Episode 161 - Selling Robots
Published April 9, 2015
SPECIAL GUEST: Pat Helmers. We're joined by fellow podcaster Pat Helmers (host of Sales Babble), to talk about podcasting, the future of jobs and technological unemployment, education, and the way we are adapting as a society to the changes underway. What jobs are there for humans in the robot future? Tune in and find out. Recorded 4/2/2015.
Mike & Matt's Recommended Reading:
Pat's Sales Babble site
Pat on Twitter
Pat on LinkedIn
Sales Babble on Facebook
20 Secrets Of Successful Sales (free PDF)
More coming soon...
Alpha: Welcome to another episode of Robot Overlordz, episode #161. On the show we take a look at how society is changing, everything from pop culture reviews to political commentary, technology trends to social norms, all in about thirty minutes or less, every Tuesday and Thursday.
Mike Johnston: Greetings cyborgs, robots, and natural humans. I’m Mike Johnston.
Matt Bolton: And I’m Matt Bolton.
MJ: And joining us on this episode is Pat Helmers. Pat, thanks for joining us.
Pat Helmers: Thanks for having me Mike and Matt. I really appreciate it.
MJ: Could you tell us a little bit about your podcast?
PH: Oh, Sales Babble? Well, Sales Babble is a podcast on sales. It’s targeted to people who don’t necessarily have a background in sales but want to learn sales, because with sales you don’t have revenue, and without revenue you don’t have a business. I like to interview people who are expert on sales and give them advice on how to get appointments, and how to give great presentations, and how to close the deal, and how to do so in a non-pushy manner.
MJ: I guess I should clarify for listeners: I met you at a podcasting meetup for the Fox Valley Computing Professionals group and we had talked a little bit about podcasting. I was fascinated by your episode that I think you had out right around then, with the dating coach.
PH: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s right--Myke Macapinlac. Myke teaches nerdy engineers up in Calgary, Alberta how to meet girls in coffee shops and get a date.
MJ: You know, that seems big on the internet. When it’s done well, it’s not quite as skeevy. But there’s a lot of skeevy stuff on the internet related to that field too, it seems like.
PH: Yes, but his processes are pure sales. It’s just like cold calling qualifying, generating trust, trying to get people to automatically feel open to you and to chat with you, and then to slowly take them down a path of having a call to action. “Hey Mike, would you be interested in going out for a cup of coffee sometime?”
MJ: [Laughs] Nice. So Pat, how did you get into podcasting and how does that relate to your background? I assume you were in sales, right?
PH: That’s right. But I’ve always loved radio. My background is actually more technical; I actually have a couple degrees in computer science and I used to work for Bell Laboratories and Lucent, and I was an engineer and then a manager there for quite a while. So I’ve always been kind of a techy person. But also I’ve always enjoyed radio, like talk radio and National Public Radio. Even when I was a kid, we would listen to radio shows. So I started listening to podcast earlier on. I had listened to a podcast on golf, and the guy has become a pretty good friend of mine, he’s been podcasting for 10 years. So, I’ve been listening for a long time. I love sales, I love teaching people sales, and I thought “Wouldn’t it be cool? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a podcast on sales, and I could meet all these really cool people I don’t necessarily know how to meet?” But now I have a reason for calling them up and asking them “Would you like to chit chat a little bit for a half an hour?” and it’s been a wonderful experience. And I just had my one-year anniversary last week.
MJ: Oh, congratulations! We just passed ours in January.
PH: Tip of the hat!
MJ: I totally agree with you though on how podcasting can widen out your circle. Matt and I just did one of the episodes we released this week on all of our guests and reflecting back on it, looking at some of the guests we’ve had on. It’s just fascinating to me that we now have this huge list of people that we’ve connected with.
PH: Very good.
MB: I’m in marketing, and I got into that because I tried my hand at sales and I did not like it.
MB: Honest to god… I worked in retail for years and I don’t mind selling people stuff, and I’m actually pretty good at it when people come to me and I have to sell them things. I don’t like going to people to try and sell them things because I feel like if they wanted something, they would have found me, or I’m annoying them. That was always my problem with sales, was if they come to me, I’m fine with it, but if I have to go to them then I’d starve to death because I’m not good at it.
PH: Yes, there’s a holy grail out there. Most companies want what you’re speaking of, Matt. They want the McDonald’s experience where people just step up to the counter and they look at the menu and they pick something off the menu and you happily just check them out. You want to be an order-taker.
