Karl Becker explains the sales strategy that he used to recover after a bankruptcy.
Now he has written that into a book entitled Iceberg Selling.
On this episode he explains how to take back control and improve cash flow by closing more deals which he credits with this one key principle, that he explains on this podcast with Jim James
Karl Becker , Founder and CEO at Improving Sales Performance.
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The UnNoticed Entrepreneur is hosted & produced by Jim James.
Jim James (00:03.682)
Hello, welcome to this episode of The Unnoticed Entrepreneur. Today, we're gonna talk to a serial entrepreneur, an author, a recovered bankrupt. Can we call him a recovered bankrupt? Someone who's recovered from bankruptcy, and he's got a new book out called Iceberg Selling. And Karl is joining us all the way from Boulder, Colorado. Karl, welcome to the show.
Karl Becker (00:26.21)
Yeah, thank you. And I love the intro. Yeah, there's a lot of lessons that I'm gonna bring forward today and just things I'm excited to share with you.
Jim James (00:33.11)
Well, me too. And I know for what it's worth, I know where you are because I was in Boulder, Colorado for a couple of years when I was young, went to junior high. So I closed my eyes and I'm with you. But for now I get to see you and we're on the mic, which is fantastic. Now you've built many businesses, but also you've had a couple that haven't worked, including going to full bankruptcy. And we're gonna talk about that in a little while, because it's important because rebuilding
yourself both mindset and brand after a big, if you like, collision with reality can be hard to do as an entrepreneur. But you've got behind you a real bookshelf for those people listening. Kyle's got a bookshelf and one, it's real, it's not virtual. Next, he's got some wonderful baseballs on top. Maybe you'll get a chance to tell us about those. But also, he's got a number of books that he's written of his own. He's got three so far. And the latest one is called Iceberg Selling.
So Karl, let's start off talking about what you're doing and who you're helping, and this latest book, Iceberg Selling, what can we take away from that?
Karl Becker (01:42.982)
Yeah, thank you. High level, I come in, I have a team, I have a consultancy where we come in and we help either build or improve sales organizations. And a lot of times we might say sales and marketing. And I live in what's called the SMB, the small midsize business sector. So I'm talking to companies that might have 10, even five, 10, 20, 50, 100. I've got a couple of clients where it's, you know, hundreds of employees, but most of it's that kind of small to small midsize business where the entrepreneur is still involved.
and they're still involved in running the sales organization. And a lot of times they've never done that. So it was like, how do we take a lot of different principles, years of experience, my lessons learned, and kind of take my mind and kind of let them borrow it for a little bit, same with my other teammates, my other consultant teammates, and up level their team, man, make them higher performing. I'm even gonna say happy with a strong sales culture. And so that's kind of the framework of what I do. But to answer the book, here's the really simple thing, Iceberg Selling, I want you to think about.
Everyone, yourself, your family, your friends, your customers is an Iceberg where you only see about 10% above the surface at any one time. And yet we're out running around trying to connect with people with only 10% of the knowledge. And so the whole concept with an Iceberg Selling Concept here or even saying Iceberg communications, how do I look underneath the surface? How do I see that other 90%? And as I learn about that, as I see more and more of it, then guess what, I can be a solution. I can be a service because the odds of me getting that
and meeting them where they are is much, much higher. So to me, Iceberg Selling, you could say is for your internal customers, your team, as well as your external customers, which are our customers and clients.
Jim James (03:18.826)
Can we break that down because, as you say, superficially, I mean, of course, you could say Iceberg means that you're going to meet people who are cold or melting, I guess, in this current climate change situation we've got. Karl, can you break it down? Because yes, it seems like a simple concept, but knowing you and with your over 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur, you've got depth to that what you've got below the surface. Can you just take us to what people might learn from the book?
