Episode 68: Erin Hatzikostas – Authenticity Always Wins: How Authenticity Isn’t About You, but the Connections You Create
Erin Hatzikostas joins the Social Sales Link team to talk about the power of authenticity especially when it comes to building sales relationships.
Tune in as Erin shares why it’s all about getting your prospects to trust you by being unexpected. Listen as she talks about stopping prospects from scrolling past your content and connecting with them by exposing who you are when they least expect it.
Bill McCormick 00:00
From the C-suite side of things, what does making sales social mean to you, Erin?
Erin Hatzikostas 00:04
For me, it’s all about trust and trust comes, in particular, one of my shortcuts for the definition of authenticity is exposing who you are when people least expect it. And so, you know, to be authenticity always wins and in selling social in an authentic way, you know, wins whether you’re on social, no matter what the modality, the phone, in meeting, it’s about, it’s being unexpected. It’s about connecting with people stopping the scroll, having them trust you because you’re not doing the same thing as everybody else.
Bob Woods 00:40
Welcome to the Making Sales Social Podcast! Featuring the top voices in sales and marketing. Join hosts, Brynne Tillman and Bill McCormick as they discuss the best tips and strategies they are teaching their clients so you can leverage them for your own virtual and social selling. You can also listen to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Play. Here are your hosts, Brynne Tillman and Bill McCormick.
Bill McCormick 01:18
Hey, welcome to Making Sales Social! I’m Bill McCormick.
Brynne Tillman 01:21
I’m Brynne Tillman.
Bill McCormick 01:23
And normally I’d say to Brynne, “Hey, who’s joining us today?” But I get to introduce our guest today, my new good friend Erin Hatzikostas! How did I do? (Brynne: Nailed it.) I knew if Larry Levine could pronounce your name, I could pronounce your name. So Erin is a former CEO, also she is a podcast host, a TEDx speaker, and the author of my new favorite book, You Do You(ish), which is just all about authenticity. And that’s what we’re gonna talk about today is about being authentic in sales. So Erin, welcome to the show. If you could just tell our audience just a little bit about yourself.
Erin Hatzikostas 01:58
Yeah, well, great to be here. I think you nailed it but as you mentioned, I’m a former corporate person, a corporate refugee, and over the years in my corporate career, sort of bobbed and weaved and eventually found myself in the CEO position, which sounded really annoying, like, “Oh, it just happened to me.” Obviously, a long story behind it. We don’t have prep time for all the backstory but you know, the important lesson is that I said yes to the job and took on a company that was really struggling with about 1000 employees, nine-figure revenue, and in three years, we went from flat earnings to tripling them, and employee engagement skyrocketed. And did I know what I was doing? No! Just like I’m on this podcast, talking about sales, I don’t know anything about sales but I am an expert in connection and trust all through my secret weapon, which is authenticity. And so after I had, you know, had that great career run, the normal path would have been to entertain other new challenges, new executive jobs — my reputation was kind of at an all-time high, so this isn’t your typical story where like, I got sick, or I got laid off, or — I just had this itch, I just started to have a fear, a bigger fear of not knowing what it would be like to go venture and do something different than I did have, of leaving <inaudible> my role. And so for the last few years, and actually, when I left, I cannot just tell things, I have to tell stories. It’s like…
Brynne Tillman 03:30
It’s a great story. And by the way, everything you did is sales, right? So you may like I don’t know anything about sales but it’s all sales. Trust is sales, building those relationships is sales. So…
Erin Hatzikostas 03:42
Totally right, Brynne. That’s totally right. So when I decided to do this crazy thing, which was retire at the age of 44, from the corporate world, all of a sudden, like 70% of the messages I got, the conversations I had, they kept saying, “We’re gonna miss your authentic leadership.” And was I surprised they called me authentic? No, I mean, that would be a total lie, like, okay, that made sense. But I had never, I’ve never been pinned with that badge. It wasn’t a word I had been using. And I also have always had these moments where I thought, why are things seem to be a little bit easier for me, and they weren’t easy. Don’t get me wrong. But what I mean by that is, as I look to my left and my right to my colleagues, especially as I got into an executive position, I saw so much sacrifice, I saw what we expect you have to do to get those big jobs, right. So it was on a plane all the time moving their family for different roles to different cities, it was canceling vacations, because, you know, stuff had gone sideways. And it was almost like every once in a while I would feel like, “I wonder when they’re gonna… the game is gonna be up?” When are people gonna figure out like, but I also knew, you know, I was having success and I was getting results, etc. And so when people said we’re gonna miss your authentic leadership, it was that moment. It sounds so silly, but I was like, wait, was that what it was? Was that the thing? Was I actually playing a different game? And of course, now I’ve been out for a couple of years, I’ve done so much reflection, and I could tell you where the route is, and all of these things and so that’s when I decided, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do, that, you know, that was sort of my success juxtaposed with what broke my heart, which was, you know, this lack of authenticity, this miserable there, you know, how many friends, colleagues in the corporate world are so burnt out and so let down, and you know, just frustrated, and I thought, it doesn’t have to be that way. So I’m going to make it my mission to go out and not only help people, but I really am on a mission and a movement to transform the workplace for anyone that wants to get on board.
