This episode sees me and the multi-faceted Liston Witherill discuss how to build your agency with the Science of Habit. In short, how best to engage prospects using actionable steps to create sustained impact. You, as a firm owner, can utilize these to increase outreach for marketing, prospecting, and business development. 


About Liston Witherill…

Liston Witherill is the founder of Serve Don’t Sell and creator of the Serve Don’t Sell Method. He works with expert service providers like designers, accountants, agency owners, consultants, and coaches who are great at delivering services but require help selling it. Liston also hosts the Modern Sales podcast and regularly publishes articles on the Serve Don’t Sell blog.

When he’s not working – or enjoying some downtime by way of hiking, weightlifting, or creating hip-hop music – Liston is on a mission to change the way 100 million people sell so that buying services can feel as good as the day the world is fully vaccinated from COVID. He hopes you’ll join him on his mission.


Points of Interest…

  • Liston Witherill… The Backstory
  • Core Thesis Behind Serve Don’t Sell 5:05
  • Getting to that ‘Ample Pipeline’ Space 11:18
  • Transitioning to this Counter-Intuitive Way to Sell 19:54

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Io8e7cXW66s


Liston Witherill… The Backstory

I’m particularly enthused about today’s episode; I’ve brought somebody on the show that I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside for several months. If you’ve creeped me on LinkedIn, you may be aware that I’m the COO (fractionally) at a San Franciscan agency called Gold Front.

Since Liston joined, the average deal size has been up over 230%, while the average billable rate is up over 50% – and we’re not even halfway through Q3! In short, Liston has been making it rain.

As with most super-successful and committed sorts in the world of business, Liston was a college dropout. After a foray into the world of music, he returned to school, earning a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science and Management. He subsequently set about consulting in the field, selling biology services to real estate firms in the Bay Area…

Soon realizing this was a somewhat pedestrian fit for him, he branched out into helping companies with sales, training, and sales consulting. Specifically, he orchestrated building out sales messaging, and playbooks, while training teams on how to sell effectively – particularly, in a persuasive and highly ethical way. It’s also worth remembering that Liston is…

“… a trained scientist. So, I think about things from a process, inputs, and outputs perspective, called Systems Thinking. That’s the lens with which I approach everything I do.”


Core Thesis Behind Serve Don’t Sell

Should further clarification be required; Liston doesn’t come across as your quintessential “salesperson”. In other words, there is no projected demeanor of being generally consumed with grafting revenue and acquiring more clients.

So, with that in mind, I asked him to outline what his core ethos is – apart from having a voice akin to liquid velvet (yep, I said it). His answer? Well, he’s such an analytical sales wizard he managed to get me to answer his question, which I addressed thusly…

“Approach every sales conversation with the thesis that ‘This client is not a good fit’ and you are essentially trying to prove that they’re not a good fit as quickly as possible.”

These little adjustments to how you approach a sales conversation or process may seem left field for a lot of people, however, I am seeing it work first hand at Gold Front. And how does it work? SCIENCE!

“One of the first things you have to do is create a hypothesis. Your goal isn’t to prove the hypothesis correct. It’s to prove it false. And if you can’t prove it false, then you’ve got a pretty good hypothesis… A lot of people will approach the sale with a ‘me-first’ attitude; how can I make more revenue? How can I get a new project? How can I gain commission? The problem with this is, your prospects know it.”

While there’s nothing wrong with having self-interest, there’s also nothing quite like the hum of Gil Gunderson off The Simpsons to cull the trust in a fledgling relationship. Instead, Liston’s method ensures trust – because he’s rocking up actively and legitimately trying to find reasons why this deal is not going to work.

***Liston delves into this further from 7:57 minutes***


Getting to That ‘Ample Pipeline’ Space

Of course, this inverted sales method could be deemed risky. Obviously, having a process that generates ample amounts of pipelines so that you can take this approach is a prerequisite – and we spend quite a lot of time addressing that on this show. Therefore, I’m keen to get Liston’s thoughts on how agencies can get to that comfortable place.

1. Showcase Proof of Work: that’s the first thing potential prospects will seek out. This is obviously easier for design and brand-focused agencies as opposed to consultancy operations.

2. Optimize Your Positioning: again, be ready to showcase why you’re an expert in your niche.

3. Your Targeting Must be On Point: your addressable market in any given month may only be 50 prospects… But how many do you have to land in a year for that to make a huge difference for your firm? Not many, right?

4. Manual Effort: a ton of this must be put into this – week, after week, after week for years – in order for it to be successful.

***I add my two cents to Liston’s “surface level” synopsis from 15:36 minutes***


Transitioning to a Counter-Intuitive Way to Sell

How do we make the transition to a seemingly counterintuitive way of thinking, in that it’s not about closing as much work as we can, rather, it’s now about trying to identify the right fits within that. What is the best way of leveraging the fact that “now we have more work than we know what to do with”, to then actually create the impact for the agency that it should? Here’s Liston’s response…

“I don’t know if you’ve had Blair Enns (Win Without Pitching) on here, but one of the things he likes to talk about is ‘Wouldn’t you rather have half the clients and they pay you double the amount?’ You make the same amount of money, but yet have a better lifestyle and it’d be way more profitable!”

The optimum way of doing that is by nailing your business model. Wouldn’t you rather sell the premium thing that’s exclusive and forces you to put limits on capacity, but you can charge more for it? That will have an impact on how you treat your pipeline, for sure.


Key Takeaway… the Consistent Sell

No one cares about how awesome the last logo is that you did. Promise! The key, always, is to understand the person you’re reaching out to and what matters to them. Then, relate what you do to improve their situation so that you can rewrite their future story.

Additionally, remember that doing a little every day is much better than a lot once in a while – so, stay consistent!


Want to see more from Liston?

While you’re waiting for his imminent book, How To Sell Creativity, to drop, do feel free to find all things Witherill via the below…

Did you learn anything new from this episode? Let us know in the comments below! Our next installment of #APP, on October 6th, will see us chat with Christian Banach. Our previous blog with Joey Gilkey is here…


Agency Profitability Tool Kit

If you’re looking for more resources to help you improve your agency’s profitability, check out the Agency Profitability Tool Kit. It’s full of templates and checklists used when consulting clients. This helps them improve profitability by over 100% in under 60 days.