How to Bridge The Gap in Sales Strategy and Execution
This week on sALES with ASLAN®, VP of Marketing Scott Cassidy chats with ASLAN Regional Vice President of Sales John Cerqueira on what you can learn from 80 floors up on 9/11 (but of course, it starts with a nice beer on a Friday afternoon).
Scott Cassidy: Welcome back to another episode of sALES with ASLAN where we get together each week to both commiserate and celebrate, depending on the week you’ve had as a selling professional. And this week I am so excited to have our guest, John Cerqueira, and what I would call one of the most other-centered people I’ve ever come in contact with. John’s got a great personal story. We’re going to get into that, but probably more importantly how John applies being other-centered in his career and his personal life, just a great, great story. I’m super happy to have you, John. Welcome to sALES with ASLAN.
John Cerqueira: Thank you, Scott. Happy to be here. That was very kind of you in that intro.
Scott Cassidy: Well, of course. And we’re not that formal, so I just want to make sure that you’re comfortable. But, of course, John, as you, an avid listener of the show, realize, we start with something cold, frosty and refreshing every week with ASLAN. So I’ll invite you to tell us what it is you’re drinking this fine Friday afternoon.
John Cerqueira: Absolutely. So I am based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and so I picked a North Carolina brew there. There are lots to choose from, but Asheville, North Carolina in the mountains is notable for a ton of breweries, and they have a Highland Gaelic ale out of Asheville. And it’s delightful. And it’s not super hoppy. I have a lot of people that are in the beer world, they love the hops, the extra mega IPAs. That’s not me. This is closer to a … It’s an amber, sweet, caramel, cold, but hardy. So Highland Gaelic is one of my go-tos.
Scott Cassidy: That sounds like ridiculously good.
John Cerqueira: It’s delightful. It’s delightful. It’s almost like a dessert that you can keep eating or keep drinking, for sure.
Scott Cassidy: Excellent. Excellent. Well, I myself have cracked something from … I believe it’s from Nashville, Tennessee where I’ve been spending a little time with my daughter who’s in school down there. This is called Ever Clever, which I just love that name.
John Cerqueira: Okay. Yeah.
Scott Cassidy: It’s from Bearded Irish Brewery. It’s a double dry hopped IPA. So I’m not usually the hoppiest of hoppers, but I’m happy with the taste of this. It’s got an eight and a half percent ABV, too, so I need to be exceptionally careful with the rest of this half hour.
John Cerqueira: That’s right. the good thing is it’s Friday so you can do that and get the hops and the floral notes and all the things that I hear all my buddies talk about that I know nothing about. But it sounds like … It sounds good.
Scott Cassidy: Well, in a year from now we’ll be all experts on this, I’m sure, I’m sure.
John Cerqueira: Yeah. I bet.
Scott Cassidy: And probably be sponsored by Ever Clever or somebody else.
John Cerqueira: Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t that be nice?
Scott Cassidy: It would be. Well, John, thanks again for joining. And I think maybe the best to start is just a little introduction of yourself and sort of the background you bring to those of us that sell for a living. Maybe tell us a little bit about your background.
John Cerqueira: Yeah, for sure. So I started my sales career in, I would argue, one of the best places to start because it’s one of the most difficult roles. I started selling telecommunications to businesses in Manhattan in the early 2000s. And so my territory was any business who had phone service, internet service in the borough of Manhattan. And the role was just picking up the phone, trying to get appointments. You get into the appointment and you figure out what the best way is to move that client from where they were to our platform. And so that’s what I did.
Scott Cassidy: Yeah.
John Cerqueira: And met … It’s funny, that was my first real sales job out a school, and while I was at that sales job, I ended up meeting the CEO of ASLAN, Tom Stanfield. And so I moved very, I don’t know, very quickly, but from a heavy prospecting in the telecom space to meeting Tom. I actually had a buddy of mine who worked for ASLAN at the time, right out of school, and they had a client in New York, so they both came up from Atlanta, and my buddy asked if I wanted to go out to dinner with him and his boss. And at first I was like, “No, I don’t want to hang out with you and your boss,” but Tom, as we all know, is amazing, broke the mold of what bosses were, what owners of companies were, and we hit it off just getting a sense of his story and how he started the company.