Bill McCormick 05:45
And we love that. And we are about being authentic in the social world. And so the first question we always ask every guest is, what does making sales social mean to you? And from your point of view, and the reason some of the listeners are probably saying, Well wait, if she doesn’t know anything about sales, what she’s doing on the show? Because Erin comes from the C-suite side of things. So from the C-suite side of things, what does making sales social mean to you, Erin?
Erin Hatzikostas 06:12
Yeah, I mean, from you know, putting on that old hat, I live in both worlds, right. So now I’m on the side of, you know, trying to sell my services, etc. But, you know, for me, it’s all about trust, and trust comes, in particular, one of my shortcuts for the definition of authenticity is exposing who you are when people least expect it. And, you know, and so let me give you an example as it relates to social. When you post on Instagram, what do people expect? They, you know, they kind of expect it’s sassy, it’s vulnerable, it’s funny, it’s authentic-ish. When people post on LinkedIn, much like in the corporate world, everybody follows these, unwritten rules, and they expect it to be normal, right? They expect it to be “I am so honored that my company’s doing XYZ,” you know, how fast I scroll past those? I’m sorry, especially the ones, between you and me, from some people I know, that are miserable about their companies and then I see, “I’m so proud of the…”, you know, “XYZ initiative.” that I’m like, it doesn’t… (Brynne: Right) So when I see that, right, I’m sort of like, what else are you faking? When you call me, when you try to sell me something, but when you expose something, or you talk about it, or you make a joke or use humility and all the things that talk about makeup authenticity, right away, I’m like, “Well, If you just told me you suck at doing numbers and I didn’t need to know that, the chances that you’re hiding something from me as we go along our journey to work together, are really, really low.” And so you know, to be authenticity always wins and selling social in an authentic way, you know, wins, whether you’re on social, wins when you’re on no matter what the modality, the phone, in meeting, in a book, I was just asked yesterday, like, “Why do you think you know, people like your book?” and I gave three reasons but the third one, I was like, “[Because] I wrote it authentically, authenticity always wins.” So yeah, that’s what I would say. I’d say it’s about, it’s being unexpected. It’s about connecting with people, stopping the scroll, having them trust you because you’re not doing the same thing as everybody else.
Bill McCormick 08:19
And your book is very authentic. I can’t tell you how many times I stopped reading it and went in to my wife and said, “Sue, listen to this.” and read it, read a sentence and we cracked up and then I went back to reading and she’s reading now. So we really, that’s what I appreciate it. I appreciate a real person. Go ahead, Brynne.
Brynne Tillman 08:39
Yeah. So what is “you(ish)?”
