. He called me the next day. He said, “I’m in. What do we need to do?” That’s how it got started.
Chris: If you don’t mind me asking, who is your business coach for that first book?
John: Oh gosh. You’re going to challenge me with memory here at my advanced stage. I will look that up for you and get it. His first name is Dan. I’m lost for Dan’s last name.
Chris: Dan Baldwin.
John: Yeah, Dan Baldwin. Do you know him?
Chris: He’s actually a friend of mine. Yeah, we’re friends, get together and go hiking, have dinner, that kind of thing.
John: There you go. A small world again. I only met Dan in person once over some Chinese food, and as you know, he’s a great writer of western novels. He was in full regalia. He had the cowboy hat, the cowboy boots, the black shirt. I said, “Gee, you must live on a ranch and have horses and stuff.” He’s like, “No, never did any of that.”
Chris: We actually designed some of his books, some of the first ones in his series. I believe it’s Caldera. Very small world.
John: Yeah. He’s what they call in Texas, “All hat, no cattle.”
Chris: Yes, exactly. He doesn’t mind admitting it.
John: No. He’s quite proud of it. He’s a wonderful coach in that, just to put a plug in for him, he was able to do things in my writing that I could have never dreamed of doing. He added a flavor to it that I thought was just perfect for our audience of salespeople, even though I don’t think Dan has ever been in sales, but just to me, it was worth every penny that I paid him.
Chris: Yeah. He actually did some ghost writing for Tom Hopkins. I know he ghost-wrote a few of his books. He’s really good.
John: Yeah, I was fortunate. He was also kind enough to ask Tom to be one of my testimonials and read the book and Tom is on the back cover with his testimony about the book. That was big.
Chris: Awesome. When you launched that first book, did you do any … A lot of people today will do some formal book launch, start a whole bunch of sales in one week. Did you go through any launch process or did you just do a quiet release?
John: I would call it a quiet release in the traditional sense of launching a book. The industry that I’m in, which is the training industry, has a history of a business model where you write a book and you have a training program that helps people implement what’s in the book. That’s what Neil Rackham did with SPIN Selling. That’s what Miller Heiman did with Strategic Selling. That’s what the conference board did with Challenger Sale. It’s a fairly standard model. You write a book and then you have training materials that you license after that. The money is not in the book or the royalties that you make in the book. The money is in selling that license training material and the services that go with that.
John: My strategy all along was not really to be in the book business but use the book as a calling card and a marketing tool. I have given away I would say thousands of books to prospective clients and people who I think would be target audience to adopt the training. That has paid many dividends. Today I’ve got north of 15 independent reseller partners who are certified to represent the training that I sell. We have a prestigious list of existing clients and a very robust, almost beyond my wildest expectations pipeline of potential new adopters.
Chris: You have really leveraged that book to generate leads, which is that’s something that we promote people to do and we encourage them to do. The money is not in the book sales itself. Even if you sold thousands, it’s nothing compared to what you can really get from the book by leveraging it for the rest of your business or in some cases, to actually build a new business, which I’ve seen people do as well. I’m assuming that that book is still continuing to generate leads and build your brand and do all those pieces for you.
John: The first book, it’s interesting. I thought that the royalties would just diminish over time, but they’ve actually continued to grow, not huge, but I looked at the lifetime royalty report the other day on KDP and I’ve actually made all the money back that it cost me to write the book, including paying Dan, paying you, everything that went into getting it done. I never anticipated that would be the case. Again, that’s paltry compared to the licensed training materials and services that the resellers are selling. It’s a great model. I think anyone who wants to get into a services business or have some kind of licensed intellectual property, if they want to write a book, it’s a great vehicle.
John: The other thing that I’m humored by is when do you tell somebody that you’ve written a book or that you’re an author. It’s unlike any other thing I’ve ever had in my life. There’s some wow factor that, wow, you wrote a book. Quite frankly, it’s a skinny book. It’s not a 300, 400-page book. It’s 65 pages. When I hand the book to someone physically or even if I send it to them with a note, the first piece of feedback I’d get, and this may be the nature of my target audience because they probably have the attention span of a flea, they say, “Wow, I can read this book on one leg of a flight on my next business trip.” They do. They say, “You said that I could read it on one leg of a flight, and I sure did. Let’s talk.” The next book is a little thicker but I don’t think so much more thick that people won’t still be able to read it pretty quickly.
