For our eleventh episode, President & CCO Ethan Whitehill chats with John Hall—Vice President of Marketing at ZoomGrants, Chief Sales Officer at Crux-Xcelerate, and Founder & CEO of GetRecruited24/7—who shares how a strong EQ, collaborative communication and taking inventory can transform sales teams.
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Ethan Whitehill: Hello everyone. I’m Ethan Whitehill, President & COO of Crux, the “un-agency.” This is “To the Point,” our monthly podcast for thought provoking conversations that get to the crux of it all to help businesses elevate their brands and amplify their missions.
Today’s guest is John Hall. John serves as the Vice President of Marketing for ZoomGrants, a leading national online application software company. As Chief Sales Officer for Crux-Xcelerate, John eliminates the silos that inhibit growth through sales team coaching and development. John is also the Founder & CEO of GetRecruited24/7, a next generation high school student athlete recruiting service that helps athletes secure college scholarships. Earlier in his career, John was a VP/GM with Madison Square Garden, and a senior executive with the NFL, the NBA and the NHL. Hall has helped companies ranging from Fortune 500 organizations to small businesses in creating strategies that enhance personal and professional enrichment. And if that’s not enough, John has received six Colorado Press awards and has served on numerous boards and committees throughout his career.
John, welcome to the show.
John Hall: Thank you, Ethan. It’s great to be here.
Ethan Whitehill: That’s quite an intro.
John: It is. I appreciate that. It looks pretty good on paper.
Ethan Whitehill: and it sounds good too. Hopefully. Let’s start here. You know, you have had an illustrious career in marketing, business development, coaching, and motivational speaking, and you’ve done it all over the globe. As a result, you must have a broad network that no doubt has served you well throughout your career. Walk us through the journey to Kansas City and how you’ve cultivated that network.
John Hall: Well, first of all, I’m, I’m glad to be here. Having my background as it is and all the things that I’ve done, it’s given me a great foundation working with some of the best of the best. So when I walk into a situation in Kansas City and I align myself with someone like Crux-Xcelerate and Crux, I feel like I’m right back there with the best of the best. You may recall, last summer, I was asked to come in and do a speaking engagement to the Crux team. I do a presentation, as you know, called Coaching Up: Passionately Sharing Winning Strategies, and it’s all about personal and professional enrichment. I gave that presentation that day to your team. You unfortunately had to leave a little early, you didn’t get all of it—you had a client come in that day.
Ethan Whitehill: You have a good memory!
John: Clients come first! I do a presentation on collaborative communication teamwork connecting with people, which is probably the biggest portion, which we’re going to talk a little bit today about gifts and doubt, taking inventory, process and admiration, gratitude, and most importantly, the brand. After I gave that presentation, your CEO Melea McRae said, “I’ve got an idea,” says “you’re very good at presenting and coaching and working with groups” because I do this at conferences and for executive teams and for companies. Would you be interested in getting involved with Crux-Xcelerate?”
Ethan Whitehill: So we’ve talked about Crux on the podcast before, interviewed Melea actually, to get the down low on what we’re all about, but we have not yet explored our sister company, Crux-Xcelerate. Let’s talk about that. For those who don’t know, what is Crux-X?
John Hall: Well, I got a story to share with you since we’re here in Kansas City and coming from my background Adam Teicher, who writes for both the Star and ESPN, did a story about Andy Reid. He interviewed a bunch of the people from Philadelphia and asked what were some of Andy’s gifts. He said the most underrated gift that Andy Reid has is his ability to get people to work together. A lot of people might not remember, but back in those days, the head coach before Andy and the front office did not get along. There was some strife there. So when Andy arrived, he said, that’s not going to happen here.
So, what Crux-Xcelerate does is our job is to help marry both the marketing team and the sales team so they’re on the same page. Because anytime you can get companies to work together with better teamwork—and coming from a background of teams, you can always have so much more success. So that’s kind of the analogy there. We just do everything we can with Crux-Xcelerate—all the curriculum that we have, all the coaching that we have—to try to pull the team together as much as possible and help those organizations be as successful as they can be, particularly on the sales side.