Karl Becker (03:46.926)
Yeah, I'm going to give you a high level overview of the whole concept of Iceberg Selling. So the first thing I think with all of us as being entrepreneurs or sales people, we always have to communicate. We always need to connect with people. In my world, connecting with people and helping them see that solution is sales. So guess what? We're all in sales. As a parent, you're in sales. You know, whether you're Selling to your parents or your kids or your spouse, we're all in sales. But we also know that from the traditional business side,
We meet new people, they're interested in what we do, they wanna learn more. So for me with Iceberg Selling, it really starts with, hey, acknowledge it, realize that sales is really powerful, it creates payroll, it's the fuel of the economy, even your own personal economy. And then I like to talk about like, what do you play for? Why did you even do this? As an entrepreneur or a true salesperson, why did we do this? It's probably about independence, right? Betting on ourselves.
wanting to be of service. So I think the more we can reconnect with that, then it gives us the energy, if you will, the power to get curious and cover what I'm talking about in Iceberg Zone. So there's some mindsets. There's kind of a process. I'll give you one or two mindsets out of the gate, lifetime value. Like stop looking at things as just an immediate transaction. Think about it as how is this a customer for life? Next one is really being of service. What can we do that's above this transaction, outside of the transaction?
Maybe you have a customer that just moved to town and they don't know where to send their kids to school or they wanna take their spouse out for a nice dinner and yeah, they're gonna go to Yelp, but wouldn't it be better if you said, hey, there's a restaurant I really enjoy and based on what I know about you, you might wanna check this out. Like that's being of service going above and beyond. The other mindset's I kinda push together and I know I'm covering a lot. So if you're listening, you're probably like, what, there's so much here.
There is a lot here. It's an Iceberg, right? We got to understand everything below, but the other two mindsets that I really love is an ownership mindset. We are responsible for our own success. And then drivership. We would rather be a driver than a passenger, right? Passenger can change the radio, that's about it. A driver can determine where they want to go. So the book really explores if you have these mindsets, then you're set up to start to be more effective how you communicate. And that's kind of where we get into pieces of the true Iceberg.
Karl Becker (06:03.074)
But no, I said a lot there. So we'll see if you have anything you want to share back.
Jim James (06:06.843)
No, Karl Becker, that's brilliant. I'm going to pick you up on one of those, which is lifetime value. In the consulting work I do with clients, often it's a short-term tactical sale. Then when you roll that and say, well, how long will you have the client for? Three to five years, and what could they be worth? It changes, for example, the initial offer, doesn't it? You can then maybe give a bundle, you can do a subscription instead of a one-off payment.
But here's the question, when it comes to lifetime value, most companies are cash crunched, right? And so thinking, oh, that's great. I might earn the money over five years, but I need the cash now. How do you help people with, if you like, the insecurity, the anxiety that lifetime value actually needs to be paid upfront? How do you help with that?
Karl Becker (06:59.354)
You know, that's a great question because I think most of us that either have been entrepreneurs or salespeople or run a sales organization, we've got that end of the month, right? If you're a salesperson, it's like, I need to hit this number because I want this commission. And if we're a business owner, operator, we've got payroll, we've got real responsibility. So there's this elephant in the room of money and timing of money. And so I guess I would first encourage you to go, Hey, how, how much does my close rate get jeopardized?
when I come across needy, when I come across insecure. Just put that out there and let it sit for a minute. And then the other is what typically happens at the end of the month? We all know if you wanna buy a car, do it at the end of the month, right? Because you're gonna get the best deal because they're trying to hit their quota. What does that do for my brand when I start to rely on price or tactics to drive demand in an artificial time period? I know you need the money, but I'm gonna flip this to an Iceberg for you.
The Iceberg isn't that you need to close sales, that you might have a capital problem. There might be a bigger problem in your organization around cash flow. So, you know, the symptom is I don't have enough money, but the problem is deeper than I need to close sales. So there's a little bit of an inner game here of like, what's really going on, but I would tell you lifetime value, if you can start to build your business where you're stronger and you can relax and you can show up with more confident and not feel like...
Oh, my whole future is up to whether or not I make this sale. You're actually going to sell more. You're going to have a lot more inner peace, and that's going to attract more people to want to work with you.
