The following article is an interview-style feature on Mark Zisek, Director of Commericial Operations of Front Desk Supply – a leading hotel supply company based in San Diego.
“I think most people don’t like conflict and the objection might catch people off guard. Therefore, it is important is to prepare and think through possible objections in advance. Talk to others in the organization and try to use their experience to learn about what objections may come up. We also try to communicate any issues that come out to a core team so that everyone learns from these issues and can adjust accordingly. Price objections are the hardest to deal with and if we come across those, we ask for competitive information, so at least we learn something and get market data should we have to sell below our desired margins.“
As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Zisek.
Mark Zisek is the owner of Front Desk Supply, a leading supplier to Independent and Boutique hotels across the United States. He has worked for companies ranging from Fortune 50 to startups. He has a worked in varied positions including Marketing, Product Management and Finance.
Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?
I went to NYU to get my MBA, and as a poor college student, I had to commute in and out of NYC via train. As luck would have it, my professor of my entrepreneurial class was making the same commute and became a mentor of mine. During those rides, he instilled in me that if you find something you personally need, a large percentage of the 300 million+ Americans will have a similar need. That then is the basis of your business.
Fast forward 5 years and I was at an industry trade show and through happen-stance, ended up talking to the person who had one of the more unique promotions: Open a “faux” door with your hotel room key card and win a giant prize. She mentioned how hard it was to put the promotion together and I thought “how hard could that be”?
A few years later, a friend and I were talking about businesses and I remembered the Faux’ door and how it filled a need for advertising on key cards while attending meetings and visiting trade shows. That was enough for us to pursue a key card business geared at meetings and conventions.
As you might imagine, it took quite a few cold calls and hotel visits to understand the industry. One big learning was that the trade show and meeting business key card market paled in comparison to the hotel market. Which if done right, you get the meeting and convention keys for “free”, as you day to day customers come to you. So, we flipped our business model and the day to day products is now our primary focus. We have also expanded our product offering to include key holders, notepads, pens, Do Not Disturb and other signs.
We have grown to 10+ people (plus some contractors) that help manage the company day to day, which services almost 1,000 hotel customers around the world. This includes quite a few in San Diego and Orange County.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I started my career in Accounting/Finance and worked in Internal Audit for Johnson & Johnson. A great job a few years out of school as I got to travel the world and had almost too many great experiences. It was on one trip that my career trajectory changed — I was in Korea and the General Manager happened to be an expatriate who came from a strong Marketing background. Over the course of the trip, he gave me lots of insight into what Marketing people do and I realized the same skill set you need to succeed in Marketing, were the skills I exceeded in. I ended up setting my CPA license aside and going for my MBA in order to transition to Marketing. As far as take aways, don’t be afraid to adjust your career as you learn more about yourself and learn from others. Enjoy what you do, be honest about your skill set and success will follow.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have two intersecting projects right now: We have spent much of the slowdown from the covid-19 pandemic launching a “sister site” — https://shop.frontdesksupply.com/ which is primarily for PPE supplies right now, but we will move the rest of our product line there eventually. The other big project was to increase our automation capabilities as the sister site comes to scale and we try and maintain our ‘core’ business site (www.frontdesksupply.com) as well. The automation will allow us to work with less manual data and thus save both data entry work in multiple places while letting our key employees work on efforts that have more value.
We strongly believe our one-stop PPE supply and other covid-19 related products will make it easy for people in two ways. First, we want to allow hotels to open up safely so that people can travel again and be confident that is safe to do so. The longer people are stuck in their homes the more important this becomes. Second, people are under so much stress right now just trying to find PPE-related products we started offering products with reduced volumes more tailored towards families and small businesses. We hope by having one place to go, and with competitive prices, we will make it easier for people to stay protected
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Without a doubt, my Entrepreneurship Professor from NYU noted above. I was working at Johnson & Johnson at the time and going to Graduate school at night. I felt like my career was on a more traditional path — find the right company and work your way up the ranks.