Ethan Whitehill: And that is so important today. There are a lot of sales tools out there, obviously. I’ve been through a lot of ’em myself. How is Crux-X different?
John Hall: I think it goes back to what I shared just a minute ago about trying to marry it. I mean, we’re not just looking at just the sales strategies. We’re looking at the overall company strategies and what’s their mission, what’s their culture? How do we adopt those things in with the salespeople and getting them to understand that every person within the company is part of the brand, but as a salesperson, you’re really a part of the brand. So through all of our curriculum, everything is geared on getting them to not just be the best professional they can be, but also to enrich them from a personal standpoint.
Ethan Whitehill: And that’s huge. When you think about that they’re the living, breathing brand, your sales force is usually the first experience with the brand, and that’s critical. So to get them there, what does that engagement look like?
John Hall: Well, there’s a whole series of different curriculum that we offer our clients. We have everything from LinkedIn strategies to the art of networking to the Coaching Up! presentation that I shared earlier. We have a personal assessment we do that hopefully we’ll talk about a little bit later in the program. We have a whole session on understanding how important it is to build relationships, creating an environment where you’re using your EQ. A lot of people talk about IQ, they talk about AQ, which is acquired intelligence. They talk about TQ, which is technology intelligence. But EQ is the most important aspect from a salesperson perspective.
Every sale that’s ever made, the number one reason they buy a product or service is price, the investment, right? But the second reason they buy is building relationships. It’s a relationship. So if we get to understand the EQ portion of that, how emotions drive people, how we can create, getting them to talk about themself, to be compassionate, to be understanding, to get them to start creating that cognitive dopamine release that makes them feel good, then we’re in a much better position to be able to get those salespeople to a point where they can close more sales.
Ethan, to be honest with you, there’s a whole series of things that we do for these clients and it’s fantastic.
Ethan Whitehill: And it doesn’t happen overnight though, right? How long does this take?
John Hall: It’s a six month engagement. We come in and do a discovery, and we do some research, and then we start coaching. We do one-on-one coaching with the salespeople. The personality assessments help us understand those salespeople. So me as a coach, if I’m working with them or our other coaches are working with them, they know how to address those people, how to work with them. It’s quite a program, and it’s something that we’re very, very excited about.
Ethan Whitehill: You mentioned personality assessments. I want to ask a little bit more about that. What is that approach? What does that look like when we’re working with a client to understand their sales team?
John Hall: Well, we use INSIGHT inventory, which was developed by Dr. Patrick Handley, and his is unique because a lot of the personality assessments have five answers. He only has four, so you can’t just pick the middle every time. It gives us a little better idea of the personality of the individual, and that helps us do a few things. One, it helps for our coaches to be able to know how to work with that person. It helps that particular salesperson to understand how they’re made, and it also helps them understand what their personality is and how they can flex that personality to a potential sale, how they can flex that personality with their coworkers, how they can flex that personality with people. They have relationships in their life. It’s a fantastic tool and it’s a big tool in our toolbox for Crux-Xcelerate because it really gives us an idea of exactly what we’re dealing with with those salespeople.
Ethan Whitehill: Thinking about flexing personality, sales and marketing don’t always get along. They’re a lot of times siloed in an organization, and that causes problems with communication and maybe not everybody’s on the same page. So what, in your experience, is the value of bringing these two sides together? And that kind of speaks to why Crux-X exists alongside Crux.
John Hall: Well, I’ve sat on both sides of the table as a marketing person and a salesperson, and I know that the marketing people don’t always understand everything that the salespeople are doing. The salespeople don’t always understand the mission of the marketing people. If we can get them to a point where they’re starting to come together and work together, they’re going to be more successful. There was a book written called [The Extra] 2%. It was a book written by these Wall Street guys that had bought the Tampa Bay Rays. They went in and they looked at the organization and they said, look, guys, if we can just be 2% better across the board, all working together, we can take this franchise places it’s never been. And they literally went from worst to first by those small incremental things, by working together. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do with Crux-Xcelerate is get the sales team and the marketing team on the same page.