Chris: You raised a really interesting point about people’s attention spans. We’ve been seeing a lot more people actually doing booklets because of, again, the attention span. It’s something people can read in an hour and be done or less. Usually, it’s very specific on a certain pain point, a certain specific problem that their target audience has, and it’s easy to write. It really makes a lot of sense. The new book, are you going through a similar quiet release? Do you have a bigger promotion planned or what are your thoughts there?
John: With the resellers, I’ll provide each of them at least a hundred copies of the book, complimentary for them to distribute to their target audience in their marketplace. I may choose to do something on a broader scale nationally against a target audience, but I’ll see how that works. A lot of our business actually comes from referral, so if you get the book in the hands of the right person and they express interest, it’s fairly certain I would say our hit rate is way above 50% of someone who expresses interest that they will ultimately end up licensing and adopting the system. In some respects, I don’t have a specific plan. I’m going to crawl, walk, run, and see how that goes.
John: The other thing that we’ve started to do, Dan, which is again an old approach, but it is just because it’s dated, it doesn’t mean it’s not valid, is we run what we call deep dive workshops, and we invite prospective clients to these workshops to spend a day and a half with us going over the system in detail. We have found that that’s really a potent approach because most of the competition that we would have (a) doesn’t do anything like that. When you’re buying intellectual property, a lot of times the intangible nature of what you’re buying makes the sales cycle longer and the decision process more complex. Whereas, if you can get a couple of people from that organization to invest in half of their time to come together with other like-minded professionals who are also looking at the same topic area, you get this, they sell themselves. You just have to do a great job presenting the material. Out of those sessions, we get very close to nine out of 10 people adopting.
Chris: That’s a huge percentage. Help me understand a little bit of your, what they call a value ladder. Let’s say somebody first learns out about you because they have purchased your book on Amazon. What’s the next step of doing business with you?
John: If they’re purchasing on Amazon, I don’t know who they are. The only thing that comes from that often is someone who then goes and purchases 200 books for their sales force. I just get a bulk order, and that’s fine. I’m happy to do that. Again, I don’t know who they are. Unless I’m missing something, Amazon has to tell me who they are. That could be my bad if you’re telling me that that’s available.
Chris: No, it’s not available. What I often see people do to get around that is they will have an offer in the book, an advertisement to get a free report or checklist or something along those lines. That captures the people who are especially interested in what you’re doing because then they’ll go sign up and get on your list. Do you have anything like that in the book?
John: Well, I absolutely did get leads as a result of people buying the book. Again, it’s a little hard for me to track that. If somebody calls, I always ask, how did you find out about us? A lot of times, it’s about someone who’s passed them the book who read the book. Even sales reps who have purchased the book ended up giving it to their VP of sales, and that turns into opportunities as well. Predominantly I would say that our business comes through the resellers who put the book in the hands of the right person then they follow up.
John: One little lesson learned there that might be useful for your listeners is I do not just send a book to someone out of the blue free. I did that in the beginning, and what I learned was that lifelong lesson that people don’t value things that are free. What I do is I will write to them and say, “I have written a book. It’s about this topic area. If that’s an interest of yours, I would be happy to send you a complimentary copy. Please forward your snail mail address so that I can send that to you.” Those people then write back and say, “Yes, I would like to have a copy.” Those people then, when I call to follow up or my resellers call to follow up, will actually respond and talk with us. The ones you just send out free, you could dial their number 200 times and they’re not going to return your call.
Chris: They’re just not invested. I’ve seen that. I’ve seen it even in courses that I take. When I spend a lot of money on a course, I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that I get my money’s worth and make it happen. If I signed up for a free email training course then I just skip most of those.
John: There’s no skin in the game. Although the skin in the game in my approach is only that they said yes, but it’s that old sales dictum. It’s the first yes. From there, you’ve got somebody that’s communicating with you. Where in the other kind of thing, it’s more like a shotgun and you’re just blasting it out there and there’s a very low return in terms of people that will actually engage with you.
Chris: Most of the time then, ultimately you’re trying to get people to sign up for your program, your training materials, your training program. Is that the ultimate end goal for-
John: Yes, absolutely. The system that we have is we say don’t do sales training, do sales coaching, but the implementation process in the project itself is an engagement that takes place over 180 days. We work side by side with that organization to take all of the tools and resources. It’s a set of skills. It’s a process and a whole ton of resources that sales leaders can use, frontline sales leaders can use to develop preeminent sales teams. That’s a consulting engagement as much as it is a training program. We do 30-day huddles. We have metrics that we establish with the client to track results. We do just a lot of handholding throughout the whole process until we get to the end of that 180th day where we do a whole summary and assess where we are at in installing this system.