MB: Absolutely. And I can sell the crap out of you; once I get on the phone with somebody, or even especially in front of them, dealing that way with them… But making a cold call or talking to somebody on the phone that I don’t know and that I’ve never talked to before--I would rather speak to 10,000 people in a room than to have to call somebody on the phone that I didn’t know.
PH: That’s why marketing is so pervasive, because it gives you the promise of the McDonald’s selling experience. But the truth is marketing is very expensive and it takes a long time. You and I could probably get on the phone and generate some business in a week by just calling some people up, as opposed to waiting months maybe for a Facebook campaign, or a LinkedIn campaign, or a direct mail campaign to build “know, like, trust” and all that jazz. Sales can actually be pretty cool. And actually, I invented a selling process called Selling With Confidence, and this sales system teaches you how to do those things in a very comfortable way, and it’s all really about having a different mindset and looking at it from a different point of view.
MJ: I have to say, everything Matt just said about sales and about going up to people and stuff, when we first started doing guests I actually kind of jumped into it with both feet and started asking people--to be honest, I was terrified of it, and I still sometimes am when we get people on. Last night we recorded with Heather Schlegel, a social scientist and futurist, and I told Matt beforehand that I was a bit nervous about it just because of exactly what he described with going up to people. You feel like you’re interrupting them, and “Oh my god, imposter syndrome,” which I read about all over the internet--I have that something fierce. The “Oh, I have nothing to say…”
PH: But isn’t it true though? Doing the sales process is the only way you can get guests. Picture having a marketing hands-off. What would that look like? Some kind of marketing campaign that guests would magically want to just call you up and ask to be on your show? That’s practically impossible.
MJ: We’ve kind of done that, because we’ve tweeted out “Hey, who would you like to have us ask on?” and it never gets any replies or retweets. Yet when we’ve pinged a number of people and asked them, they’ve been willing to come on and they’ve been some of our best guests.
PH: Ah, if you reach out to them. That’s sales.
MJ: Yeah, and I have that same thing that Matt has about it. It kind of came down to how I’m more scared to not do it now because it seems like--and this might lead into what you and I talked about in an email, about how to talk about the future--that we’re all kind of becoming somewhat sales, we’re all becoming entrepreneurs. That seems like much more the world of work in the future, at least for the jobs that are left for human beings. Those are skills that everybody should have even though they’re not taught well in school and they can be horribly intimidating. I just finally decided that I’m going to be more scared to not do this than to actually try it.
PH: I agree. We’re all in sales. Anybody who’s trying to convince, or persuade, or negotiate, and that can be anybody from police officers to school teachers--all of these people are in sales. Even you own kids, raising your kids. “Could you please make your bed? Could you please clean your room? I would so appreciate if you could do that for me.”
MJ: Well, I think anyone that wants to share their story online even, with either social media or having your own website, or a podcast. That just brings up so much of how society is changing. Pat, what do you think about the way that society is changing? That the jobs are shifting and how there seems to be this climate of “Are we all going to have jobs in the future?”
PH: That’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about, and it troubles me, and I actually have split thoughts on there because most of my profession has been building systems, technologies that improve productivity. The side effect of that is commonly jobs are eliminated, and that’s been my whole life. Sometimes I’ve said that, and my kids always laugh at me when I say this, like yeah, what I do for a living is put people out of work. That’s what I do. But that’s true of anybody in any technology. That’s what happened when Henry Ford made cars and the buggy whip manufacturers finally went on decline.
MJ: We talked with author Martin Ford in episode #132. I was a big fan of his book, called Lights in the Tunnel, and it talks about technological unemployment. One of the standard responses to all of these jobs being destroyed is that additional jobs are being created that didn’t exist before. So you take your Ford factory that gets rid of all the buggy whip manufacturers, there’s actually more jobs in the factory in assembling cars, or at least enough jobs for most of those people to be retrained and things like that. The premise of Martin’s book was that we hit this tipping point where the jobs are being destroyed faster than they’re being created or faster than people can be retrained or adjusted to that. What would you say to that idea?
PH: I think he’s right because history has actually shown this to have occurred in the past. For example, when Rome conquered Carthage, Rome burned it to the ground and they took all the Carthaginians and they made them slaves. They brought the slaves to Rome and it threw a ton of people out of work for centuries. They eventually invented a bread dole that came out every week, and the average citizen of Rome couldn’t get a job but they were on the dole, they didn’t really have a high quality of life. It really didn’t generate more jobs for those people eventually, because they had all this free labor. Automation and robots are nothing but phenomenal slaves, and a slave back then was just a phenomenally smart robot from the point of view. These things can be very crushing to society and I do worry about that. On the other hand, you can stop science, you can stop moving forward. I personally am excited to see things automated. Every time I see something clunky, I love the idea that it’s going to get fixed. I don’t connect the dots too hard that it might be putting somebody out of a job, but it might be.
