Selling Like a Spy – What We Learned From An Ex-Corporate Spy
Selling Like A Spy
Selling like a spy is one of the most powerful ways to think about sales. What does it mean to sell like a spy? Spies are a different breed, right? Well….you might be a little surprised how close spies are to salespeople. Great salespeople and spies are actually very similar because both need to neutralize the feeling of anxiety and make the target feel comfortable. Both need to understand the target before doing anything.
Selling like a spy means a variety of things. It means being strategic in your interactions. Being focused on learning and listening as much as possible. Pulling information versus giving or pushing information. Believe it or not, these are all the same types of things we’ve talked about on our previous episodes. Stop pushing and start selling like a spy.
In this episode, we speak with ex-corporate spy Jeremy Hurewitz, speaker and author of Sell Like A Spy. He’ll give us tidbits of interesting sales tips that relate to being and, yes, selling like a spy. He talks about the subtleties of sales and how you can and should use the techniques.
So next time you think you’re just a salesperson, remember, if you’re selling like a spy, you’re one step closer to closing the deal.
We also recommend using ToDoist to plan your task list each day. Get it today using this link.
NOTE: Some links may be affiliate links, which means we get paid a commission when you purchase, but it the cost remains the same for you.
Music: "Clydesdale Funk" by Cast of Characters, written by: Dustin Ransom. "Dances and Dames" by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100595 Artist: http://incompetech.com/
Welcome back, everybody to The Slow Pitch and today we have a special guest. But before we get there, I wanted to say hi to Lane. Lane is joining us today. How are we doing?
Fantastic, Rob, how are you?
I’m doing well. And today we’re going to be talking with Jeremy Hurewitz. Who is I should play a little spy music here. Maybe what do you think lane? I don’t have a corporate spy joining us.
What I’m wondering is what his double-0 number is.
Yeah. So today we have Jeremy Hurewitz, joining us, who is a author, journalist, he’s a corporate spy or a former corporate spy, maybe he’s the creator of a book called sell like a spy. I know he’s still working on that part. So once it comes out, we’ll hopefully get a link for that and be able to promote that with him as well. But Jeremy, welcome to the show.
Thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here.
I’m glad to have you. And so today we’re going to talk a little bit about what it’s like in sales and how sales. If you’re doing it, right, it’s kind of like being a spy. It’s kind of interesting, and it’s a little difference slant. But I gotta tell you, it’s dead on. Let’s get started.
You’re listening to The Slow Pitch Podcast, a podcast about selling less and closing more.
So Jeremy, tell me a little bit about first of all, let’s talk a little bit about who you are your history. Why were this come out with? Why are you a spy? Like? Usually you don’t show yourself. So tell me?
Yeah, well, I want to be clear that I’ve never worked for a government agency. I’ve only worked as a corporate spy. But, you know, I started off my career overseas. I went abroad, right after college with a backpack and a guitar and kind of a thirst for adventure. And I wound up settling in Prague. And I was a freelance journalist and wrote for publications around the world as well, as somebody who helped build a Media Association called Project Syndicate, which was my first experience and sales and business development, I wanted to move into Shanghai and did all that same work from a perch in China. And during the course of this period of my life, I was writing on international affairs, economic security, and I’m looking back, I bumped into spies, and there was a lot of kind of intelligence, but I was younger than and didn’t know as much about it. But then I came back to New York, where I’m from, was interested to see where my skill set fit into the corporate world. And I wound up working in the world of corporate security, everything from kidnap for ransom negotiation on the corporate side, which is a niche industry. It’s very interesting to, you know, high profile, big corporate fraud investigations, and everything in between political risk advice, threat assessments. And my role was kind of half practitioner. So I was that corporate spy kind of gathering information, writing the reports assessing things, but I was also charged with growing relationships with clients. And I worked side by side with former intelligence officers and I was just so blown away by their abilities to connect with people to build rapport, to talk about a huge range of subjects to do those things. And there are active listening skills and amongst very many other things, and have been musing on this idea for quite a while of sell like a spy. And a couple of years ago now took the leap to start consulting on my own set up my own company. And now I spend my time doing keynote addresses trainings, for sales teams and executives about how to leverage spy tradecraft into both their careers and into their everyday lives to foster deeper connections and overcome challenges.