Jim James (08:35.306)
Karl, this is a show about communication. One of the elements in that really great detailed answer is about the signals that you give off. If you come across as nervous and anxious, the client's going to read that. Body language is over 80% of all communication. If you're writing emails that seem to us and in a hurry, you're going to be giving them the signal that you're possibly not going to be there next month. Right?
Karl Becker (08:43.543)
Jim James (09:01.406)
and they're going to be even more reluctant. Whereas if you take a longer term view, it helps the client to settle down as well, doesn't it too? In our conversations before, you're plainly someone that thinks through a lot as well about the sales process. When you give guidance as a consultant on sales, what would be some of the tips that you could share with my fellow unnoticed entrepreneurs about?
closing more sales, notwithstanding it's the lifetime value, but from a practical point of view, how do you then take those into being proper customers over a long period of time?
Karl Becker (09:40.29)
I love that. So first, this is the last part of the book, Iceberg Selling we go through kind of the five steps, if you will, of Iceberg Selling I'm gonna do a high level overview to kind of paint the picture, but I'm gonna give you the payoff. So the first thing is, you probably live in this world where you've probably done this. I'm gonna tell you a story and you're gonna see yourself. You had a great meeting, the person said, yes, send me the contract or the proposal, and you didn't schedule a next step because you were so confident it was all gonna work.
So here it is a week later, you've sent them the proposal, you still haven't heard from them. You might've even agreed, hey, let's start the first of the next month and here it is the third or fourth or fifth of the next month and you're pulling out your hair, what the heck's going on? Right, and you start to do this, hey, I'm just checking in. Your emails are like, hey, I don't know if you have any questions, I don't know if you got my email. And it's like, guess what? They got your email and guess what, if they had questions they would have asked you, there's something else going on. So how do we prevent that? How do we actually get it so that
our lead or our customer that's buying again says, what's the next step, Karl? How do we move this forward? And I'm gonna tell you how to do that. So the first is I want you to imagine you have an appointment coming up. And I'm gonna take you through five steps. We're gonna go pretty quick, but you kind of already know the payoff. At the end, they're gonna tell you what to do. Instead of you having to persuade them to, hey, are you ready to move forward? That's where we're going. So step number one, do the research, right? This is super critical. Back to the Iceberg, right?
We want to see as much as we can under that Iceberg before we even meet with them on a call or whatnot. So, and here's a big pro tip if you're in sales, look in the CRM, maybe they already talked to another sales person a year ago, three years ago, right? Look at their social, what's going on? What might be showing up in their life? So you come prepared, right? Number one, prepare, do the research. Number two, when you have a meeting, tell them where you're gonna go. I kind of patterned that just a minute ago. So in a sales call, I might be like, hey, I'm really, really appreciate the time.
What do you think about this for the next 30 minutes? I'd love to learn a little bit more about your company. I did some research. Seems what you're doing is really interesting. Like to understand, you know, what you might want to get out of the call. And then I'd like to share with you a little bit about me and what we do. And then from there, let's have a conversation whether or not we see this as a fit. And if it isn't, I'll let you know. And if it does look like a fit, let's kind of put our brainstormed hat on and see how we might be able to work together. And then we kind of go from there. And most people, I don't think I've ever had this not happen where someone says, I don't want to do that.
Karl Becker (12:06.338)
But I might've had one or two, but I've been doing sales for well over 30 years. So my odds are pretty good. The next is rapport. Like this is all about listening. If you're a salesperson or an entrepreneur, this isn't about you telling them how great everything is. It's about you discovering their life, their Iceberg. And the more you share about yours, the more curious about their Iceberg, and the more you share about yours, the more you're gonna get this rapport building, right? Think about really your friends. You share everything and you get to know each other.
Fourth is that co-creation test for success. Hey, based on what I heard, this is how I think I might be able to create an engagement. Does that sound good to you? Is there another lever I should pull? Get into solution together because then they start to own it as well. And then the last, which I think all of us cringe, is make sure you have that clear next step. And even the most seasoned people are like, I don't need that. And it's like, I get that. Or some of us are insecure. If I tell them, oh, this was a great call. Can I get on your calendar? All of a sudden I'm gonna destroy a report.