Matter of fact, when in doing the Coaching Up! presentation, we do that for their entire staff and that all the team comes for those strategies. But when we really start to drill down with the sales team, it’s a matter of them understanding traditional sales strategies, but also understanding what’s the marketing team doing? What’s the mission of the company? What’s the culture of the company? How are we representing the brand? And then going out and doing and representing that brand in a way that gets the customer to feel good about the product, good about the service, and increase sales. It’s kind of that famous rowing in the same direction.
Ethan Whitehill: You mentioned Coaching Up! again. Just to get into that a little bit more. I know presentation dives into communication, teamwork, connection, overcoming doubt, gratitude. Why are all these skills so important to biz dev?
John Hall: Well, when you think about it, when you start with collaborative communication: if we can’t communicate in a collaborative manner, then we’re not going to be successful. Whether it’s biz dev or whether it’s our relationships, connecting with people—getting to understand that every person that we’re dealing with, we’re sitting across the table from in a negotiation or working with—is dealing with stuff, and learning how to connect with them.
It’s interesting you talked about gifts and doubt. We have a whole section on recognizing the gifts of the people you work with and understand that every person you’re around is also dealing with doubt, as well, and helping them realize they’re dealing with doubt. So that whole process of the Coaching Up! presentation, which I love to give—and I’ve given it to audiences in the hundreds, it resonates with audiences. Everything is real, and selling is real. It’s about dealing with people. It’s not about hard close. It’s not about am I following the steps for a sale? Yes, you got to put in the work, you got to do the process, but at the end of the day, it’s about developing relationships with people. If you develop relationships with people, you’re going to close more deals.
Ethan Whitehill: That’s absolutely what I love about your approach. It’s not about manipulating somebody to get to the sale, it’s about building that relationship in the right way. You also talk about in your presentation this idea of taking inventory. What does that mean?
John Hall: I worked with two different companies in where we took inventory on what they do. And the sum of that is: if we step back and we take an inventory of everything we’re doing both professionally and personally, and put it down on paper, you’re going to realize on a daily basis, a weekly basis, and a monthly basis how much you’re actually doing. It also helps lift people up.
I was working with an organization where I had these people that were curmudgeons and they were not going to bend on buying into me doing this presentation, and I was talking about their specific company while their arms were crossed, body language was horrible. I said, “well, let’s take a little inventory of what you’re actually doing with the company now.” They didn’t think they were doing a lot of positive things with the company, but then I spun it back to their people and I started showing how people that they worked with were giving back in different ways. They started looking at their staff a completely different way than they normally did because they didn’t realize that the person they sit next to is actually doing this great work out there.
I lastly shared with them that service they represent actually helped save lives. And I said, “it could actually save your own family’s life.” So every day you’re making a difference. By simply taking inventory of what they were doing, it changed and completely flipped the script on what they thought they were doing. And every one of us, if we take inventory—if you and I leave today and we go, “Ethan, give me an inventory of what you’ve done for the last two weeks and what you’ve done for the last month.” First, you’d be shocked to see all the things you’ve done. And then you’d start to say, dang, I’ve done some pretty cool things. We do that with the, the people that we work with to get them to understand that they’re those very, very positive things. Anytime we can elevate somebody’s mood, elevate someone’s enthusiasm for their job, they’re going to be more successful.
Ethan Whitehill: I love that positive perspective. I think that’s so helpful and probably so undervalued and underused in the workplace today. Your positivity reminds me of our favorite TV football coach, Ted Lasso. A lot of what he talks about—and belief is—is tied to purpose, too. The Japanese have this concept called Ikigai, which is your reason for being. I like to think of maybe your crux being that reason for being. What is your crux? What is the crux of John?