Wow. You’ve talked about a lot of very interesting experiences, I mean, from being able to be in different countries around the world working, and then coming back and starting to see how you could apply some of this. So that’s kind of an interesting way of getting to where you are today. I mean, it’s so funny how things work, you know, you’d one thing leads to another leads to another and sometimes one door closes, and you’re like, well, now what and you have another door open, so it’s kind of cool to hear that kind of a story. Lane, do you have a is any question popped into your head immediately upon listening to all that Have you have you had Do you have any thing that kind of came to you like holy cow, I gotta know this,
What I was thinking is, so obviously, you spent a lot of years learning these these techniques, and you talk about your corporate trainings, how much can you really impart into someone’s skill set in a day or week to really change the way they they approach sales?
I like to think a lot and I’ve seen the impact with people you know, with trainings people coming back to me and talking about how they’re using these skills and this is not kind of reinventing the wheel and it’s not like learning you know, algebra or physics what, what I have strong feelings on the sales world and the over indexing I’m focused on sales quotas on kind of rote behaviors that lead to you know, that’s how sales teams are trained these days. And I think we’ve over indexed on sort of mechanized approaches to sales, especially with the, you know, increased focus on kind of virtual encounters, and you know, email. And I’m trying to bring back the acumen equation. And I’m trying to just disrupt some of those standard sales trainings, which I found to be not that useful. By bringing in, you could call it somewhat unorthodox strategies about how to build rapport and connect with people. But they’re, they’re intuitive when people start to think about them and use them. And that’s one of the reasons I talk about what I call the virtuous circle, which is the idea that using these skills in your everyday life will be beneficial, because they’re subtle skills, and you want to learn them, before you bring them into the into your careers, which is more high stakes. So practicing them in your everyday life will be good. But then if you use them in your everyday life, you’ll find that your ability to connect with your friends and family to influence people to be understood, and all of those things is augmented as well. So you know, specifically to your point, I think people get a lot out of just hearing me speak for an hour, but when I’m able to spend, you know, even 90 minutes on a more focused workshop or a half day, even a day with people, I think we make a real difference in motivating them, because people love to think like a spy. And if you give them the tools to turn their rather staid sales job, they might be frustrated into a new challenge where they’re trying to recruit a foreign agent or something like that. People find this to be really fun. And some of the other skills, even if I tell you about five skills, and only one that really resonates with you, I think that’s still a huge win if you start using it in your life. So in summary, I think I can do a lot and even just an hour of time.
You also mentioned virtual due to COVID, there’s a lot of virtual sales happening, do these skills work virtually as well as they do in person or there’s better in person?
Sure, you know, it’s better in person, of course, but you know, there, there are certain skills that go into how you how you do your research on somebody, what you can find out about them, even you still you’re still seeing body language and making eye contact on the phone too. So and you’re still trying to collect information. So skills like elicitation, which is a big part of what I teach are still as relevant, you know, in the in the virtual world. And I also talk a lot about how, you know, the silver lining to an awful couple of years with the pandemic is that I think that we’ve let down our guard a little bit our business armor, instead of being in state corporate settings and wearing a suit, you know, you’re on a zoom call with people in their pajamas, and you know, they’re in their living rooms and their kitchens, they’re being you know, Zoom bombed by, by pets, by spouses, by kids. And any one of the things I enjoy spending time on is talking about humanizing yourself and creating a level of vulnerability, which is really valuable for salespeople to overcome hurdles. And I think that the pandemic has humanized us all and broken down some of those barriers. So there are some there’s always kind of a silver lining I find.
You know, when I listened to you earlier, saying that you are there are some subtle things that you’re doing. If you’re selling like a spy that people don’t realize what you’re doing. I you know, before they realize what’s happening, you already know a lot of information about them, whether that’s research you’ve done beforehand, but also in your interactions, how you speak with them all the things that you do, you’re going to have this all of a sudden this element of not surprised, but like they don’t even see the sale coming at that point, right. Is that? So tell me what does it mean to sell like a spy, like, help me understand what you mean by all of that, because I, I’m, I’m assuming some things, but I want to make sure that I hear it from what your perspective is, is how you’re how you’re presenting that.
