Even as a child, we get nicknames that we carry with us throughout our lives. Behind that moniker is a story, great or not, that ultimately becomes our reputation. Other people may give us the name but the narrative about the label is all up to us. In this episode, the Pitch Whisperer, John Livesay talks about the importance of personal branding and how storytelling plays into making your brand memorable. Whether you’re just about to step out into the hustle and bustle of the workforce, or someone who is already doing the grind, don’t miss out on this chance to learn how you can effectively tell your tale to close that sale.
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Leading Within an Organization: The Importance of Personal Branding To “Lead Up” With John Livesay
John Livesay AKA the Pitch Whisperer is a sales keynote speaker who shows companies’ sales teams how to turn mundane case studies into compelling case stories so they can win more new business. From John’s Award-Winning Career at Condé Nast, he shares the lessons he learned that turned sales teams into revenue rockstars. His TEDx Talk, Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life has over 1 million views. Clients love working with John because of his ongoing support after his talk, which includes implementing the storytelling skills from his bestselling book, Better Selling Through Storytelling, an online course revenue rockstar mastery.
His new book, The Sale Is in the Tale is a business fable set in Austin, Texas about a sales representative whose old ways of selling are not working anymore. The reader accompanies the rep on his journey and learns how to use storytelling and strengthen the soft skills to improve their professional and personal relationships.
John is the guest lecturer on how to leverage the power of storytelling and sales at multiple universities, including the University of Texas at Austin, Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. His new book is now required reading for the UCLA course on Entertainment and Media Studies.
He is also the host of The Successful Pitch Podcast which is heard in over 60 countries. These interviews make him a sales keynote speaker with fresh and relevant content. John has been interviewed by Larry King and appeared on TV as an expert on how to ask for what you want and get a yes. John lives in Austin with Pepe, his King Charles Spaniel who reminds him every day of the importance of belly rubs. Let’s hear what John has to say about personal branding and how you could use this in a leadership role.
John, thank you so much for being on the show.
Thanks. I’m glad to be with you.
I got a chance to meet you in Detroit in December 2021 and you are probably the biggest sales genius or best sales genius I’ve ever met. Within like fifteen seconds, you immediately gave me a great idea with my Gen Z book. I’m so happy you agreed to be on this show.
Thank you. I love to help people. For those of us who are sales keynote speakers, that’s ultimately our mission. When you can pass out information that helps anybody of any age, that’s a great feeling.
Can you tell us your story a little bit, John, how you got to where you are now?
I originally majored in advertising. I was completely fascinated by how a commercial or an ad could cause someone to change their behavior or want to buy one brand over the other. Instead of going into agency work right away, I went into selling multimillion-dollar mainframe computers in Silicon Valley. I realized when I was competing against IBM that people were buying IBM only because of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.Storytelling makes you magnetic and memorable. Whoever tells the best story is the one that's going to get the sale. Click To Tweet
IBM would threaten them and say, “If you buy another vendor and it breaks, we’ll point the finger at that other vendor and you’ll get fired. The safe thing is to stay with us.” I thought, “People buy emotionally even at a multimillion-dollar price point of something technical. I have to use my advertising knowledge of persuasion and dealing with the emotions like an ad does to convince people it’s not a logical decision.”
That was my first a-ha moment. I had a career working at an ad agency in LA, creating commercials for movies coming out on home video back before Netflix when people went to Blockbuster. That’s where I honed my storytelling skills there because we could look at a movie that hadn’t done well theatrically, reposition it, and tell a different story to get people to want to go rent or even buy it. I had a fifteen-year sales career at Condé Nast selling advertising to big brands like Lexus, Jaguar, Guess Jeans, and Nike.
In the last years, I’ve been a sales keynote speaker, talking to tech and healthcare audiences as well as all kinds of industries on the power of storytelling as a sales tool since I’ve been in their shoes and know what it’s like to try to overcome being seen as a commodity. Storytelling also makes you magnetic and memorable. Whoever tells the best story is the one that’s going to get the sale.