John Cerqueira: And he was picking my brain on my role sales strategy for a telecom company and what I did, and we really connected on just the outbound hunter role and what was hard about it, what we loved about it, where you had successes and failures. And that night, actually, he had asked, “Well, gosh, do you think you’d ever consider potentially working for ASLAN and doing some outbound work and lead generation for us?” And at the time I said, you know, “Maybe, but I live in New York.” It was the center of the world and I loved it. And getting me out of there would have taken a lot. And so I said, “Hey, thanks, maybe in the future.” And we had a great night and hung out and then we parted ways.
John Cerqueira: And oddly enough, that was … Gosh, that was the Thursday before September 11 and the terrorist attacks in Manhattan and DC, and my office happened to be in the World Trade Center. So I was on the 81st floor of tower one, and so that was certainly the jarring large event that, if anything was going to get me out of New York, it was that. And so after 9/11 I called Tom up and said, “Hey, maybe it’s time for us to potentially work together.” So within a year or so I was in Atlanta working for ASLAN. That’s almost 18 years ago.
Scott Cassidy: Well, and I don’t want to glance over the 9/11 piece because I think all of us were touched by someone or something that took place that day. In fact, I still live with the curse of that being my birthday, which, it’s never a celebratory day for me any more. When I was at APC we lost a very good friend of ours who was in one of the planes. Yet I know you actually have a kind of a relatively happy story that came out of 9/11. In fact, I know you wrote a book and appeared on Oprah, and I’d like to just tell the audience a little bit about … This is where I come up with this concept of John Cerqueira is one of the most other-centered people that I know. Take us through just, if you don’t mind, those moments right after the plane hit and what you ran into in the hallway as you were trying to leave the 68th floor and get to safety.
John Cerqueira: Yeah, sure. You know, it is interesting in how meeting Tom and being exposed to AS LAN a mere, gosh, you know, four or five days before that event, it really came together as far as what Azlan stands for and what ended up happening that day.
John Cerqueira: So I was in the office on the 81st floor and our building was in tower one, and so that was the first one building to get hit. And shortly after our building was hit we all evacuated our floor. There was fire and destruction all around, and we headed down the stairwell, and from the 81st floor to about the 67th floor, it was pretty open. And we got to the 67th floor and heard people who were trying to figure out the best way to evacuate and trying to figure out where the stairwells were. And so my boss at the time and I moved back up from the 67th floor to the 68th floor to try to guide people out. And we ran across an office where their office workers really not moving much. And we realized that the reason they weren’t moving was because one of their coworkers was a wheelchair user and she was using a very heavy mechanical wheelchair and they couldn’t figure out how to get her out of there.
John Cerqueira: So my boss and I asked if we could help and they accepted. And so we helped this woman from her wheelchair into an emergency wheelchair and headed back down the remaining 67 flights of stairs. So that took about an hour, and in that hour, the other plane hit the other building and collapsed. And we were fortunate enough to escape our building five minutes before it collapsed and we were able to get the woman into an ambulance that evacuated the area and we all, really, walked away virtually unscathed.
Scott Cassidy: Yeah, yeah. And I’ve heard the story, obviously, but just an incredible story of overcoming … We talk about overcoming obstacles sometimes on sAles with ASLAN, and this is sort of a somber reminder that in the face of complete collapse, literal complete collapse of a building, you were able to take a positive and save a life and kind of forever change a couple people’s paths. And I think that’s incredible to know.
Scott Cassidy: I know you wrote a book. I think you call it Hero Sandwich. I think you appeared on Oprah. What are some of the lessons … because you and I’ve talked about the lessons you can learn that you can apply to your sales execution life from that period of your life. Specifically when you had the book and you were on Oprah, I know there’s a fun story you want to tell about that.
John Cerqueira: Yeah, sure. So I think there’s some good that came out of that. And again, it’s fortuitous, I guess, that I had met Tom and was exposed to ASLAN right before 9/11, and then ultimately ended up working for ASLAN. But one of the big things that came out of that event for me that is super applicable, not just to sales strategy, but overall in life, is when I recount that story or when people hear about the story, there’s this idea that, “Man, John, it was great for you and your boss to be there helping that woman.” And the reality is our focus on somebody else is what I believe was the only thing keeping us sane and calm, and, ultimately, from a spiritual perspective, I think just giving us some grace and protected us.