Yeah. And I want to remember the sort of where you were going with that about sort of influencing people and kind of sales. It’s almost like a foregone conclusion, if you will, like acting like you’re already working together can be a powerful tool that I that I talk about. But the idea of Celica spy is that I like to say that spies are in fact, the world’s best salespeople, because, you know, what’s a harder sale to make than getting someone to commit treason? So these, these guys are incredible about what they do, right? But you know, a real spy is? Well, let’s just step back. When we think of spies, we think of what we’re calling CIA case officers, right? That’s not an agent. It’s a case officers what they call it and a case officer is going to tell you, I’m not the spy, my agent that I’ve recruited as the spy, they collect the intelligence, they’re doing the actual spying, if you will, the case officer, you can think of as a really amazing relationship manager with some unbelievable skills if they get into trouble and how to connect with people. So I think kind of shifting the context from like James Bond and Jason Bourne to showing these are people that are gifted naturally with their ability to connect and then they’ve been trained with some of the best psychological and other types of methods to connect with people. And they’re those skills sort of highly translatable into the business world and other communication settings. And you know, whether you’re a journalist, whether you’re a spy, or whether you’re a salesperson, you want to learn all about your target whoever you’re talking to and figure out ways to connect and influence them and build rapport as quickly as possible. And those skills are especially important when it comes to connecting with people that you don’t have natural rapport with, you know, its sales is great and easy when you meet a prospect, and you’re getting to know them, and you hit it off, and you just have natural rapport. But what do you do when you’re neutral? Or you don’t like them naturally? And you can tell that all right, or, well, you can tell they don’t like you, or they’re just wearing it. I’m a collector of quotes, I love great quotes by people, and there’s one that’s attributed to Abraham Lincoln, that comes off, comes up in my mind almost naturally in those settings these days, and it’s, I don’t like that person, I must get to know him better. So, you know, I use it as a challenge when I meet somebody that I need to influence that I might not have a natural rapport with, how do I find out what makes them tick? And, you know, a final point here, because I think I might be rambling on is that when you think about it, you know, there’s challenge all the challenges I just mentioned in the world of sales are there but think about spies. I mean, they’re not necessarily trying to recruit people, they would choose to spend time with their after terrorists, criminals, diplomats from some very bad regimes. And they have to find a way to connect with those people. And I spend a lot of time talking about the concept of tactical empathy or radical empathy, how to, you know, get to know that person how to find that kernel of humanity, or interest in a person you would otherwise really want nothing to do with. And again, I think that’s very translatable into sales.
That’s interesting. So I’m hearing too. Sometimes you have a personality conflict and sales, right? You just, I have that there’s people that their personality strikes me as it just rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t like them. But if I know that this is a potentially good sale, I think the project would be good. I think whatever, right? How I need to do that is to start to adjust my, my approach a little bit and almost become something that they would appreciate. And like, because they may not like me, either. If they feel is that what you’re saying? It’s like, yeah, if I don’t like them, they may not like me, although that may not be true, that may be my head. Is that what you’re talking about?
Yes. And I teach a variety of methods to help with that. I won’t give away the special sauce here. But one of the points I riff off of is that vulnerability breeds intimacy, and humanity breeds credibility. And I spend a lot of time working with people on on how to create vulnerability to create that space for intimacy, which is might be a strange thing to think about in the sales world. But again, we’re talking about some unorthodox strategies, and how to humanize yourself. I was alluding to that with, you know, the moment in time we’re living through it the pandemic, but again, I want to arm people with some unorthodox strategies. I’m an opinionated guy, and I have people who love hanging out with me. And then I have people I wind up potentially rubbing the wrong way and my ability to connect with those people and is something that’s really critical. And then there’s the one where, you know, if you have to pull the ripcord because you’re not being respected or it’s not going well, how do you stand up for yourself? How do you carve out respect from your target to which is the opposite end of the spectrum. But it’s also worth doing too, because I never think you should be pushed around or sycophantic in any way to be a good salesperson.