MB: I think that there has to be a point at which having a robot doesn’t make any sense anymore because--I’ll use my widget example: if I build a factory that makes widgets and I do nothing but staff it with robots, now I’ve made all these widgets but I don’t have anybody who can buy the widgets. Robots don’t go out and buy widgets. People have to go out and buy widgets. So you reach that tipping point where it doesn’t make any sense to make products. Hopefully that makes sense.
PH: This makes a ton of sense because we're a consumer-based society. If there are no more consumers because they’re not being paid, the demand is going to drop, and as such these companies are going to become unprofitable and not build these machines to build products that can’t be sold, right?
MJ: Martin actually addressed this in his book, that there’s a pretty long slide that society can actually take between the point where they need to start firing workers and where they realize “Oh, we should stop making these things because no one buys them.” You’re dealing with a lot of unrest in society during that point and a huge economic contraction, and that sort of becomes a self-feeding cycle in that as more and more people get laid off, less and less people can buy things, and the whole thing shrinks and crashes and burns. Pat, to your example of all the slaves in Carthage, one way they handled that was the bread dole but they seemed to have somewhat derailed their society at that point, but it didn’t collapse until hundreds of years later.
PH: That’s the goofy thing. The intelligentsia and the aristocracy of Rome were successful for centuries. But it wasn’t very kind for the average Roman citizen. Not at all.
MJ: I wonder if we want to live in that kind of world, where it starts that contracting process but there hasn’t yet been the feedback to say “Oh, we should stop making so many of these.” When I worked for AT&T and they would continually cut people, the thing that always got me was that these were people that were AT&T’s customers. Because they worked there, they all bought service from AT&T because they had a selling program for all the employees, who would then turn around and sell it to their friends and family. They lost that, plus probably those other customers too, so then they’re going to fire more people. If you really wanted to grow the economy, I would think as a business leader you would hire more people.
PH: Not necessarily. That doesn’t make good sense sometimes. In fact, we sold to AT&T when I worked for Bell Labs. For example, I recall when I started working there, they said if it wasn’t for the automation of the telephony network, there wouldn’t be enough people in the United States to be telephone operators to switch all the calls. Everything is automated now. It’s the company’s job to boost their efficiency and to boost their productivity, and if they can find a machine to do it then God bless them. You have to answer to the stockholders, to the markets.
MJ: It seems like that attitude came in in the early ‘70s. I read somewhere where that was the first instance published where the idea that companies were only accountable to stockholders and profits. Before that, people realized that you’re also somewhat accountable to your workers, to your customers, and to society at large. I joined Ameritech, which was bought by SBC, which then turned around and bought AT&T and took their name. Ameritech, their equation and the way they ran the company was employees, customers, and shareholders. When SBC bought it, it very quickly became just shareholders. They did a lot of things that didn’t improve productivity. They would cut things where they actually took a hit, but they just decided “Well, it saves money somewhere.”
PH: Yeah, this is a long conversation--I could go on, and on, and on about the Bell system. The Bell system was such a monopoly for so long. What a debacle that was. I still remember that.
MJ: For people starting out then, how about we look at the jobs that aren’t going to be filled by automation.
PH: This is a very interesting topic. Let me teach you a little sales. I believe master sellers have HEAT. Great sellers have a mindset of being Helpful--”How can I help you?” The next thing is they’re Emotionally Intelligent, they can read people. They're Astute, they can connect the dots and connect them in a way that works in their favor. The fourth thing is being Tenacious.
They stick with it and they follow up and they follow up and they follow up until the deal is either won or until it’s obvious that it can’t be won. HEAT. So I was thinking about this the other day, going “Of those four things, what could be automated, where a computer person could take a salesperson’s job away?” The first one is helpful. Can a robot be helpful? Yes. There’s lots of machines, so I think they have that covered. Can a robot or a piece of software easily be emotionally intelligent? That’s a tough one.
MJ: I think they still have a ways to go on that.