John Cerqueira: And just from a practical perspective, when you’re confined into a stairwell and you really don’t have any way out than a direction that’s completely congested and there’s not much else you can do, all you really can do is just try to keep yourself sane. Right? One of the elements of doing that is focusing on someone other than yourself. And so I would argue that our interaction with that woman was as beneficial for us, for me, as it was for her. And so when we look at … You know, when I translate that to what we teach at ASLAN and what we apply in work and in life, you know, there’s this saying that we are most fulfilled when we serve others. We’re most fulfilled when we suppress our self-centered motives and serve someone else.
John Cerqueira: I think there’s a tendency to say, “Well, if we serve other people, particularly in sales, we’re likely to get something back from it.” And while I think that is somewhat true, the reality is just the act of serving, the act of forgetting what you get out of an interaction and putting yourself, forgetting yourself, and giving yourself to someone else is in and of itself fulfilling. And so that’s what I experienced that day. And that’s what I apply in my role at ASLAN. It is an effort because we’re always wired to focus on ourselves. But it is an effort to rewire our self-centered motive to someone else, but once we do, what ends up happening is the interaction with a new prospect, or in looking for opportunities to serve a client that may be more profitable for us. That effort to focus on someone else and just their win gives you a sense of freedom, a sense of latitude to use your natural gifts to just be a better person and make a connection. And, yeah. Guess what? It oftentimes results in an improved relationship that drives revenue and drives profitability, but the path getting there is oftentimes as fulfilling as whatever the financial rewards are towards the end.
Scott Cassidy: Yeah.
John Cerqueira: And so that’s how I apply it in work and in life, the same thing. The more you give yourself to your wife, to your kids, to your friends, and just serve people with no expectation of a return, you start building those relationships and you get the muscle memory of just using your natural gifts. Because we can advocate for someone else much more intensely than we can for ourselves, and so when we can be that intense about somebody else’s benefit, we’re actually kind of stretching our skill set and muscles, and that’s fulfilling in and of itself.
Scott Cassidy: Well, and I can imagine that all those listening, whether sales leaders or sales reps, can think of times where they kind of put their own agenda … We like to jokingly call it “commission breath”, it’s sort of transparent, it kind of comes out. If you’re totally focused on yourself, people sense that, right? I mean, I think the analogy of the used car salesman comes through when you step on that lot and you just feel like this guy doesn’t care about me. He just wants to sell a car today. You know? And when you-
John Cerqueira: For sure.
Scott Cassidy: Yeah, when you put yourself out there to really help someone else achieve what they’re trying to achieve and recognize that you might not always be able to do that, now you start to focus on someone else and I think your odds of success go dramatically up. And I know that’s a lot of what we teach and what you work with clients every day to try to uncover.
Scott Cassidy: One more piece before we move on to a couple of tips and tools and so on and so forth. A piece of our curriculum, we always talk about advance, and you need to move to the next most logical step in a sale cycle whenever you have a meeting. And I know you have a regret from a potential failure when you met Oprah. There was a story there about your potential to publicize the book that you may have missed. Why don’t you tell that story for the audience?
John Cerqueira: For sure. And I bring this up when I’m training. And it’s funny, I know Tom has mentioned this a few times in blogs and you know. So after 9/11 there was obviously a lot of media attention on a lot of the stories. And my boss and I were invited on Oprah, which was certainly the most notable, I guess, media appearance that I’ve ever been a part of. And so we were on Oprah and it was a wonderful time, and Oprah was super gracious, but as I was going on Oprah … Again, I was 22 years old, just graduated from school, and when my friends heard that I was going on Oprah, they said, “Oh, man, you should write a book and you should be in Oprah’s book club and you’ll be rich and it’ll be great.” And at the time I was still reeling from the event and I wasn’t a writer and I wasn’t going to do that.
John Cerqueira: So I went on the show, it was wonderful, and then we left. And so years later I moved away from New York and then I ended up moving back to New York and I ended up writing a book with a friend of mine, and we were looking at ways to publicize the book and we had this novel idea, “Let’s try to get back in touch with Oprah.” This was probably five years afterwards. I’ll let you guess how successful I was getting back in touch with Oprah five years later. And here’s a spoiler alert: I’m not doing this podcast from my yacht in the BVIs. So the answer is I was wildly unsuccessful.
