The Mysterious Brown Bag: Closing Your Toughest Sales Challenges Using Emotional Intelligence

The Mysterious Brown Bag: Closing Your Toughest Sales Challenges Using Emotional Intelligence

My guest this week is sales guru Jeb Blount. He’s one of the very best-selling authors of books about sales and has written over 10 of them. He joined me on this week’s podcast to talk about his new book, Sales EQ: How Ultra-High Performers Leverage Sales-Specific Emotional Intelligence to Close the Complex Deal.

We had a great conversation, in which he shared a fascinating story from his book, about a 23-year-old sales rep named Art who worked for a truck leasing company. In that single story, he was able to illustrate 11 great lessons about how to leverage Sales EQ in your selling.

It’s far more interesting to listen to Jeb tell the story and explain the lessons. So, I’d encourage you to click the play button above and hear the whole conversation. But I’ve included an abbreviated version of the story and lessons below:

Apparently, one of Art’s prospects was a local bakery, and he was having trouble closing the sale. So, he went to his mentor and sales manager, Joe, and explained the situation.

“The owner, Mr. Colaizzi, is adamant that our rates are too high, and he won’t budge. I’ve been going back and forth trying to convince him that, even though our rates were a little higher than our competitors’, the added value from the quality of our service was more than worth it. But I’m not getting anywhere.”

He was hoping Joe could get their pricing reduced to match their competitors. But Joe didn’t flinch. He just stood up and said, “Come on.” As Art explains it:

We walked out to his car, and he motioned for me to get in. Then Joe drives us to a local grocery store, parks the car, and says, “Wait here.” Ten minutes later he comes out carrying a brown paper bag. He stuffs it in the backseat, puts the car in drive, and off we go.

A half hour later we’re in Mr. Colaizzi’s office, the brown bag clutched in Joe’s hand. I didn’t know what to expect. Joe had barely spoken to me since we’d gotten into his car, and I was nervous about his intentions.

We sat down across from Mr. Colaizzi’s desk, and Joe started the conversation in a relaxed, almost nonchalant tone: “Mr. Colaizzi, Art tells me he’s been working with you on a truck leasing program for your delivery fleet. He says you feel that our rates are a bit too high, and I came down here to learn more.” Then, he shut up.

Mr. Colaizzi leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, and said, “I appreciate that you took the time to come all the way down here, but the fact is your rates aren’t a ‘bit’ higher; they’re way higher than your competitors’. You aren’t even close. I know you’re going to say that your service and quality are better. You can save your breath because I’ve heard it all before. All of you truck companies are the same. If you can’t get your prices in line with your competitors’, we don’t have anything to talk about.”

Joe wasn’t the least bit ruffled. He placed the brown bag on Mr. Colaizzi’s desk, slowly unfolded the top, and pulled two loaves of bread out of the bag. Joe set the bag on the floor and placed the loaves directly in front of Mr. Colaizzi.

Joe allowed the silence to hang in the air for just a moment before speaking. “Mr. Colaizzi, I’m just curious. What’s the difference between this loaf of supermarket brand white bread that costs sixty-three cents and this loaf of Colaizzi Italian bread that costs a dollar eighty-seven cents? What makes it worth three times as much?”

Mr. Colaizzi jumped up, pushed his chair back, leaned over his desk, and spent the next 10 minutes lecturing us on why his bread was better— his passion for his bread and reputation on full display. He explained that his bread was fresher, that it was made from higher-quality ingredients, the care that went into making it, the unique baking process, his family’s recipe, the history of Colaizzi bread, and the taste. The taste was “so much better than mass-produced bread”— his face twisted in disgust as he said the words—“ with all of those artificial ingredients. That stuff’s more like cardboard than bread.”

When he felt that we’d been sufficiently educated on the superiority of Colaizzi Italian bread, he sat back down. Joe leaned across the desk, picked up the loaf of Colaizzi bread, and said, “Mr. Colaizzi, that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to tell you about us. We are the Colaizzi bread of truck leasing!”

For an interminable moment, Joe and Mr. Colaizzi just sat there staring at each other. I didn’t breathe. Then a grin spread across Mr. Colaizzi’s face, and he let go of a big laugh. He reached out and shook Joe’s hand. There were still a few concessions to make, but we walked out with a signed contract and a new customer. We no longer looked the same as our competitors.

Today Art Vallely is COO of Penske Truck Leasing. He’s one of the most gifted and dynamic leaders I know— an executive who gets it.

Jeb draws several lessons from that story, all of which we discuss more thoroughly in the podcast above. But here’s a brief outline:

  • In response to Mr. Colaizzi’s buyer script, Joe leveraged a noncomplementary response.
  • This disrupted Mr. Colaizzi’s expectations for how a salesperson would behave, pulling Mr. Colaizzi’s attention toward Joe.
  • Mr. Colaizzi took the stage to defend his position and lecture Art and Joe on why Colaizzi bread was better than supermarket bread.
  • As Mr. Colaizzi began talking about his bread, it kicked off a self-disclosure dopamine loop in his brain that rewarded him for talking. He felt good, even though his conscious self didn’t know why.
  • As Joe and Art listened intently to the lecture and gave their complete attention, it made Mr. Colaizzi feel important (the most powerful gift you can give another person). This created a feeling of obligation in Mr. Colaizzi.
  • In the process of lecturing Art and Joe, Mr. Colaizzi became more committed to his position that his bread was better than the competition.
  • Joe touched both wires to the emotional trigger by speaking in Mr. Colaizzi’s language: That’s exactly what we’ve been trying to tell you about us. We are the Colaizzi bread of truck leasing.
  • Using Mr. Colaizzi’s language caused him to feel that Joe understood him, creating a powerful emotional connection and trust.
  • Mr. Colaizzi had committed to the position that his bread was different. To then refute Joe’s claim that his truck leasing service was also different would be inconsistent. This incongruence would cause painful mental stress called cognitive dissonance.
  • All Mr. Colaizzi could do was smile and agree when Joe made his case.
  • The feeling of obligation Mr. Collaizzi felt when Joe and Art made him feel important caused him to want to reciprocate, which opened the door to negotiation. A deal was then struck that was fair to both parties.

You can get your own copy of Sales EQ on Amazon here. And you can find and follow Jeb at the links below:


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PAS square profile Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a StoryParenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.

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2 Responses

  1. Rambling introduction understatement of the year !
    You guys spend 15 mins blowing smoke up each other’s skirts.

    1. Yes, I can see how it might seem that way. I usually try to get right into the topic. But in this case, I think I was just enjoying talking to Jeb and commiserating about the common joys and frustrations of being an author in this space. I hope you got something out of the discussion anyway.

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