John, I see your title here is The Pitch Whisperer. What advice would you give young folks that are graduating college or entering the workforce on their personal brand? How can they reinforce a personal brand?
First, the key for anyone either entering the workforce or having been in the workforce for a while is to think of yourself as a brand. Most people don’t. Especially if you’re going to interview for a company. You have to know what your brand stands for and what your values are. When you’re interviewing at a company, you have to see what their values are and see if there’s a match.
Sometimes the brand name comes from other people. Anthem Insurance asked me to come and speak to their team. I said, “What if I stay after my talk for this improvisation session you’re having? I could whisper in someone’s ear if they get stuck something from my talk.” They love that idea. That’s when I was able to help them. Someone said, “I wish you could be in the field with me and whisper in my ear.” I told that story to a reporter at Inc Magazine and she said, “You’re the pitch whisperer,” and that stuck.
Now I positioned myself as The Pitch Whisperer. I have a trademark. If someone can’t remember my name or the name of my book, they can google The Pitch Whisperer and my content shows up. There’s a lot of value in coming up with a brand name and a story behind it. A lot of people know when they hire me as a sales keynote speaker, they’ll say, “We have The Pitch Whisperer here.” People are like, “Oh.”
It’s great for the elevator pitch, which I call elevator stories. When I say I’m The Pitch Whisperer, people go, “I know what a horse whisperer is. I know what a dog whisperer is. What is a pitch whisperer?” When you’re creating your own brand, try to come up with something that intrigues people enough to ask you a question about it.
How would that look for a first-time leader? As people get promoted for the first time within an organization, they’re going to be interacting with all different types of departments, customers, and suppliers. Does that change from being an individual contributor to a leader?
It’s a completely different set of skills. That’s the big mistake a lot of people make when they go from, let’s say, being a salesperson to being a sales manager. You have to adapt. What worked for you will not work for everyone else. You have to be somewhat flexible and listen to what people’s challenges are to be able to make that transition from selling to managing. The brand values will stay the same.When you have a really good brand or really good storytelling, people see themselves in that brand or story. Click To Tweet
I have a little exercise I do with people where I’ll say, “You tell me the last car you bought, the last workout shoe you bought, or the last computer you bought.” “I bought Dell or Apple. I bought a Nike instead of Reebok.” I asked them, “What is it about those brands that made you pick them?” There’s where our subconscious kicks in because, with good brands and good storytelling, people see themselves in the brand or in the story.
They’re like, “I like that Apple’s sleek design. I like this about that brand.” You start to create your own attributes of your own brand. My three brand attributes are integrity, passion, and joy. That’s my whole moral compass. I make sure that I’m working with people that have integrity, I’m passionate about it and the people I’m working with are passionate about it. It brings me or somebody else some joy. If all three are a yes, then that’s the people I want to work with.
I could tell immediately when I met you that those are your core values, which means it is working. My next question to you is a little bit about my background, John. I worked in large corporations like Disney and NASA. Part of the job, especially when you move into a leadership role, is pitching, managing, or leading up to being able to pitch your ideas to senior-level executives to greenlight your projects or even to get promoted.
We’re all selling.
That’s the thing. I did sales in college and it was a valuable skill. That’s why I asked you to be on this show, John, because sales is a skill that we all need to learn hopefully, in college or earlier. It plays into the corporate role as well. What advice would you give to those young folks who are pitching to senior-level leaders within an organization?
You need to become a storyteller in order to be a good salesperson. The story needs three things. It needs to be clear, concise, and compelling. Let’s double-click on each one. If it’s not clear, you confuse people with acronyms or you go on and on. The confused mind always says no and people aren’t going to tell you they’re confused. They’re going to go, “Thanks.” It needs to be concise so that people can remember it and repeat it. That’s the secret.
If you’re pitching your boss why you need a promotion or deserve a promotion and have a story to back it up. That boss needs to be able to repeat that story to their boss to justify the promotion and/or the raise. Finally, it needs to be compelling. We need to tug at people’s heartstrings so they open their purse strings because people buy emotionally, including whether they decide to promote you or not.
