Humility and Curiosity in Sales

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What does humility and curiosity have to do with selling in the restoration industry?

Well the answer to that, for me, goes back to my mid-twenties. I was a sales rep for Cintas Corporation, the uniform and laundry people. I sold three and five year contracts for uniforms and floor mats to auto dealers, food processors, machine shops- all kinds of businesses.

The industry was cutthroat, and not one I wanted to build a career in, but the sales training was transformative for me, and in many ways, I still utilize and teach the same exact sales process they taught me over 15 years ago.

Before joining Cintas, I had been taught features and benefits selling. This is where you have brochures or a binder with sales slicks in it, and you share with your prospect about how big the company is, how many years you’ve been in business, and why your product or service is fundamentally better than all of our competitors. A numbers game, and the guy with the best personality typically wins.

But at Cintas they took a whole different approach. Cintas was interested in the prospect’s pain- what kind of service were they getting from their current vendor and could we do better?

We had catalogs of different uniform styles. I’m sure we had brochures too. But I never used them in my sales process. I simply asked curious questions about their existing uniform and laundry provider and documented their answers. Then, at the end of the meeting, I reviewed the observations I made, confirmed with them that these were problems, and then shared with them, very specifically, how we could solve those problems with our people and process.

Watch the 12-minute video above for a more detailed example of this.

What I loved about the process, was how good it felt for me as the sales guy- I never had to trump any of their issues up. I never had to convince them that we were the best. Often, I didn’t even have to “close the deal”. After reviewing the pain points they shared, and the way Cintas would handle those things differently, often I’d just sit back and ask them- “What would you like to do next?” And then they’d buy. 

So how do you apply this same sales approach in your restoration company?

Let’s talk about selling to a property manager prospect.

Normally in our business, we’d drop off swag, talk about all the things that every single other resto sales rep talks about, smile and try to get them to like us, and then rinse and repeat with some donut drops and custom coffee orders in between.

But if we’re trying to embody humility and curiosity, it might look/sound something like this in any interaction, from a networking event to office stop-in:

“Hi Sarah, good to meet you, I’m Chris with Floodlight Restoration. How long have you been in the property management business? 

Oh, seven years, okay, so you’ve been at this for a while! Well then I probably don’t need to bore you with what we do- what’s your general experience been with restoration companies?” [Curiosity]

Since I confirmed Sarah has some time and grade in property management, I’ll typically get one of two responses- either she’s had a good overall experience with restorers, or she’s got horror stories. 

Let’s assume Sarah has had bad experiences with restoration in the past and she tells me about XYZ Restoration, the last company they had onsite. Here’s how I would respond after listening to her carefully:

“I wish I could say your experience was weird, but listen, it’s a tough industry. There’s a lot of moving parts and it’s difficult to execute well. [Humility] But what about XYZ’s people or process made it the hardest for you and your team?” [Curiosity]

And again, I listen carefully until she’s all done sharing. Then I respond: 

“I hear that a lot. And again, it’s a tough industry and we fail occasionally too [Humility]. Here’s a process/system though, that we use with our team, to try and prevent that from ever happening.

If they had done that for you, would it have made the experience better for you/your team/your owner client? [Curiosity]

What would you need from me, or what would need to happen for you to try us out next time you have a damage event? I’d really love for you to see our team in action, based on what you shared I think you’d like the way our team handles (insert pain point).”

Here’s the basic elements of this Humble/Curious approach: 

  1. Lead with curiosity vs small talk: Talk with them like a peer would, rather than a salesperson or “marketer” would. 
  2. Never pile on a competitor: If a prospect shares a negative experience with a competitor, always respond with humility. The industry is hard, and all of us fail sometimes. 
  3. Continue your curiosity: the more our prospect is talking, the more trust and connection we’re building. Be curious about their job, their experiences, their business, their team. Be genuinely interested in their experience. 
  4. Present the Solution(s): Can you really help them? Share specifically what you and your team do differently that would solve the problem(s) they shared. Don’t get pitchy, keep it conversational.
  5. Be Earnest: follow up and reference the conversation you had and share something concrete and relevant. “Sarah, you mentioned how much you’ve struggled with XYZ company regarding their communication. I wanted to show you an example of our 24-hour job update that all of our project managers use. Here’s one we did for local movie theater recently when they had that fire you might have seen. They gave me permission to share it with you.”

Check out the video above for more examples and learn more about the “Requirements Based Selling Method” I learned from Cintas and how you can deploy curiosity and humility across your sales team. 

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Chris Nordyke

Chris began his business career in direct sales, selling Cutco Knives for Vector Marketing at age 19 while going to school. He was a personal sales leader, and subsequently a Top 20 branch office manager in Los Angeles, directly responsible for all recruiting, training, team development and revenue across a team of more than 40 sales reps.

Vector proved to be a foundational training ground in entrepreneurship, team-building, and sales leadership that Chris continues to draw on in his work with restoration teams. 

Chris’s primary B2B sales training came during his tenure as a Contract Sales Rep for Cintas Corporation, a Fortune 500 laundry services firm. Here, Chris was introduced to Requirements Based Selling (RBS) which informed the Pain-Solution selling model Chris continues to use today with clients. 

Prior to joining Summit Cleaning and Restoration in 2014, Chris spent 8 years with State Farm Companies, 5 of which he spent owning and running a successful agency. 

From 2014 to late 2019, Chris served on Summit’s leadership team overseeing all business development and marketing with a special emphasis on developing Summit’s customer experience and service culture. He’s a founder and Co-host of the Head Heart & Boots podcast, co-founder of the Floodlight Consulting Group, and co-founder of the Floodlight Leadership Circles. Chris resides in the beautiful state of Oregon with his wife of 20 years, Cara, and their 3 children- Lily, Jack and Simon.

Email Chris at: chris@floodlightgrp.com

Listen to the Head Heart and Boots Podcast on Apple iTunes and Spotify.

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