Our Storyleaders Coaches are available for speaking engagements and company events like sales kickoffs, conferences and leadership retreats.
“Ben’s a very provocative and engaging speaker. His perspective reaches the hearts and minds of his audience inspiring them to think differently. While there are many motivational speakers, he brought tears of joy to my group. His unique approach and passion brings the human spirit back into focus.” – Rich Clayton, GVP, Oracle
Ben Zoldan – Keynote Speaker
It’s more than the X’s and O’s
“We always look to get our sales teams to reach new heights in pursuing excellence and delivering results. After Ben’s session with the top salespeople in our company, we’ve accomplished that. I’ve seen our people find a renewed sense of pride in what they do, and trust and openness with each other. They also have shared with me a feeling of being ALL IN not just with the business, but in their personal lives at home and with friends as well! I highly encourage high performance minded teams and companies to experience what Ben brings to a Company.” – Laurent Vernerey, President & CEO North America, Schneider Electric
Listening is Teachable
A Note from Ben:
I started my sales career immediately after college and right off the bat, I was introduced to a formula– a sales process– and it stuck. Everything was based on a diagnose/prescribe model. It was boxes – literally, taking buyers through a series of qualification boxes. I was excited because I had a roadmap to follow, and I followed it. I was promoted into sales management, and everything I did was rooted in the formula. Putting things in boxes appealed to me. And because I was the guy preaching this stuff, I quickly moved into training.
Soon, I was working with an industry giant, Mike Bosworth and his Solution Selling and CustomerCentric Selling sales methodologies. I believed we knew the way to teach salespeople and sales leaders. And by then, I thought I had all the answers.
But, there was a problem. It wasn’t easy getting people to adhere to the boxes. What I wouldn’t admit at first was that the “best” salespeople, the most influential, were the guiltiest. They weren’t following my formula, nor anyone else’. They were always doing something different, and that ate away at me over the years. We (trainers, sales managers, all of us) just chalked it up to, “He has that gift.” She has all the intangibles.” But none of us went any further into what those intangibles were.
I ignored this for as long as I could, but over time, it got worse, and in 2008, I wanted to see what else was out there; to try to demystify what the most influential salespeople and leaders were doing that was so different from anyone else. I started to ask questions:
Why is it that only a small % of people are able to truly move others? Why do only a few reach that high level of connection that fosters collaboration, and the reciprocal sharing of ideas and beliefs? Why the hell is it that the very best salespeople are not following the “playbooks” we’ve been giving them?
And, why haven’t those of us in the corporate sales training industry been pursuing these questions more aggressively?
So where I started was with the behavioral sciences. But that quickly led me in fields of studies way outside my own domain; into the natural sciences, in fields of studies such as neurobiolology, anthropology, sociology, and others. I started to get exposure to some of the groundbreaking work that was explaining human behavior in such a new way. It felt so expansive, so exciting. This stuff was light-years ahead of the things I was talking about. We weren’t diving into the inner sources of motivation, of trust, of connection, or even how and why human beings connect with one another. We didn’t really understand decision-making. And the thing that really frustrated me was that I didn’t have a full grasp of this yet myself. At the time, it just felt like a research project.
But the project had turned up some things I didn’t expect; that maybe we had wildly misunderstood (or underestimated) what it was that the most influential people were doing all a long.
I then wondered around other professions: lawyers, detectives, coaches, even trying to uncover the mysteries behind some of the most inspirational/influential leaders. The more I studied disciplines outside my own, the clearer it became that my way, the ‘diagnose/prescribe’ sales model I had been teaching all those years was badly flawed. The most influential, inspiring people were never “diagnosing/prescribing.” They weren’t just solving problems or interrogating people with qualifying questions, or putting prospects in boxes. There was something else at play – there was a theme, a pattern that emerged. These people all shared other things in common, and these were new to me: vulnerability, risk taking, emotional intelligence, and they all had a clear sense of why they do what they do. And what tied this all together for them was real, authentic storytelling. These people were able to make sense of the events in their lives, had the courage to share those, had an openness to listen to others’ stories, and as a result, got other people to open themselves up. They were connecting experiences.