PH: Can they be astute? Again, maybe more so than emotionally intelligent. Maybe there are algorithms where they can run all of the possibilities and choose the wise one. The next one is tenacious. Can they be tenacious? Absolutely. Computers are able to wait, and wait, and wait until you hit the ENTER key. They’re very patient, they’re willing to serve. But I think when it comes to emotional intelligence and the ability to use creative thinking, that’s what us human beings really are on this planet for. I think a big part of what we’re here for is to be artists, and to be creators, and to be inventors, and that’s where these machines really fall apart. I just don’t think I’m going to see anything in my lifetime anywhere near that. So, there will always be jobs for sellers. What kind of sellers am I talking about? Like I said, cops, teachers, waitstaff. It takes a huge amount of emotional intelligence to be a great waiter or waitress, to multitask and to keep everybody happy, and to work them so you get a really good tip. [Laughs]
MB: Yeah, there is obviously something to be said for a really good waiter or a server. When I get one, they always get a lot of money out of me than they otherwise would, so.
PH: There are some people out there--and I have a son who’s of this nature--if he goes to Chilis and they have a little iPad there where you can just swipe your card and do everything, then he’s happy, that’s what he prefers. He doesn’t want to deal with waiters and waitresses. He doesn’t want to have to look them in the eye and have to deal with all of that. But most people, myself included, I love waiters and waitresses, and I love chatting with them and asking them “What’s good on the menu? What’s not?” and having them treat me well. I love that.
MB: Yeah, I’m with you. I saw a couple months ago that there’s this restaurant that I think is in China where the waitstaff is all robots. So you go to your table, you do the iPad thing, you order, and then a robot just comes and brings your tray of food. So there’s no human interaction at their restaurant.
PH: Awesome… Very classy.
MB: Yeah, well at least you know the robot won’t sneeze on your food, so you have that going for you.
MJ: Squeeze a little motor oil in your coke or something.
PH: I do worry about all these jobs being eliminated. I just don’t know how this is possibly… I have this feeling, but there’s no science behind it--I agree with what you said earlier before--more jobs are being destroyed than being created. This is the thing: we’re not preparing kids to be artists and to be thinkers, creators, and inventors. Those are the jobs that we need in the future. All kids have the possibility of doing this. My wife is an elementary school principal, she sees all these kids coming in and they’re just full of hope. But by the time they get into first grade, it starts to get chipped away a little bit. Second grade, chipped away a little bit more, third grade, chipped away a little bit more. So by the time they’re getting into middle school, some of these kids are all of a sudden lost causes. It’s such a shame, it’s such a crime because all of these kids have that potential, when they’re in kindergarten and first grade, of being phenomenal contributors to our society.
MJ: Matt and I have talked a lot about that. We both went to junior high and high school together, and we had an English class that we both hated. Exactly like you were saying Pat, I loved to read when I was little, and gradually over time, school chipped away at that. I still loved to read, just not the things that they would give me. I would hide J.R.R. Tolkien books in my math book, for example, and read those instead. Sometimes I would get from adults the attitude of “Oh, those terrible fantasy books or terrible science fiction books,” but the English class that Matt and I had together, it was just terrible. It’s funny, the teacher wasn’t that bad a guy, because we talked to him outside of class and he seemed nice enough. But the second class would start, he would just… We used to call him “Circus Vargas,” right?
MJ: He would just kill it as far as any life in the subject. It seems like what you’re talking about is that the education system is still set up for that kind of 19th and 20th century mentality of turning out factory workers, people that follow orders, that can regurgitate facts, and do tasks, and turn up on time, and not really question things. Like you said Pat, those aren’t the skills for the jobs that are out there.
PH: No, they’re not. I used to sell to the K-12 market, and we used to sell educational software to them, so I spent a lot of time speaking with superintendents and principals and teaching teachers, and they are so stuck in the 19th century. We see this all the time in our culture right now, all this backlash against the Common Core State Standards and things like that. If you look at what those standards are, they’re all about 21st century skills. Those standards came from a desire for students to be prepared for college, college readiness. But there’s a huge fight about that because for the most part education is designed for adults. It’s a worker program for adults. It’s mostly what goes on in education. “If a few kids get educated in the cracks, that’s okay. But that’s not our primary mission. Our primary mission is to employ adults,” and that’s what screws us up. But it is changing. I’ve seen a lot of change in K to 12. It’s far, far better than it was 15 years ago.
MB: Really? I would have thought the opposite.
PH: No, no, no. It’s FAR better. Ten to 15 years ago, it was a completely different thing. They’ve moved a good 10% to 15% in the right direction, which is a lot.