John: At that point, we say, well, you can go on your own and rinse and repeat all of these steps that we’ve told you to go through. If you’d like, we’ll stick with you. I’d say one out of 10, maybe two out of 10 clients say stick with us for another 90 days. We want to get this further ingrained in our culture because really what we’re trying to do is help them develop a coaching culture in their sales organization.
Chris: Got you. That makes a lot of sense. Tell me a little more. You mentioned resellers and licensing. Can you tell me more of what you have going on there?
John: Well, I owned another company. I started with a co-founding partner in 1990 called Advantage Performance Group. We sold that business in 2006 to a Swedish consultancy, a global consultancy. That was after my 10 years at Xerox and five years at another small bank consulting firm. In 40 years, I have a Rolodex of contacts of people that is pretty broad. I’m one of these guys who once you know me, you’re going to have to shake me loose because I tend to stay in touch with people, even just a ping once in a while. When people learn what I was doing and saw the book, I got calls from independent sales consultants who said, “Gee, I’d love to add your capability to my sales bag and things that I can bring to my customers.” It was pretty for me to develop that group. It’s growing. I think part of my question will be how do I keep the quality good because these people are representing my work and we’re being very careful in discerning about who we invite to the party.
John: The other part is quite frankly just the lifestyle thing. How many hours a week do I really want to work? When I had my career, I was a 60-hour a week guy easily, never not working on weekends and evenings, but now I’m at a different point in my life and probably don’t want to do that. I either have to make the decision to bring on a younger person who has that level of energy and wants to grow it or have a lifestyle business that allows me to still keep my brain from atrophying and bring in a little extra pin money as they say so that when my wife wants the new patio furniture, I don’t bark.
Chris: The company that’s doing the licensing, this is now the Swedish company that purchased your previous business?
John: Well, no. The licensing … I want to be sure I understand your question. The Swedes purchased the organization that my partner, Glen, and I founded in 1990, in 2006. I’m extracted from that business. I have no operational interests, no equity, etc. They however have a distribution channel that I built when we built that company. Some of their distributors are remarketing my material now. My old company has actually become a customer of mine. They license this material to their customers and they pay me a royalty on what they sell.
John: The other reseller partners are again just independent contractors that I’ve known for years and years who contacted me or I contacted them and said here’s what I’m doing. We certified them.
Chris: Now it makes sense. Got it. Have you created any additional partnerships or joint ventures as a result of the book other than let’s say the licensing and the sales training, coaching that you do? Has it brought in any other partnerships?
John: The one instance that would maybe fall into the category you’re thinking of is we worked with a gentleman who wrote a book about business acumen for salespeople. We knew that that was a skill set that our level five skill model identifies as one of the competencies of the level five sales rep. We didn’t have that expertise at a level of depth that we felt we needed to put together good material for that. We collaborated with that individual to help us put together the micro learning modules that we use on our practice platform and have the value of his experience and expertise in that particular category to help us build that content and add that to the … We have 45 micro learning e-modules, which are eight to 10-minute long chunks of information about specific individual topics. You might have something on … The categories are broad, so they’re called planning and execution skills, negotiation skills, coaching skills, account strategy and now business acumen.
John: They are all housed on a platform that allows our clients to deploy those two representatives on an individual need basis to have them complete those modules and then perform an exercise where they videotape themselves demonstrating a specific skill that they then get feedback from their mentor or manager or coach on how they’ve performed that skill. When that video comes into the manager’s desktop, they can do one of three things. They can say, good job, John. Check that one off the list. Let’s move on to the next module. They can say, John, you’re still missing one little element of the skill model in how you’re verbalizing your call opener. Try it again. They could say, John, that was one of the best, if not the best call opening I’ve ever seen on that new product. I would like to add that to the leaderboard. That leaderboard then becomes available to everybody in the sales force.
John: A rep in Jacksonville who’s going to go into a call and present this new product can go to the leaderboard and look at this video and coach themselves prior to going into that call to try to do the same thing that that exemplar did in their video. It’s kind of a just in time self-coaching device for salespeople.
Chris: That’s very cool. I’m assuming that they can access that on their phone as well.
John: All mobile ready, 24/7. It’s the kind of thing where you’re sitting in the parking lot and you’re about to go in and you think, I know this customer is going to bring up this competitor. I should have a response to handle that objection. I wonder if there’s anything on the leaderboard. They go and look on the leaderboard and they see the competitor tagged. They watch that video and how that rep responded, and it’s on the board because someone said it was an exemplary model. Now they’ve got it in their mind as they go into that call. They’re well prepared if that objection comes up.