Erin Hatzikostas 08:41
Ah, what a great question. Thanks for the <Inaudible>. So first of all, nobody liked that name, except for me. It’s grown on people. (Brynne: I love it) (Bill: It’s so much better) my book coach and she’s amazing. So when people hear authenticity, Brynne, they typically think a couple of shortcuts. They think, “Oh, its ‘Be yourself.’” or at work its “Bring your whole self to work.” The other misunderstanding what authenticity is, “Oh, authenticity equals transparency.” And the truth is that authenticity, both by definition, so the root word of authenticity is the Greek word is authentikos, and authentikos means to be genuine, but it also means to be original and authoritative. And so and I had known that not just because of my badge but also you know, people I look at, like Michelle Obama, Jacinda Ardern, you know, others that just like immediately scream authenticity. I knew there was a juxtaposition. I knew there was, you know, I knew I didn’t just walk into work like I was walking to Joe’s pool party, right? Like I was very genuine. I also have an edge to me and the ability to push back and so the “-ish” is really meant to be like you do you but -ish, because at the end of the day, authenticity isn’t about you, it’s actually about the connections you create, which of course, in turn, is wonderful, and brings it back to you. And so the issue is that it’s also, you know, one of my principles is, “Be unexpected.” And so I wanted something a little bit with like, “Hmm… what the heck does she mean? I might need to open this thing.”
Brynne Tillman 10:17
And I love that, you know, it’s funny. You show up differently on different platforms, like, I share on Facebook my grandbaby every day, all day long. I would never do that on LinkedIn but it doesn’t mean I’m not authentic on LinkedIn. That’s just a different side of me. So my interpretation of you(ish) was what is needed for the audience. It doesn’t mean everything. Right?
Erin Hatzikostas 10:49
Yeah! It’s adapt and connect. And I love that, the other thing is, I’ve heard so many people say, “I thought you meant this about -ish,” and like, what better thing to do, than, you know, that’s one of the things I’ve learned in this book writing, right? There were things that, every once a while, I was like, “Well, I should have said, this, I should put in…” And some of the beauty is for allowing you to fill in and coloring the lines and you know, fill in the puzzle. So I love that you’re like, “This is what it meant to me.” I’ve had, you know, other people tell me, “Oh, you know, I was thinking -ish was this, this is how I look at it.” And if you’re totally on when I say, you know, I’m not saying just simply, you know, post the same stuff that you do on Facebook on LinkedIn, right? You said it exactly right, Brynne. Now, if there is a, your grandbabies that do something that is related to work, and you want to use it as a metaphor, like, bring it over, but do it intentionally because it’s, you know, it’s a platform where people want to connect but that doesn’t, also doesn’t mean you have to be all of that.
Bill McCormick 11:44
So for those that are listening, you need to rewind this back in and write this down what Erin just said earlier, before we got talking about the audience, she said authenticity isn’t about you, it’s about the connections you make. That’s the mic drop moment for me, but the audience piece is important, especially for those that are in sales to make sure that we get it right. You tell a story at the end of the book about an artist who they put on stage to open for the Rolling Stones who just got bombed just right, because why the audience wasn’t right. But when that artist found the right audience, became a superstar (Erin: kept at it). Yeah. So and I’m not going to tell you all what artist it is, you have to go cop the book. (Brynne: Yeah, okay.) (Erin: You’re gonna guess) Brynne, I’ll tell you in the green room when we’re done. But so it’s important, so talk to me a little bit, talk to us about how salespeople can be authentic when the audience is the C-suite, when they’re calling into the C-suite. How can they be more authentic?