John Cerqueira: So I draw this analogy, or I tell the story, to highlight the idea that we’ll teach towards a lot of the end of our training around the concept of advance, around the exit principle that our chances of reconnecting with our decision maker once the interaction is over is diminished greatly if we’ve not set some next step while we’re there.
John Cerqueira: And so how I might have changed that is while I was on the Oprah show and while we were in commercial breaks and we’re just having small talk, it might’ve been in my best interest to say, “Hey, Oprah, I’m thinking about writing a book. I don’t really know how to do it, what the process is, but I’ve heard you know some people, and if and when I decide to do that, is it possible that we might be able to reconnect? And, hey, maybe there’s someone you know right now that might be able to help me do that.” If I would have done that while I was the focus of one of the most powerful media personalities in the world for at least 30 minutes, I would likely have been a lot more successful getting back in touch and maintaining that relationship.
John Cerqueira: So I guess that is a regret, but it certainly makes for an entertaining story, and it helps me wrap up a lot of training sessions. So, hey, there’s some good that came out of it, I guess.
Scott Cassidy: Well, and I think we all make these mistakes, and certainly no one got hurt in that mistake, but it was a missed opportunity. Let’s just call it that. Right? And everybody listening to this podcast goes through those experiences. So if we can help anybody to just think through really what is another, you used the term muscle memory, it’s just another habit to build, right? You never end an engagement with an individual or a customer without sort of setting, not a stressful line in the sand sort of next step, but just what’s the next most logical next step, which may be closing the sale or maybe something much less strategic. It could be, you know, “I’m going to send you this piece of collateral, this proposal, and then I’m going to call you on next Friday. How is 10:30?” At least it’s in their calendar and your likelihood to reconnect and make that next step actually work out, it goes up dramatically, right? So I think-
John Cerqueira: Absolutely.
Scott Cassidy: Tremendous lesson from you, and thank you for sharing all that. I know we are running short on time and I have so many more things that I’d like to delve into with you. So maybe what we could do, John, is have you back for another week, maybe not next week, but sometime in the future to talk about probably two or three other ideas I have. So maybe I’ll just tease those up and maybe if you have any quick last minute thoughts for reps.
Scott Cassidy: But as professional sellers, we all get good at certain things, and I know you’re an expert on discovery and really getting customers to open up, and so I’d to have you come back and talk about how do we make discovery more conversational and less sort of like a, I don’t know, interrogation. Right?
John Cerqueira: Sure.
Scott Cassidy: And so I know you’re good at that and I’d love to have you back to talk about that. I know you and I are delving deep into testing new ways to get ahold of customers, whether it’s use of video in some sort of email platform or whether it’s trying different ways to kind of pique their interest, as we call it, activate that part of their brain that filters out all that other stuff, and how do we kind of cut through that noise. So I would love to talk about that and any other tips and tools that might make sense for those. So if you’re okay with it, why don’t we sort of have you come back for another meeting to dive deeper into some of those concepts. Does that make sense?
John Cerqueira: That sounds great. I would love to. Absolutely.
Scott Cassidy: Well, I want to thank John Cerqueira, author of Hero Sandwich, a true story about 9/11, the lessons he learned with not asking Oprah for help when he met her face to face and maybe not losing that advance. Certainly a great lesson for all of us. But I think the key takeaway, John, from our conversation that I take away is serving others, that’s when we’re most fulfilled. That’s when we get this freedom. It’s probably what kept you alive in the terrible circumstances of 9/11, because you focused on another person and that kept you sane through that process. I really believe that as sellers, by focusing on other people, our potential for sales execution goes up dramatically. So thanks so much for all that sharing and all that personal information. Gang, we’ll get back together a week from now for another episode of sALES with ASLAN, and have a great weekend.
The best way to get to know us is to know what we value. If we teach it we live it, because what we do speaks far more eloquently than what we say. We’ll always choose people over profits, and we’re most fulfilled and effective when we serve. It drives our culture, frames our training programs and transforms the lives of the clients we partner with.