That’s on an individual level but what about mass change within an organization? How do you do that to the masses? Let’s say we’re pitching to our boss but then, now we say, “Everyone’s going to be coming back into the office. Everyone’s going to be working remotely.” As far as a mass message, do the same rules apply?
The same rules apply. A good story is a good story. There are four parts to a good story. Let’s give that example. You need an exposition. You need to describe who, what, where, and when. You need to describe the problem. The better you describe the problem, the more people think you have their solution. That’s where empathy comes in. You describe your solution and here’s the secret, the resolution. You need to future pace people.
What’s life going to be like after your solution? In this case, six months or a year from now, we are back in the office. It is going to look very different than it did during the pandemic and different than it did before the pandemic and here’s how. When you’re convincing someone that it’s safe to come back or that there’s a whole new mindset here of flexibility, you would start with defining the exposition of, “This is when the pandemic started or this is what life was like before.”
People have a sense of, “This is the date we’re going to start having people come back, whether it’s full-time, flex, from home, or all those things.” Honestly describe some of the problems because your team feels like you understand. There are some of the fears that we’ve heard. We’ve done a survey. People are concerned about working next to someone who’s not vaccinated if they’re vaccinated or if they’re only comfortable being in a room with this many people.You can get lost in the sea of “same as.” That's why you need a story to separate you. Click To Tweet
Also, they want flexibility without feeling like they’re losing their connections with the potential for promotions. They don’t want to feel like if they work from home, they are no longer seen as valuable. The more you voice, explain that you understand all those problems, here are the solutions you offer, and future pace people on that story of the vision of what it’s going to be like when we are back in the office. It is a whole new chapter and not trying to go back to anything. Keith Ferrazzi co-authored a book, Competing in The New World of Work, about not returning back to work, but forward to work.
What do you think is causing this Great Resignation that we’ve been seeing?
What’s interesting about the Great Resignation is it’s not at a certain income level. The pandemic was a big pause for people to realize, “Am I happy with my life? Am I doing what I want to be doing? If I’m not, maybe I don’t want to keep doing it. I have the freedom to move during a pandemic and I don’t want to go back to an hour commute. I want to work for a company that lets me work remotely and not have to live in a big urban city where it’s expensive, crowded, and all that stuff.”
There are several issues going on but from a macro standpoint, the biggest thing is it was a time for people in mass to stop and say, “Life’s too short. What am I doing? I’ve stumbled into this job. I’m not feeling seen, heard, and appreciated. What am I killing myself for?” That’s where as leaders, it behooves us to make sure that our people feel seen, heard, and appreciated on a whole other level to not only attract that talent but keep them.
You moved during the pandemic. We’re LA people. Take a look at that hour commute on a good day in Los Angeles.
Sometimes it’s 25 minutes to get 5 miles to the grocery store.
What advice would you give to corporations that are trying to get the best talent? What would your pitch be? I know that depends. It’s a little bit of a loaded question.
When I spoke at Coca-Cola’s CMO Summit, it was all the CMOs of all the quick service restaurants and movie chains that carry Coca-Cola. I spoke to the CMO of Domino’s Pizza and said, “What’s your biggest marketing challenge?” He said, “Attracting and keeping tech people.” This is before the pandemic. I said, “Oh.” He said, “We used to say that we’re a pizza company that uses tech because they have that great app that allows you to track where your pizza is, who’s putting it in the oven, and all that good stuff. Now, we say we’re an eCommerce company that happens to sell pizza.”
I said, “You use the rebirth genre of storytelling because an eCommerce company sounds like Amazon.” Books first and you happened to sell pizza. It’s a repositioning of that. When you start your story of why somebody would want to work with your company, start to look at, “What story do we tell that matches our vision of where we want our career to be?”
What advice would you give employees at this time, especially younger employees?
My advice for young employees interviewing is to tell a story. Bringing your resume to life is going to be one of the questions you’re going to be asked. You need to tell your story with a little bit of exposition. This is where I grew up. This is where I went to college or whatever. This is where I got my skills. Everything you say must be positive, why you’re so passionate, and more specifically, why you want this job.