Erin Hatzikostas 12:44
Yeah, I mean, I see, there’s a couple of things. So first, I tell people, I have very little empathy for people that say, I can’t be it because my boss, my customer, whatever isn’t authentic, like I can’t tell you what I was surrounded with and authenticity inspires everyone. At the same time, it’s a dial and that’s why one of my six principles of strategic authenticity is about, right and plugging. Because a couple of universal principles that I really hit on that work, one is storytelling. You know, there are so many misconceptions about storytelling, when you get an audience, you know, “Oh, it’ll take up too much time,” “People think I’m weird.” The reality, much like that other statement, that when you tell a story, you feel like it’s so selfish, almost right, indulgent, especially if you’re one of the characters in the stories, you could <inaudible>. But the reality is, what happens when people tell stories, is we transport ourselves in and out of that story, and we relate to it. So, you know, they’re like, tell the story on a forum you’re on and, you know, they talk about me back in college and all these, and I know that as I’m telling that story, people are thinking, “Oh, I remember my library in college and I remember when my roommate when I found my profession, etc.” And so storytelling is one of the best ways, you know, to capture their attention stories, or remember 22 times more than that, and <inaudible>, right. So I’d say the more you can leave in storytelling, everything from you know, your intro, which you did an exercise, I do an exercise called “Your Intriguing Intro” to how you talk about your products. Do not freaking talk in bullets, talk about experiences, your own. I said, if I were in sales, I would spend 95% of my time dumpster diving into customer service calls, you know, stories of people that had great experiences, and I would tell them right out of their stories. So one is storytelling. I think the other key is with C-suite is asking questions, you know, and not normal questions. Like when you’re preparing for your meeting, I actually tell people to spend more time thinking about the thoughtful questions you want to ask. Then, like preparing for the stuff you want to say because most of that stuff [Inaudible]. And powerful questions are they sound sort of like this. Let me give you a nonpowerful and powerful hit. Non-powerful hit would be, you know, “Brynne, what are your company’s goals for this year?” Right? “Hey, Brynne, what is one thing, if you could accomplish it this year, you would say I made it?” (Brynne: I love that.) A lot of powerful questions. One of the biggest hacks is adding numbers into things, adding fill in the blank, I asked somebody the other day, a president of a company, “If I told your leaders and ask them, ‘what’s the one thing that you don’t have?’ What would it be?” And when you ask questions like that, you can just see them think and be happy to be able to reflect so many C-suite executives don’t have the time in the day to reflect. So asking those powerful questions, you really, you know, start building those muscles and to be the other thing.
Brynne Tillman 15:45
It’s also fun. (Erin: Yeah.) Right? Like, it’s so much more fun to answer that question, than “what are your goals?” I know my goals, I want to hit certain numbers. I know that. But if I know that, what is my one gap? What is that one thing that I’m going to really think because I got that prioritized now in my head, and it’s fun because it’s something I haven’t thought about yet.
Erin Hatzikostas 16:09
That’s right. I mean, most C-suite executives, especially if you’re, the bigger they become, you know how many hours they sit in meetings of propaganda, you know, update, you know, everything’s green, then have to find a <inaudible> and here they are, the most intellectual people at your company. And so when you can stimulate them and ask questions, even vulnerable ones, you know, I remember our CEO of our parent companies, going into meetings just to report out everybody was in there doing their propaganda and I had prepared some questions like one of them was,] strategically we were trying to make a decision. And I asked him what his thoughts were, most people want to go in, and we’ve got it, and here’s what we’re seeing but they really want to use their brains and once you can, let them do that they subconsciously or consciously start to connect with you and <inaudible> with you.
Bill McCormick 16:55
And for the salespeople that are listening, the sales professionals, I know what you’re thinking, this is harder. Because you, and here’s why. As salespeople, we can’t control those answers. I know how to answer a question. I know how to respond, I guess, to the answer you give me when I say, you know, “What are your goals?” That’s easy. I have, in my sales process, I have a slide for that. And so I challenge this, the sales professionals, start, it’s just like the muscles there and said, “You got to start working this.” And be okay with silence and being okay with not knowing the answer and being able to answer in such a way, “Wow, that’s really impressive. Thanks so much.” I think that that’s really important.
Brynne Tillman 17:40
I also think it’s okay, not to have the solution. So, so many people go into a sales call with an agenda, “This coin is worth $15,000 sale,” “This client is $120.” So when you lead in a relationship with what that client is worth to you, you are never a value to them. And we say all the time detach from what the client is worth to you and attached to what you’re worth to the client. So you may by asking these authentic questions, you may identify areas where they need help, greater or different than your solution. And I think a real authentic salesperson will say, “You know what, I’ve got a few people in my network that might be able to solve this. Once it’s done, I’d love to come back in and continue this conversation.”
Bill McCormick 18:34
So let’s just transform this over to social and talk to us a little bit about how can salespeople be more authentic on social?