Jim James (12:58.618)
Karl Becker (13:01.87)
That's what your brain's telling you. That's your story. It's not real. I'm gonna give you a hint. The higher somebody is in an organization, the more successful they are monetarily or however you define success, the more they need your help to set an appointment to make sure they are being organized and managed to move what's important to them forward. Say that again, get an appointment with them. Those are kind of the five steps I would tell you to start doing if you do any Selling at all.
Jim James (13:27.263)
Karl Becker, I can see why you're the sales consultant. I think you're absolutely right because so often, if people are in a situation and I've had that way people have called me and I'm interested in what they've got to offer, but they don't follow up and then I just get busy. Life happens and then the moment is gone and I'm a real believer that actually sometimes someone wants what you can offer but not at the time you want to offer it.
Karl Becker (13:41.882)
Yeah, life happens.
Jim James (13:52.426)
Right? And that, you know, the chance of you both coming together at the moment when they want to buy and you want to sell, it's great when it happens. It's kind of a magic moment. But on the whole, they've either made a purchase and they're thinking about how to get out of it, or they're thinking about how they might get to a situation where they're ready to buy from you. Right? So this idea of scheduling and keeping in the diary is really, really handy.
Karl, you run a company called Improving Sales Performance. I alluded to the fact that once upon a time, you were part of another business and you were running that and it didn't work out so well. I do like to ask people a little bit of the backstory about maybe a challenge and how they've recovered from that in a marketing perspective. So can you just tell us what happened and how did you recover from bankruptcy?
Karl Becker (14:44.246)
Yeah, first I just start with, you know, being an entrepreneur, being a creator, you got to bet on yourself. And that's probably why you do what you do. And so just to get real serious with who you are, you probably are wired a certain way, you know, and I look at it as if I were a musician, I always have to play music. If I'm an entrepreneur, I always need to create. I don't really have a choice. I'm kind of wired that way. So your best friend is going to be betting on yourself.
and getting really clear about who you are and your core values and how you want to be in everything. So I'll give you kind of the history lesson. For about 10 years, more or less from the time I was 30 to the time I was 40, I ran a digital agency and we were at the top of the game. We were recognized internationally. For those of you that know what South by Southwest is, we were finalists for some of the digital work we did. We're at this finalist table at South by Southwest, sitting next to the guys that invented Hulu.
this little company from Colorado with 30 people in it making websites and doing mobile apps. We actually made the first mobile app here in the States for the Porsche brand by working with an ad agency. So we were, you know, if you look at us from the outside, we were everything. It was amazing. But if you were inside, it was messy. It was nasty. We had two founders, me and a really good friend of mine. I'm not throwing him under the bus here. He's the creative genius. He wanted to make really cool things.
I'm the business person that wanted to make sure it all worked out and we could pay our mortgages. So over time, we have kind of two visionaries wanting two different things, a lot of conflict in the company, even though we got along, it just monetary conflict was really tough. So 2010 rolls around, great recession, and my entire pipeline freezes. There's no not nos and there's not yeses, it's the worst. It's the maybe, right? Well, you can't pay your bills on maybe.
So I have a real heart to heart with myself and I said, you know, is this the life I want? Am I living my core values? Is this who I wanna be? Is this the reality I want? I was like, no, I'm miserable. I'm working a gazillion hours. I'm stressed out, I'm overweight. Nothing's firing. And so I decided, you know, I can reinvent myself. And I had to kind of go through the closing the business, making really difficult conversations. I still remember walking in, telling everybody today's your last day, I'm really sorry.
Karl Becker (17:06.358)
and then declare personal bankruptcy. My kids were really young at the time. I was left with a house and a car. And I was grateful for that. So at that point in time, I needed to reinvent myself. And it got back to how did I wanna show up through the bankruptcy and the integrity I wanted to have, the best I could. And if I could look backwards, do I wanna be that guy? And I had to say yes. And then looking forward, who's the guy I wanna be?