I wanted to be like them.
The best part for me was that the neurosciences fortified why storytelling, vulnerability, authenticity, emotional intelligence, etc., was so fundamental.
So there it was. I had a plan. I’m a trainer. I can deconstruct this stuff and teach it to others. And I figured out a framework, but I enlisted my old way; using boxes to teach something that didn’t lend itself to boxes. And I got a heavy dose of reality in return. I could talk about it, but I wasn’t being it. I could talk about “authenticity” but I wasn’t authentically being myself. I could talk about emotional connection, but I wasn’t connected with anyone. I could talk about storytelling, but couldn’t tell a real story of my own – one from my heart that way the best just seemed to be able to. I was still living in my old boxes.
The boxes also dominated the way I related in my personal relationships. Soon, I was dragged into therapy, and I went, but kicking and screaming. At first, I absolutely resisted. But after a while, I slowly started to realize that in order to really understand human behavior, I had to not talk about it, or read about it in a book (or worse, lecture others about it), I had to learn it from the inside-out; learn about the things that make me tick. For the first time in my life, I was putting my memories together with feelings and making sense of them. I was stepping into the riskiness of the things I felt ashamed about; the things I had shoved away. I was becoming conscious of the experiences that made up who I am. I was learning how to search out and share my stories. It was inspiring for me. And something even more amazing happened – when I would share something about myself, especially when I shared my own struggles, people would share in return, and barriers would come down. People were listening to me in such a new way. And I was listening to them.
This was my true Aha moment. Everything that I was learning about myself dovetailed with the things I’d been previously learning through the sciences, and all of this reinforced the patterns I saw in the most influential people. We are biologically wired to learn from our stories, to reciprocate stories, to listen to stories. And when I stepped in and shared my stories, especially the uncomfortable ones, I started to move others. Whether in my personal or professional life, I was learning that sharing my stories was a way to influence outcomes almost effortlessly. It was just so different than my old model. Here is what I also experienced: there wasn’t the safety of a script, of a Powerpoint presentation, of predictable set of questions to ask, or the boxes – you cannot put this stuff into boxes.
I learned there is another way to sell, to influence another person, to connect in a more authentic, sincere way.
I co-wrote a book to share what I had learned—What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story (McGraw-Hill, 2011), and by then, had developed my Storyleaders workshops. And the workshops have evolved immensely over time.
Today, the Storyleaders workshops have reached a new level. They are perfectly imperfect. I am no expert, and it’s not easy for me. I’m willing to take more risks in my workshops, to let it all hang out, to make my pedagogy and my methodology one in the same. I’ve learned to teach and to sell the Storyleaders model by practicing the Storyleaders model. By practicing what I preach, and embracing everything Storyleaders is about, I hope I am becoming more than just a better salesperson or leader. I hope I’m becoming a better husband, father, and friend.
Storyleaders is much more than a sales training. Storyleaders is for anyone—salespeople, executives, leaders, marketers, coaches, teachers, consultants—anyone whose work involves influencing others, whether “selling” products, services, ideas, advice, or beliefs.
Today, some executives ask, “What measurable skills do participants get from your workshops?” I’m learning that it’s more than skills that participants get. Authentic Storytelling, Listening, Empathy — these are the learnable skills, but its much bigger. Participants are finding new meaning and fulfillment in their careers by discovering things about themselves, which helps them become much better at whatever it is they do. For many participants, it’s been transformational. We receive a lot of post-workshop feedback similar to, “This has changed my life.”
This journey has, and continues to, change my life.
Images and Media
Videos & Selected Press
While sales trainers always talk about the importance of listening, they almost never explain how to do it effectively. Well, it turns out that listening is the most important part of telling a compelling story. It sounds backwards, but it’s true! To help you understand why, here’s an interview with sales trainer Ben Zoldan. I think you’ll find it a real “ear-opener.” Read more ›
I recently had an interesting conversation with John Burke, who is Oracle’s group vice president for global sales support and new product introductions. He has about 125 people reporting to him, many of whom have been recently trained by Mike Bosworth and Ben Zoldan on using storytelling as a sales technique. Here are some highlights from that interview. Read more ›