Yeah, no, I agree with that you shouldn’t necessarily be pushed around as long as to me sometimes making them think they’re pushing you around, but you’re still in control. There’s a fine line is like you can you can come across as if you’re being pushed around from their perspective. But from your end, you know exactly what’s happening. And you know, what you need to do next to get it back under control. But that’s part of that being a spy thing, like being able to shift and adjust and the way you’re speaking to each other, the way you’re behaving, the way the things that you’re doing will start to make them feel like, okay, they get what I’m doing, or they get what I’m saying, it’s, when I say push around, I don’t mean like they’re being mean to you, and you’re just putting up with that. I mean, they’re pushing you and so it’s time to push back a little bit and you kind of almost become equals, in that respect, where you’re like, Okay, I hear you, but you know what, this is what we’re going to do and all of a sudden, now you’ve got this push and pull a little bit that goes back and forth. But I think your, the point that I think you made earlier with the vulnerabilities and how that will help foster that intimacy is very powerful. The teaming the, let’s work together on this. I’ve had situations where I feel like that individual on the other side, was not quite sure what they needed to do or what they whether or not they wanted to move forward with the process. And by framing things differently and saying something as simple as you My whole job here is to make you look as good as possible. Not I’m not trying to work against you here. I’m trying to make you look really good to your coworkers and to your boss by doing this and so what can I do to help you with that and all of a sudden, their whole mind shifts and how they approached me. And it’s may not be exactly what you’re speaking about. But I’ve had that experience where you start to almost help them make them feel comfortable in one form or another. So the intimacy piece starts to up here, if you will. I’m kind of curious. Are there any examples you can give from a spite trade craft, if you will, that a salesperson can use maybe one or two that are good examples that you’ve seen work really well?
Well, yeah, of course, there’s a lot that people should you know, hire me and had me come in as a trainer. Absolutely. certainly true. But I want to share some tidbits here. I mean, one of the things that I work with people on as well is how to network like a spy and spies do, which is what there’s a skill known as spotting. So how do you identify that target? So you know, one of the things I again, I’ll just give you the top level assessment, and you walk into that business cocktail reception that, you know, we’ve all done, you know, and you walk in, and there’s 50 people, 100 people, maybe in a room, maybe more, and you don’t know anybody there which can make the even the biggest extrovert kind of feel a little shy, you know, I would go to the bar and get a drink, it’d be the first move I’d make and then talk to people but spies don’t do that spies are going to, you know, measure the room out. And I talked about some very specific ways they might do that, and what, you know, the alpha person in the middle of the room was holding court, how do you approach that, but one of the lessons that I will just kind of, you know, tip my hand here and share is that I think the old cliche that you can’t judge a book by its cover is wrong, and that you can judge a book by its cover is what I teach people, that the important caveat being that you have to be ready to be contradicted and not, you know, be ready to pivot, because people are contradictory. You know, they have multitudes, but you know, how a spy will tell you that, you know, how people look like, you know, their facial hair, their, their hairstyle, their glasses, their, you know, what they were and how they were at, these are advertisements for who you are, and even just as importantly, how you want the world to see you. So you should use that. And, you know, you think is that person, you know, that person looks like somebody who would be interested in hearing about NFL football, or, you know, this, this, I bet this this woman that I’m about to chat with, she’d be interested in hearing about this excellent restaurant I went to and you know, I’m visiting Chicago last night, you know, what, using your judgment and making some assumptions before you talk to somebody based on what they look like, even though we’re sort of say, Hey, don’t judge a book by its cover is good tradecraft. So that’s one of the things I would add there.
You know what that is? I don’t know how much you work with, or have dealt with DISC personality profiles or anything like that?
Not so much. I’m more familiar with kind of the Myers Briggs Type. I’ve never been super deep on that.
Yeah, so same concept is that but one of the things that I’ve noticed is that by looking at the way somebody dresses or the way that their office looks, or the way that they present themselves, they’re going to tell you their profile in kind of high level terms. And then obviously, as a, quote unquote spy or a salesperson, your job is to figure out is that true or not? Are they just putting out a front, right?
So…you’re sorry to jump in there. But you’re also sort of, you’re onto one of my other things, where I call it the atmosphere and intangibles and I talk a lot about, hey, if you walk into an office, and it’s Spartan, and there’s not much emphasis on what the office looks like, a value salad budget is going to be important. If you walk in and they have, you know, a Picasso on the wall and gorgeous, you know, interior design, I think you want your approach should be Hey, I have the best product or service to help you succeed here. What do you care about price? You know? So yeah, I think you’re you’re on the right track. And I think we’re fellow travelers there in that way.