And that's so important to get clear on who you are. And that's what I did. And so from there, I've had a lot of different adventures, but I took all the lessons of feeling like I had to hero everything. I had to solve everything. As the owner, entrepreneur, founder, why can't the team do the work? And flip that around and be like, how can I help other people like me that are just as frustrated build
and improve their sales organization, their marketing organization, their life, so that they can actually focus on running that company and not being in the weeds every day. So that's kind of like high level transition of where I am today.
Jim James (18:11.57)
And Karl Becker, you've plainly made a real success of that. And you've got the improving sales performance company, and you've also got your own Iceberg sales brand website. Just tell us a little bit about the strategy of having two brands and why have you not put the book underneath the company?
Karl Becker (18:32.43)
Yeah. Well, it gets back to, you know, what am I playing for? And what I'm playing for is my most highest impact. What I love, you might say, you know, what's your genius? What are you so good at that it fills you up? And at the end of the day, you're not tired, right? You're, you still want to go. Um, and for me, it is impact. It is getting
other people to realize whether it's Iceberg Selling or another concept like that, that they can change their life, that they are valuable, that there's things that they can do to go from good to great and bet on themselves. All about team, all about the individual and bringing them together. So what I realized was if I can make my consultancy where we build teams, where we do coaching, where we come in as fractional leaders, if I can make that scalable, and that's one reason I have these books because it's kind of like the blueprint of how I see the world, then I can find like-minded people that have the same core values
that wanna work under that brand. They really love coaching, they really love consulting, they love being a fractional director of sales, and they can do that work, work I used to do, but that they can do that work with the frameworks and the knowledge I have. And I can use the Iceberg Selling brand as a way to speak at conferences, run workshops, come in for like a quick infusion of knowledge and inspiration. And then if somebody wants to work with us, I can go, oh, great.
I have a team that also, you know, believes all these things that can do the work. So that's why I have two brands, but until I had the aha of how I'm going to scale myself, that would have been really hard.
Jim James (20:01.974)
Very, very interesting how you've managed to separate sort of the thought leadership under one brand and the implementation under another brand. Karl, we could talk for much longer, but I'd love to get your thoughts on something that has not worked. It's always slightly awkward to ask this question of people as successful as you, but there's one thing that you've done that you wouldn't advise trying again from a marketing point of view.
Can you give us a bit of insight there?
Karl Becker (20:33.398)
Yeah, absolutely. And I run into this with my clients as well. And first, there's no real shortcut. I think a lot of times we want to go into a company, whether it's our you know, I'm as a consultant, I want to go into a company and help them or you have your own company is like, how do I go from X to Y, I just need this revenue. And as soon as you hear yourself say I just need extra revenue, then you've got pitfalls all around you. And one of the biggest pitfalls is there's an easy button. And if I spend some money, and I do this one tactic, all of a sudden,
the world's gonna like open up for me and I'm gonna make a gazillion dollars. So I think that that's the mindset part of this is like, you gotta do the work, you gotta get intentional and there's usually not a shortcut. And if you think there might be, then test quick, learn, fail fast and move on. Don't keep kind of holding on with hope, you know, right? I don't wanna do that. So here's the thing that I fell into and I still do sometimes, is I think doing an outbound campaign, hiring a sales development agency, a business development rep,
agency or building in a house and thinking we're going to send a gazillion emails, we're going to buy this magical list and we're going to spam the hell out of everybody but we're not going to call it spam, we can call it email outreach and some percentage is going to respond and we're going to get an appointment and on that appointment they're going to be ready to buy. That is crazy, crazy thinking. It's not going to work and if it does work it's going to be like the less than one percent of companies out there that's going to work for. And the main reason is most people
that start to get curious about whatever you sell, whatever service you provide, they are not at the bottom of the funnel ready to buy, right? And here's the example, you might be a plumber and people call you because their pipes are backed up. Okay, they're ready to buy. Their house is flooding. But for those of us that do not have an emergency resolving that needs to be responded to immediately, there's gonna be a long sales cycle and thinking we can truncate that with just volume and getting appointments.
Jim James (22:17.208)
Karl Becker (22:30.542)
that are qualified, save your money. It's next to impossible and potentially gonna risk your brand and your credibility really fast.