He helped me understand how to identify markets and take risks; calculated risks, but risks nonetheless. Both are key traits to running your own business. We took a train together every night after class, as we both lived in NJ and so I got so much input on my career while passing time. Once the class ended, we kept in touch and he was a source of career guidance and interestingly lost touch before starting my own company. His impact though helped lead to the concept for Front Desk Supply and I appreciate his guidance to this day.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
I have worked in both Sales & Marketing and at companies large enough to be part of the Fortune 50 and small enough to have only one salesperson. I have also sold on the extremes from a product perspective. From the highest of high tech to the most basic paper product. Naturally, that also meant selling products that cost in the hundreds and thousands of dollars to products that cost below 5 cents each. As a result, I have seen quite a few scenarios, as well as looking at how to improve sales both strategically and on the front lines. I have been working largely in a Sales Role since starting Front Desk Supply in 2004. I love closing profitable business and regularly learn how to improve the selling process and build a repeatable sales process for our industry and product offering.
Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
The pandemic has certainly been trying and causing increased stress and anxiety. I think the stress stems from both the fact that you can’t see it, in addition to the more concrete financial and health impacts. To that end, my best advice of support is to focus on what you can control.
You can control following expert advice — focus on what leading doctors and medical journals are saying. Facebook and other Social Media are rife with lots of opinions, memes, and other bad — or certainly biased — advice. Stick to what experts say.
You can control following the laws and recommendations from your state and local government (even if you don’t agree with the recommendations). Don’t waste time or mental anguish debating whether a mask should or shouldn’t be worn. Don’t waste time or mental anguish wishing things were different. If need be, protest, write letters and do something active if you don’t agree, but stewing, complaining and hoping doesn’t help.
You can also control your Job performance. Instead of worrying about what might happen to your job, focus instead on doing it to the best of your ability. Something may still happen to your job that is out of your control, but worrying, procrastinating or complaining about it doesn’t help.
You can control taking steps to protect your health. Above and beyond wearing a mask and washing your hands, maintaining a healthy weight and positive mental attitude will lead to improving the odds of the virus having minimal impact on you.
I try to follow all of these and have spent most of the pandemic focused on building infrastructure for the business while sales were slower.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versatile topics, is totally ignored?
That is a great question. I think part of it has to do with the fact, we all “sell” every day and selling involves so many other disciplines. When shopping — Can I get a discount and figuring out how to do that — basic negotiating. When socializing with friends and family, you are learning about personalities and how to react to them. There are numerous others, but I do agree deeper selling courses in mainstream education would help people in so many ways and in so many unexpected ways.
This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?
I think this is nuanced. First, certainly, the caricature of the Used Car Salesman comes to mind for most people and I can’t imagine too many having a positive impression. But they are also associated with pushing a product that may be low in quality.
You certainly have to be somewhat salesy to get to the point of closing a sale — if you don’t ask for a sale, often you won’t get it and your competitor will certainly ask for the sale. Having said that, not everyone is comfortable working with overly salesy people, nor functioning in a sales role. More introverted personalities for example may struggle in sales roles or in dealing with salespeople. I think the important piece to remember is you need to learn to appeal to multiple personality types and understand how to best appeal to them in the least intrusive means for that person. Keep a mental tool kit that allows you to appeal to each person in their own unique way.
The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?
I for sure am best at the first few stages — Prospecting, Preparation and approach; all borne from a good chunk of my career in Product Management. Much of that job, was doing each of those steps for our Global Sales Team so that they could focus on the last few elements (with the possible exception of Handling objections as we did that as well). I have had to “learn” all the other steps and probably don’t push as hard as needed in all cases. I do have a highly qualified team that I am sure handles those aspects better than myself. We have tried to make everything easy for the sales team and have very defined steps to ensure we capture a high percentage of deals we are exposed to.
Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously, every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
We have a very defined niche and do our best to focus on that. We also document things very well, so that we try to avoid spending time on deals we aren’t likely to win. As we work in hospitality, there are often decision-makers that are not directly associated with any specific hotel but may be purchasing for a group of hotels (hotel management companies, small/local hotel brands). Any hints they give us that let us know they are interested in working with us open up all hotels under their umbrella, conversely a hint of an inability to work with us, we make sure to remove all hotels under their control from our call sequences. Focus, focus, focus on leads that we know need our offering.
In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?
I think most people don’t like conflict and the objection might catch people off guard. Therefore, it is important is to prepare and think through possible objections in advance. Talk to others in the organization and try to use their experience to learn about what objections may come up. We also try to communicate any issues that come out to a core team so that everyone learns from these issues and can adjust accordingly. Price objections are the hardest to deal with and if we come across those, we ask for competitive information, so at least we learn something and get market data should we have to sell below our desired margins.
‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.
I certainly do my best to avoid being pushy, but do love closing deals. To that end, here are my 5 suggestions:
- I try to use unobtrusive methods of reaching out — late night voicemails so they don’t have to talk and emails being the two most common. If you do end up catching a night manager then this offers a great chance to ask questions on the person’s background that you might use later (Do you know what they put in their coffee?).
- I try to put it in a formal quotation format and add “good for 15 days” as a means to show that the offer or price might change. While this is more work up front, it often it is needed for approvals so ends up beings a time saver in the long run.
- I just ask — what might hold you up from buying? If it is price, I try to get approval for something lower. If it is product not quite fitting their needs then I go to #4
- I offer other alternatives — we try to have a “good, better, best” product strategy and focus most sales on the better option, so we can move in either direction. This regularly works, as we have hotels we work with in each segment, so often we just need to find the right product that fits their branding.
- As noted, I am generally not pushy, so I generally don’t have any other options that I can say I regularly try!
Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?
I think follow-up is extremely important. I also think the best way to approach it is understanding not only the situation, but the customer as well. Be respectful of their time and that will go a long way.
I also think varying the type of communication you use is vital. Start with a call so they know who you are and hear your voice. This often leads to leaving a voice mail — make it crisp, positive and to the point. Be sure to leave your contact information and repeat it slowly so they can get the information. Follow up with an email — email is so easy and is easy to delete if you start sending too many. Be sure to leave time between each type of communication so they have time to respond. Offering multiple communication options ensures they can respond in the manner that they are the most comfortable with. We have built much of this into our sales process and our sales tools.
As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?
To me, the two best are email and the phone (a little old school, a little new school). Email is better than text as it gets your head out of your phone and allows for a more well-thought-out answer, but is also fast enough to quickly get through an issue.
I like phone calls over video calls mainly because it the video conference requires the customer to have the relevant technology and be available to use it (i.e if they are driving etc). Further, if needed to explain something — there is always screen sharing vs. video calls. I am very casual and prefer to not check myself that I am ready and presentable for video calls!
Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have been kicking around lots of ideas to help reduce the discord between people affiliated with the two political parties, as it has really become toxic and makes it hard to maintain relations with “the other side”. Further I have noticed both sides contorting beyond recognition to maintain a stance consistent with their party, as opposed to a focus on their own right and wrong.
I started thinking about developing a game show that offered both perspectives to help achieve understanding in a fun way. Realizing that is a bit of a slog, my current more “actionable” idea is to start a hashtag campaign — #thinkforyourself (or something along those lines) where people using it would mention something from the other party that they agree with. It shows they can think for themselves and not just believe every single element of their party’s views. Hopefully this shows both sides that our country is more similar than distant.
How can our readers follow you online?
Our website includes weekly blogs — www.frontdesksupply.com/blog/ and that is a great starting point. That page and others should bring up a means to sign up for our newsletter — a great way to keep up on information, specials and other items. We have put together an extensive list of items hotels (our market focus) need to re-open during the pandemic — go to https://www.frontdesksupply.com/hotelchecklist/ to download.
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!