Start following them on social media, commenting, and liking on posts of the person that’s going to be interviewing you. At the end of the interview, you are typically going to get asked a question like, “Do you have any questions for us?” Unfortunately, a lot of young people will say things like, “When does my sick day start? How many do I get?”
Here’s the magic question I work with clients on. “What would it look like if I were to exceed your expectations in this job?” I had somebody hired on the spot asking that question. Anyway, they went, “That’s it. We want to hire you,” because you are future pacing them. They have to see you on the job already. Instead of saying something that everybody else might say, which is, “I go above and beyond.” By asking that question, you’re showing it. That’s what good storytelling does. You show instead of tell.
I’m going to be communicating that even outside my show and to my college students because a lot of them are graduating in the next month or so. They need to start that now. That’s a great hack. I love that. you’ve written a lot of different books. You have your fourth book that’s coming out. My last question is, can you walk us through the readers’ overview of those and where they can buy them?
The book is called The Sale Is in the Tale. It’s a business fable set here in Austin. The subtitle is Five Storytelling Secrets to Keep from Drowning in a Sea of Sameness because whether you’re a lawyer, a financial advisor, a tech person, or a speaker, you can get lost in the sea of sameness. That’s why you need a story to separate you. The fable is a story about storytelling and a little bit of a love letter to Austin at the same time on the struggles of somebody who’s in their early 30s, wondering why the old way of selling isn’t working anymore.
Someone helps them start to learn how to tell better stories and how that changes the whole trajectory of their career. It’s supposed to be entertaining. In the end, there are some methodologies and templates you can start using and it’s on Amazon. If anybody wants it, the first chapter for free. All they have to do is text the word PITCH to 66866 and you get the first chapter. It takes you right into the story. If that is compelling and you want to find out what happens next, then you can decide you want the book.
That could be useful for anyone as the science of storytelling as we see and look at Simon Sinek’s why. His TEDx Talk as well is so fascinating and helpful. Looking back at my career, a lot of my success is attributed to my storytelling. I love the interviewing. To me, it’s an exciting way to tell my story. Hopefully, it will work out. I appreciate your time, John. Good luck with your book launch. I’m excited and hope the readers enjoy it as much as I did.
Thanks for having me on.
Thank you so much. You have a good one. Take care.
- John Livesay
- Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life – YouTube
- Better Selling Through Storytelling
- The Sale Is in the Tale
- The Successful Pitch Podcast
- Condé Nast
- Anthem Insurance
- Competing in The New World of Work
About John Livesay
John Livesay, aka The Pitch Whisperer, is a sales keynote speaker where he shows companies’ sales teams how to turn mundane case studies into compelling case stories so they win more new business. From John’s award-winning career at Conde Nast, he shares the lessons he learned that turn sales teams into revenue rockstars. His TEDx talk: “Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life” has over 1,000,000 views.
Clients love working with John because of his ongoing support after his talk which includes implementing the storytelling skills from his best-selling book Better Selling Through Storytelling and online course “Revenue Rockstar Mastery.”
His new book, The Sale Is in the Tale, is a business fable set in Austin, TX, is about a sales representative whose old ways of selling are not working anymore. The reader accompanies the rep on his journey and learns how to use storytelling and strengthen their soft skills to improve their professional and personal relationships.
John is a guest lecturer on how to leverage the power of storytelling in sales at multiple universities including the University of Texas at Austin (UTLA), Pepperdine Graziadio Business school, and University of Chicago Booth School of Business and his book is now required reading for the UTLA course on Entertainment and Media studies.
He is also the host of “The Successful Pitch” podcast, which is heard in over 60 countries. These interviews make him a sales keynote speaker with fresh and relevant content.
John has been interviewed by Larry King and appeared on TV as an expert on “How To Ask For What You Want And Get A Yes.” John currently lives in Austin with Pepe, his King Charles Spaniel, who reminds him every day of the importance of belly rubs.