I have to confess that I read books far less often than I should do, and mine isn’t just that timeworn excuse – too little time. Wasn’t it Melissa Marr who said, “Life is too short to read books that I’m not enjoying?” And that more accurately describes my lack of enthusiasm for the mundane. However, once in a while – and we have had a few “once in a whiles” this year, with a couple more still to come – somebody sends me a message that really resonates with my own thinking, and I want to learn more.
Enter Deb Calvert author of the superb “DISCOVER QUESTIONS Get You Connected”
Here is my interview with her….
Tell us a bit about your background in selling.
My background is such a cliché! I’m one of those people who never thought I’d be a salesperson…
But, in truth, I’ve always been a salesperson. I won sales awards even as a child – for many years running I was the top candy seller in Camp Fire Girls because I was highly motivated. For every 400 boxes of candy sold, we earned a “campership” for a free week at Camp Shawnee. That goal compelled me to figure out how to be more effective at selling.
When it came time to choose a career, I didn’t consider selling. I earned a journalism degree and took the first job I found with a newspaper. That job was selling classified advertising in a phone room. My plan was to meet the right people and move to the news side. But I loved selling, so I abandoned journalism and committed myself to a sales career.
I was fortunate in that first job to find incredible mentors and teachers. I learned the craft of selling and embraced the nobility of our profession. I genuinely enjoyed helping people find solutions to their problems. Over time, I moved through seven sales and three management roles with progressive levels of responsibility. Then I became a sales and leadership trainer, an operations director and, eventually, a sales training and productivity director for a Fortune 500 company.
During that time, I also indulged in a variety of interesting career stretches. For example, I had the opportunity to serve as a charter member of the Sales Force Advisory Board, conducting field research on sales productivity drivers across all industries and sectors.
How did you end up starting your own business?
It was dumb luck more than anything else!
In 2006, the company I worked for was sold. I narrowed it down to four decent job offers, but each required relocation and a narrower specialization than I preferred. Then I woke up one morning with a new idea – what if I asked each of them to hire me as a consultant instead of as an employee? I made the calls and had my first three customers by the end of the week. That was the start of my business.
It took another year and a dozen more customers before I really figured out what this business was all about. In the sales productivity consulting, sales training, sales effectiveness assessment and leadership development work we did, we were building organizational strength by putting people first. That includes sales people and leaders at every level. It means we help companies focus on people first in order to drive productivity, profits, processes, programs and so on. So that is why I named the business People First Productivity Solutions.
We work hard to honor this promise of putting people first. We provide a lot of resources to sales professionals at no cost as a way to give something back. I remember some lonely times in sales when it wasn’t “safe” to ask for help. That’s why I started CONNECT! Online Radio for Selling Professionals and provide free on-air and e-mail sales coaching support to anyone who asks.
You’ve been called the “Queen of Questions.” Where did this nickname originate?
I’ve always been curious. I was the annoying kid who incessantly questioned the teacher. I became the high school debater no one wanted to face in the cross-examination round. Questions served me well in sales and as a manager and trainer, too.
In the late 90’s, I started formally tracking questions I asked or heard on sales calls. I’d been deconstructing questions and conversations since high school debate competitions, the way a football player might play back the tapes after a game. But when I read “S.P.I.N. Selling” and began thinking about assigning types to questions, I became more diligent with this work. I just wanted to know if there were more than four types of questions that could be useful in selling.
I concluded there are eight types. More accurately, eight purposes for asking questions. The eight purposes form the acronym DISCOVER. I’ve been teaching and testing this for seven years now, and salespeople from a training class in Washington D.C. bestowed me with the “Queen of Questions” title. I rather like it.
And now you’ve written a book about questions based on that research…
Yes. My book, DISCOVER Questions™ Get You Connected, is based on that research. But it’s also based on my approach to sales backed by actual sales calls, buyer reactions and the work of many thought leaders in sales. Nearly half the book is about why and how to ask quality questions and create value for buyers. That foundation is important. Sellers who don’t enter the buyer/seller relationship with this mindset will not get the full benefit of DISCOVER Questions™. That’s why I’ve devoted so much space to the preliminaries.
What’s next for you as an author?
This is the first in a five-book series about DISCOVER Questions™. Knowing the eight purposes for asking questions and constructing purposeful questions helps in other professions, too. Books for leaders, managers, coaches and trainers are in the works.
In the meantime, we’re still focusing on making the sales training programs on using DISCOVER Questions™ available to a wider audience. Sellers who use this become sellers who truly connect with their buyers. There’s nothing more gratifying to me than hearing how successful sellers have transformed the way they do business and how they differentiate themselves using DISCOVER Questions™.
Deb Calvert is the President and Founder of People First Productivity Solutions.
To find out more about Deb or to order your copy of “DISCOVER QUESTIONS Get You Connected” go here – peoplefirstps.com