MB: Despite our crappy English class, and I don’t know if Mike will agree with me, but I thought we actually got a pretty good education. Granted, the high school that we went to at the time was ranked eighth best in the nation, so...
PH: Most schools are better now than they were 15 years ago. But they’re not where they need to be.
MB: Not even so much from a school perspective, but it just seems like kids, especially younger kids, they’re monitored and there’s always an adult around and there’s no going on with imagination, kids don’t really do their own thing. To me, that’s where I learned a lot of stuff and became the person I am, is being away from my parents and hanging out with my friends and being on my own.
PH: My oldest son was like you guys. When he was a freshman in high school, he would whip through these tests and get a B on it and open up Tolkien. So we banned books the spring semester of his freshman year. “You cannot bring any literature to school. You’re not allowed to read.”
PH: It worked out. He’s gone on to be very successful. He’s getting married next year. He’s an account manager for a health company. But yeah, he loves that stuff, he loves Tolkien. But I think that is the big problem that we have in this country, is we’re not preparing our youth properly. We’re slowly getting there but you can see people fighting it all the time. You see this in the Chicago public schools and in the news all the time, about fighting it. The Atlanta public schools found 15 to 20 teachers and principals guilty--and they would have found the superintendent guilty except the poor lady died of cancer--of bubbling in the scores for the kids so that they would have good test scores in the building.
MJ: That’s the thing, there’s such a focus on testing. One of the ways I made my own mom kind of “see red” is with the Iowa Basic Skills Test, I would get so bored with those damn tests that I would start randomly filling in patterns. I remember trying to make the Galaga ship, I was drawing little spacecrafts basically, and I would turn that in. I did just fine on the test, I just didn’t take them seriously because they seemed like BS to me.
PH: They have to assess though, because one of the biggest issues in education is that there’s not a lot of accountability. Most schools are run like one-room school houses still, where the teacher runs her little room the way she pleases and nobody asks her opinion. It’s her little domain. You just can’t run a world like that. Not until you do assessments can you really figure out if the kids are learning anything.
MJ: That brings up some of the ways that I’ve seen education changing. I’m fascinated by the Khan Academy, and his TED Talk where he talks about turning that whole equation on its head, and instead of having the lecture that people go to school for, just having the lecture videotaped and putting it online and then having the kids during school time actually get tutored or work with each other and be active. That seems like such a better model. I went to a social meetup and there was a lady there who was a teacher who was a bit younger than me. Someone introduced me to her and I heard she was a teacher, and I just started rattling off all these things about “Oh, Khan Academy, oh Coursera, oh Udacity, Udemy, MIT OpenCourseWare,” and her eyes got all big, like “Oh my god, I don’t want to deal with any of this. I went to school for something else.” The reaction from a teacher I didn’t quite get because I’m so excited by all these technologies and how they’re changing things and the potential for it, and yet I just ran into a brick wall with her.
PH: Yeah, they’re not very plugged into this. But I also don’t think self-paced is the right path to go for these grades below 8th grade, because a big part of what they need to learn--and this is a big part that happens from about 6th grade on down--is mostly kids are just learning how to learn. It’s not until 6th, 7th, 8th grade that they actually start learning topics that are beyond… But the fundamentals of how you structure your life and how you do homework, how you hold your hand up in class, that’s the stuff they’re teaching them mostly and you can’t do that self-paced. Self-paced does work for a lot of things. In fact, honestly, I sell a self-paced class on sales. [Laughs] But the thing is I can teach it live so much better. It’s completely different teaching it live. You pick it up because a big part, at least in sales, is emotional intelligence and astuteness, and you’re not going to easily pick that up in a self-paced class. Not until you actually see it and you see the twinkle in someone’s eye, and you get all their body language and all that. But for other things--Khan Academy started teaching math. That’s an easy thing to do self-paced.
MJ: Well Pat, thanks so much for joining us tonight.
PH: Hey, it’s been great being here guys. I really appreciate the opportunity.
A: That’s all for this episode of Robot Overlordz. Are you interested in the future and how society is changing? We’d love to have you join our community. Visit our website to learn more and to connect with others that share that interest. You can find us at RobotOverlordz.FM. The site includes all of the show’s old episodes along with complete transcripts, links to more information about the topics and guests in each episode, and our mailing list and forums. We’d also love to hear what you think about the show. You can review us on iTunes or email us.
A: We hope to see you again in the future…
MJ: Thanks everyone for listening.