Yeah. So I think what I heard you talking is that kind of hits on some of that. So if you’ve, if you’re listening, and you’ve heard some of the other episodes, go back to some of those DiSC Profile episodes where we talk about, here’s specifically what a D is like, and what a D is going to do. So a good example, maybe a high C personality might dress very, very, like almost like a perfectionist in a business setting, they’re going to wear a nice suit, they’re going to wear like that kind of thing. But a high is going to be a little more casual, they might not have the tie on, they might still have the suit on but it’s going to look, it’s going to look nice, but they’re going to be a little more or less. So there’s different elements that you have to look for. So reading that room is one of those trade crafts that I think is really important. For anybody that’s in sales. So do you have a Do you have a favorite spy thing that you’d like to teach her or talk about? Or?
Yeah, I mean, one of the most popular things is elicitation. And that’s I wonder if I’m spending a lot of time with HR teams and L & D professionals, assuring them I’m not going to teach their team how to like steal secrets and do something nefarious and elicitation is one of the ones that comes up. And I talk a lot about and elicitation is a strategic subtle way to collect information and you know, I tell a whole anecdote about hey, let’s we’re going to throw Elaine a birthday party but we don’t know his surprise party. We don’t know his favorite food. How do you you know find that out and I give you An example about how you can elicit that response. And how you can do that in a sales context as well. So how to collect information more strategically. And I give examples, typically, everyday life, that was kind of one I just I mentioned there, and I go through the scenario, one for a spy example. And then one in a sales context, and I try to customize it for the particular company or organization I’m talking with. But elicitation gets people really excited, because it’s a subtle way to collect information. And everybody understands, you know, when I say that, hey, if you’re, again, it’s by a journalist, salesperson, you meet a target, you’re excited, you want to learn all about him. But if you start asking a million questions, and if you start asking really targeted questions, you’re gonna bring about a response that is defensive. That is, you know, suspicious, guarded. And that’s not really where you want to be. So training yourself and how to collect information in a more subtle way, is really a smart sales tactic.
No, I just this makes sense. Because I’m thinking, if someone approached me and started asking me all sorts of very direct questions trying to leech information, I’m like, What’s going on here? How exactly are the cameras? What, what’s what’s going on?
Yeah, to me, it’s fascinating what you are talking about and how you do this stuff. I know just from my experiences, how real that what you’re describing is like that is all dead on. And being able to approach a potential buyer so that they feel comfortable answering your questions is critical. Or you’ve got nothing, if you can’t get them to speak to your questions, so that you can get more information and feel comfortable doing that. And they start closing down on you, you’re not going to have enough, let’s say pain for the sale, you’re not gonna have enough information to know whether or not they’re even ready to buy or can buy all of that stuff. So that’s critical. I, to me, this is fascinating. I’ve never heard anybody frame it in this way. How close or similar? Are your thoughts about being a spy? Those that approach? And journalism? I feel like there’s a lot of similarities there, like your experience in journalism, probably lended, some of that thought process of getting there. Is that accurate or not accurate?
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a couple points there. I mean, I was just talking about being strategic and being, you know, careful asking questions, but what the flip side of it, or perhaps a corollary of some sort is that people are flattered to be asked their opinion, you know, and I saw that, you know, reporting from China, where you think people would not want to speak to a Western journalist. And, sure, if you started asking them about their views on the government or the Tiananmen Square situation, you know, that they’re, they’re not going to be psyched to talk to you. But yeah, universal, people want to tell you how they feel about something. And they’re, they’re flattered to be asked their opinion. So as a journalist, you really you lean into that, you know, there’s other elements of building rapport, I learned how to take notes really well, which I think is a blind spot in the sales world. And I spend a lot of time training teams on how to take notes and how to build a culture that assesses some of those atmosphere and intangibles that we talked about, because I think they’re so important. I’ve, I always talk about how I’ve joined consulting firms where I’ve been given a multimillion dollar book of business and zero context on the clients. And it’s just shocking to me that nobody has memorialized, you know, meetings, and I think it’s a failing of, you know, I don’t want to put a percentage number on it. But I think a huge percentage of firms don’t do enough in memorializing their relationships. And the key players there, you should know, your key buyer, where does he or where did he or she go to college? How many kids do they have? Where do they like to vacation? All those things should be? Absolutely right there. And as a journalist, I think that, you know, it trained me to collect information and look for those subtleties, and, and to take notes effectively.