Chris: I could have used that back when I was a salesperson. Absolutely.
John: We all could have. Yeah, technology is really … That’s changed the game. We use the 70/20/10 learning framework, which basically says that 10% of learning only is really just from classroom or e-learning kinds of things. It’s knowledge transfer. It’s not really skill development. 70% of learning happens on the job when you’re skinning your knees falling off the bike. What we’re trying to do is provide as much resource and tools to both sales leaders and salespeople to have that available to them when they’re in the field.
Chris: You’ve got another book coming out. You had one book before that. Do you have plans to write another one?
John: My partner, Richard Ruff, and I have discussed a potential third book that would go beyond the framework we have right now on coaching, which is predominantly around field coaching, writing on calls, three call planning, observing the call and post-call debriefing. We think that’s the crucible for learning, that 10 minutes before the call and 10 minutes after the call conversation where there’s practice and feedback and you’re doing deep deliberate practice and then you complement that with this rehearsal platform that we have and other tools and resources. You can get into the realm of coaching that goes beyond that. There’s coaching around account strategy. There’s coaching around time management. There’s coaching around presentation skills. There’s actually coaching around non-sales related performance issues. Somebody doesn’t show up for work on time or they don’t turn their expense reports in on time. How do you as a frontline sales leader coach?
John: The whole coaching culture, there’s just a ton of research that’s been done by other organizations to evidence that if a sales organization has a formal coaching discipline inside of it and has built a coaching culture, they will have better results. They will have a better top line and grow sales and increase margins and have more reps making quota.
Chris: Yeah, I can see that happening for sure. Man, it’s incredibly useful. I’ve got one last question for you and it’s a bit of a deep one. What do you want to be remembered for?
John: Oh, the legacy question.
Chris: Yes. J
John: Well, it’s interesting. A friend of mine who I knew at Xerox, actually he’s developed a program he called Sabbatical X. Sabbatical X is a timeout for people who have been an entrepreneur or otherwise successful in business and they’re at that point in their life where maybe they’re at the tail end of fall and they’re looking at winter and they’re starting to say to themselves, what’s next? His tagline for Sabbatical X, which is a three and a half day experience with other like-minded people, is the next project is you. One of the exercises in the program is to answer that very question. What would your legacy be? What would you like to be remembered for?
John: My first answer to that would be being a great husband and a good parent. I think that’s so critical to society that if we could get that right, many of our problems would go away. I’ve worked really hard to do that. I think I’d get really good marks for that part of my legacy. Being a good member of the community and doing all the things that are right there, I’ve done some community work and built programs for teenage kids to help them write personal life plans, things like that. That’s part of the legacy of just being a good father, a good husband, a good community member.
John: In the business world, the legacy I would like to say is that I helped people realize the errors of the past in doing this one-off sales training event where you bring everybody in for three days and submerge them into content, and then six months later, nobody is doing anything different. I think what we’ve got with Level Five is my legacy. I think the coaching system we’ve built is truly different. We know that because when we presented to prospective buyers, they go, wow, this is just really different than anything else we’ve seen from others we’ve had into present.
John: One of my resellers called me a couple of days ago and he was working with a fairly major automotive company. He said that they had looked at three different providers, and he brought in the Level Five Coaching System and on the spot, which often doesn’t happen in these bake offs, the people in the meeting said, look, we’ll tell you right now we want to work with you because everything we’ve seen … The other two things we’ve seen are very much like stuff we’ve done before, and we know it hasn’t really worked. That would be, for me, having the reputation of having been the person that helped people get that epiphany around coaching system versus sales training would be fine for me.
Chris: It’s a good legacy. Where would you like to send people to find out more about you?
John: They can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have a website, www.levelfiveselling.com. I’ve got one phone, no landline, and anybody is welcome to text me or call me, I’m pretty responsive, at (480) 235-5582. I’d love to hear from anyone.
Chris: Awesome. Thank you so much. I’ll make sure that’s also in the show notes and I’ll be putting links to your books in there as well.
John: Thank you, Chris.
Chris: Absolutely. Anything I can do to help you, I want to be able to do that.
John: Well, you did. You got me on Amazon and helped me get the book in order. As you know, I’m a fan. I’m going to do my second book with you. I’ve even referred my son to you.
Chris: I really appreciate it. Well, thank you so much and thanks for being on the show. I’ll let you know as soon as this thing gets up there.
John: Well, thanks for having me on.
Chris: Yeah, you bet. Thanks so much, John.
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