John Hall: I’m a firm believer that anytime I enter a room, when I leave it, I want to make it a better place. I know that can sound very “kumbaya” and I’ve been actually teased a little bit of being too much Ted Lasso, but that’s a good thing. What’s the downside? I mean, really, and be a difference maker. We have, every day, an opportunity. Ran into somebody the other day that saw me talking with a bagger at a Hen House here in town. This bagger does not smile, and I was working by my very best to get him to smile. I ran into this couple at an event here in town, and they go, “Hey, well you’re that guy that was trying to get that bagger to smile at the grocery store” – and he did.
How much time did that take? Not only did it help him, [but] how did that represent my brand so much so that when being at an event, someone actually pulled me aside and said, “Hey, you’re that guy that was trying to get that bagger to smile.” See, we as biz dev people, if we’re exuding that kind of energy and that kind of positive of a vibe, when we’re dealing with people, they’re going to respond positively. And if they respond positively to us, how do you think they’re going to view our product or our service?
I’ll give you an example, Ethan. There’s a story about a gentleman that is trying to sell his fleet services—his young sales guy, his fleet services—to a bakery. And he knows this is the last pitch he’s going to have. The owner of the bakery has already told him that, look, your prices are just too expensive. I don’t want to buy, I’m happy with my vendor right now. So, the young sales guy asks the older salesperson in the company, “would you please come with me, see if you can help me save this sale.” They get in the car together to drive to go see the potential client, and the older salesperson has this brown bag in his hand. They walk into the boardroom, they sit down (the owner, the baker, and they have multiple bakeries—it’s a big operation). He’s sitting at the end of the table. He goes, “I don’t want to waste your time. You guys are way too expensive. I’ve already told this young salesperson the same exact thing.” He goes, “I just don’t have the time for this.” He goes, “well sir, I have one question for you.”
And he opens up the brown paper bag and he pulls out two loaves of bread—and one loaf of bread is a regular loaf of bread, and one loaf of bread is his loaf of bread. And he says, “sir, what’s the difference between this $1.79 do loaf of bread and your $4.79 loaf of bread?”
Well, he gets indignant. “Well, I’ll tell you why,” and he talks about all these wonderful things that they do, how they do it, all the ingredients, and all the things. And at this point now he starts talking about himself. He has this cognitive dopamine release, he’s feeling good. And then the salesperson says, “sir, we’re your loaf of bread.”
See, that baker by talking about himself, talked to himself into the sale. Those are the sort of things that we teach with Crux-Xcelerate.
Ethan Whitehill: That’s awesome. I want to switch gears and, and you’re going to maybe make us smile here because this is my mystery question portion of the interview. I have my 20-sided die, and I’m going to roll this, and I want to see what you think.
We have a nine—This one comes up a lot. For some reason I must roll nine a lot. What is the best concert you’ve ever been to?
John Hall: Best concert? Wow. I would have to say Fleetwood Mac in 1977. They were at the peak. They were killing it at the time, the audience was engaged—It was a fantastic show. Ethan, that’s a tough one because there’s so many good—I’m a big blues guy, I am a big R&B guy, I love country—I could go on and on and on, but probably that Fleetwood Mac.
It’s interesting, I just saw Stevie Nicks a couple weeks ago, but that one Fleetwood Mac concert that night was—and I was just a young guy, a really young guy—and it was magical.
Ethan Whitehill: John, how can our listeners learn more about Crux-Xcelerate?
John Hall: Well, they could go to crux kc.com and there is a link there for Crux-Xcelerate to learn more about what we do, how we do it, and how we can impact their company.
Ethan Whitehill: Fantastic. Thanks, John. This was awesome.
Hosted by Ethan Whitehill
Ethan has made a career out of building agencies and growing brands. He founded the firm Two West in 1997, running it as an independent shop for nearly 20 years before combining his firm with an AdAge Top 100 Agency, where he served as CMO. As an agency founder and entrepreneur, Ethan brings a business owner’s mindset to marketing, working on a host of diverse brands, from packaged goods and professional services to hospitality and healthcare.