Yeah, no question. You know, like, we could go on and on, all this stuff is so data, I mean, like, to me, that part of just knowing the information when you walked in to this book of business, like to me, even if I’m selling something, I want to be able to hand off to the person that’s going to be doing the work, let’s say they should know, what their personality style is, what their approach is, what they like, what they don’t like, how they like to be spoken to almost right. I mean, those are all the things that are kind of critical to making sure that they get a good reaction or good a good start with a company. And to me, that data that information is is really important.
Rob, like one of my big pet peeves with sales is that he of course, you’d want to hand off that information. And ideally, that’s the way it happens and spies, you know, don’t run an agent for typically more than a couple years, and then hand them off with all those details. But the problem in the sales world is I think I even alluded to this earlier and over reliance on sales quotas, which leads to an industry with an incredible amount of turnover, which I just think is so ridiculous, because if you have a representative who understands your product or service and has shown that they’re smart, they’re industrious, and they know what they’re doing. doing, then they get caught up in a bad economic situation, a bad moment in the company. And all of a sudden they don’t hit quota or you’re unhappy with them, or they’re unhappy with their, their sales or their salary structure, and then they’re gone. Go on to the next one. So I think the way sales teams are structured, you want to motivate people, but it creates too much turnover, and you lose relationships with clients, and you wind up having to hire people, which is expensive, train them up. So I think that is backwards.
Yeah, you know, and when I say handoff, I guess, the other thing to know is like, for me, my mindset has always, yeah, you’re handing off but you’re still there. Like, as a salesperson, you should always nurture that relationship and continue to nurture that relationship. Because your job is to continue to grow that that client once they’ve converted, your job is to continue to convert them into more if you can, like, if it makes sense. If it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense, but at least be there and be present for them. So your course
you’re right. It’s one of the things I talk about, too, that you know, and we build on this, but the the quote is that a good spy recruits their agent in every meeting. And that’s what a good salesperson should be doing in every meeting too.
Interesting…This is fascinating. I mean, I, I really appreciate you coming on the show. I know Lane does, too. And we have a lot of guests on here, we you know, we have over the course of the year or two that we’ve been doing this. We’ve had guests come on, and they’re all good. But this is fascinating. And this is fun. So I really appreciate you coming on and talking about this with us. If somebody wanted to get a hold of you, is there a way that they should get a hold of you the best way? And where should they find you?
Yeah, well, first of all, thanks for saying that. It’s been a pleasure to be here and speaking with you guys. I would encourage everybody to check out my website www.SellLikeASpy.net. Also go find me on LinkedIn, I’m happy to connect there. But SellLikeASpy.net is the best way to you know, watch a video, see what I’m doing read some testimonials I write regularly for The Hill, USA Today, Bloomberg, you’ll see some of my articles there. And that’s a great way to get in touch.
If you’re out there and you’re thinking, hey, I need to learn more about this or I want to have Jeremy come and speak to my group or my company, please reach out. He’s, he’s really good. He’s got good examples on his website where you can watch it, what he’s done, and see what he’s done that kind of thing. So it’s worthwhile checking it out. I’m gonna put the way to get ahold of you on the show notes. So if somebody wants to, you know, get to the page, you’ll see and get links there. We’ll connect you with LinkedIn. We’ll put it on the cell expedite that. We’ll put that all on there. So Jeremy, thank you again. It was good to good to meet you versus having to have a go back and forth on email. It was very nice to have you out here. I appreciate it and everybody out there. Don’t forget if you slow down, you will close more in sales. And then you know what I would take some tips from Jeremy here and start acting and thinking like a spy when you’re selling out there, get out there and go sell Thanks, guys.
Thank you for listening to The Slow Pitch. Do you have a question about sales call or text your question at (608) 708-SLOW. That’s (608) 708-7569. Or you can email them to Questions@TheSlowPitch.com. Slow Down and Close More.