Jim James (22:38.786)
Karl Becker, that's great because in this day and age where everyone's trying to do things so quickly, before we're all put out of business by AI, the temptation is these going to get rich quick schemes. Conversely then, Karl, with your 30 years of experience and going through and credit to you for coming back from such a hard moment there, what would be one piece of advice that you would give?
to my fellow unnoticed entrepreneurs with your 30 years of experience about, you know, building your brand and building the business up.
Karl Becker (23:12.622)
Yeah. It's a powerful question because I think most entrepreneurs we have, we want to help the world. We have this idea. We want to see it happen. We want to create change. We want to create happiness or solve a problem. Right? Like there's a ton of positive intent in everything we do. However, a lot of times we don't know how to begin. And I think a lot of times we think if we, if we build it, they will come. So this is my hack. This is what I would tell you. Any entrepreneur listening, you have a network. This network,
you had since you were a child. Where did you live? Who were your parents' friends? Who did you go to grade school with? Who's the teacher that you loved? Who was the first job? Who was your first mentor? You get the idea. All these people care about you and all these people know you. They've witnessed your life. For me, there were a ton of people that witnessed my bankruptcy, but they also witnessed all of the glory, right? All the cool things I did. And so to be able to reconnect and just be authentic, show them your Iceberg. Hey, I have this business I'm really excited about.
This is what it does. Would you be able to give me some advice? Is there anyone you know? Could this be something that maybe I could help you with? And if you're a consultant, find these people in your past and ask them, what are some problems they're dealing with right now? And then ask them if they let you solve one for you, right? Start with the people that already know you and you're familiar to and let possibility happen. That's gonna be then opening up another kind of horizon that you can see going forward once you do that. And even if you've been doing this forever,
There's probably locked revenue in your network. Go do it again. Start making it a habit.
Jim James (24:48.374)
Karl Becker, that's a great habit and a great way to end on such a constructive and positive message. And I'm glad that now through this podcast, I've got you in my network. I'm going to be ringing on your bell and have you a chat with you. Karl Becker, if people want to find out more about you, where can they go?
Karl Becker (25:04.27)
Right. Thank you. And this has been great. The first one is if you think, if you like the Iceberg concept and you're curious, go to icebergselling.com or Google Iceberg and Selling, and you're going to find me. And, um, that's a great way to, you know, hear the first chapter, download a sample, find the book on Amazon, reach out to me. So if you kind of like that energy, go do that. If you're interested more of like, Hey, what is everything that this guy does and what are these other resources, improvingsalesperformance.com.
Also, you can find me on LinkedIn from either of those sites. I respond to everyone. I'm pretty available. I really love to bring these ideas forward. So I just invite you, if what I said is exciting, reach out, let's get into the conversation.
Jim James (25:46.946)
Well, I'm glad that we've been able to reach out to you and you've come and shared so much energy and great ideas. Karl Becker joining us from the beautiful Boulder, Colorado. Thank you so much today.
Karl Becker (25:56.526)
Thank you, it's been great.
Jim James (25:58.274)
Well, it's been great. We've heard Karl Becker, that's Karl with a K by the way, and Becker B-E-C-K-E-R as in the tennis player, although I think they're not related. But thanks to Karl for coming on and sharing essentially some positive messages. But I think one of my key takeaways really is that when we look at a potential customer, we really are probably seeing only 10% and that we really have to take some time to learn about what's underneath what is visible.
in order to get closer to solving the problem and then taking the time to treasure that and think about that customer over a lifetime rather than over a transaction. So I hope that you've also found this show of interest. I'm sure that you have it. If you have, please do leave a review on the player that you are listening to this episode on and follow the show because I wouldn't want you to miss another great guest like Karl because I have them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Every day of the week we've got over
750 episodes now of The Unnoticed Entrepreneur, just in case you've got a long weekend coming up and you wanna do some binge listening. My name's Jim James. Thank you for listening to The Unnoticed Entrepreneur. And until we meet again, I encourage you just keep on communicating.
Karl Becker (27:11.906)
Awesome. Thank you.