Erin Hatzikostas 18:46
Well, you know, first of all, you know, LinkedIn, obviously, being the primary, social, magnetic, you know, so I’d offer up, check out my, my LinkedIn profile, it’s not perfect. I’m not saying, but if you go to Erin Hatzikostass, I would say I’m the only Hatzikostas in the world. If you can spell it, you can find me and I can’t tell you how many people send me notes and stuff, just simply because my profile is different. It’s authentic. And it’s not just simply that I’m an entrepreneur and so I mean, it was I’m also a board member of a venture capital-backed company, you know, I still dress up and have big girl meetings, right? I’m not just you know, some speaker author. And you know, for example, all of my position summaries if you look and drill down into all my positions are all short stories, none of them say any buzzword. Yes, I mean, I tell stories about when I became interim CEO and a conversation between me and my boss and my actuarial ones. I talked about how crappy I was at the actuarial exams but how it became you know, they’re essentially when I talk to people and coach people on the LinkedIn part of things is that, right, LinkedIn, as if you’re talking to a former college roommate that’s in the same industry as you as you’re out talking kind of shop and you had a <inaudible>.
Brynne Tillman 20:00
That’s really fun. You know, the other things we, I just want to throw in, beyond your profile, I think that’s awesome. And we always talk about it, if you can actually provide value in your profile. But there are other areas that like there’s an epidemic on LinkedIn, which is the connect and pitch, which is a bait and switch. That means that you connected with them solely for the purpose to sell them. Yeah, there’s that I mean, although you can say I authentically wanted to sell them, that was not in their best interest. It was, you know, self-serving. So I think there’s some authenticity in bringing real value to you. And until we actually lead to our solution, instead of leading with our solution is bring, like high level of value to your connection, that doesn’t rely on them having a conversation with you to get the value out of that, right. Like, that’s really my point. The other thing I think is nurturing your connections in an authentic way, without, like, my goal is to do this, except from a networking perspective.
Erin Hatzikostas 21:21
I couldn’t disagree. Like one of the things I’m doing right now is I’ve taken the book, my principles, everything I’ve learned over the last few years, and then I have a corporate program, they help in authentic leadership, and then the culture program, and I’m working with a couple of companies, but I still have a lot to figure out, right? What do people really need? How do I make it relevant, you know, what’s most important, right? And so at first, I had gone out to my network and sort of trying to sell and now I’m like, I’m just, I need, I need more feedback. So also leverage it. Even if you’re selling your company’s products, maybe you have a new product, but you have a really good connection, or I’d love to just get your feedback, and then just get their feedback, right, like, ask, you know, ask them those powerful questions that will help you and then you know, obviously down the line, hopefully, you know, you can build a relationship.
Bill McCormick 22:14
That’s great. This is so good and we could keep going on but we can’t we’ve run-up to the end of our time (Brynne: That was fast) So it did, it went really fast. So make sure you get a copy of “You Do You(ish)” you can find out who that artist is I was talking about, you can find out about Erin’s H.U.M.A.N.S acronym and what that stands for, and you can find out how to be a better A.H.O.L.E. So well, we probably shouldn’t leave that flagging. So Erin take us out just by telling everyone what A.H.O.L.E stands for, and how they can stay in touch with you after this.
Erin Hatzikostas 22:47
Yeah, the A.H.O.L.E., I wanted to build a community or build a name, right? This is a movement and we all want to be part of something. And so I was like, what is that that binds us together and nothing I do is normal. And so after a lot of spitballing and playing and having fun, came up with A.H.O.L.E., which stands for Authentic Humans, Overhauling Lousy Energy. And at the end of the day, that’s what we’re trying to fight in, this lousy boring stuff, the energy and so yeah, and not only do I have to be part of it, but I do a fun little personal A.H.O.L.E. manifesto, which is like think of Mad Lib turned into this power statement and get back on video for me. I don’t know. (Brynne: That’s fine! I love it!) And you can find the link in there as well. And the best place to find me, the hub, is at bauthenticinc.com and then you can see all the links and everything from there. I’m mostly on social. I’m mostly on LinkedIn, Instagram, both under Erin Hatzikostas.
Bill McCormick 23:46
Thanks so much for being with us, Erin. Thanks for those of you that listen to us every week. So as you go out and about in your week this week, don’t forget to make your sales social. Have a great week, everybody. Bye-bye.
Brynne Tillman 23:59
Bye. Thank you.
Bob Woods 24:00
Thanks for watching and join us again for more special guest instructors bringing you marketing, sales, training, and social selling strategies that will set you apart. Hit the subscribe button below to get the latest episodes from the Making Sales Social Podcast. Give this video a thumbs up and comment down below on what you want to hear from us next. You can also listen to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Play. Visit our website socialsaleslink.com for more information.