Steve Benson is the Founder and CEO of Badger Maps, the #1 App in the App Store for field salespeople. After receiving his MBA from Stanford, Steve joined Google, where he became Google Enterprise’s Top Sales Executive Globally in 2009. In 2012 Steve founded Badger Maps to help field salespeople be more successful with multi-stop route planning. He also hosts the Outside Sales Talk podcast where he interviews industry experts on their top sales tips. Steve is also the President of the Sales Hall of Fame.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in the city of Chicago in the ’80s. I spent a lot of time playing sports and developed a strong sense of competitiveness and teamwork through athletics. I’m always surprised as an adult how many people don’t seem to have ever played team sports or think and compete as a unit. I wish school taught less about individual success and more about group success because almost nothing great is ever accomplished alone.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
If I could talk to myself when I was early in my career, I’d tell myself to learn to communicate in the language of return on investment for your customers. When I was younger, I often framed things in terms of the features of the products that I was selling. I didn’t know how to connect those features that my product had to the actual benefits that the customers would get while they used the products. And then even later I learned to connect what the prospect could get in terms of benefits to actual dollars that they can count – should they purchase my product.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
In my field, I always hear new salespeople or people who are in sales slumps asking how to “sell more aggressively” or “become more aggressive.” This is the old-school way of thinking about sales. While a traditional, aggressive sales approach might seem like the best way to sell more, in reality it can have the opposite effect. We, as salespeople, are starting to realize that people are using more emotion in making decisions and no longer buy from people or companies that they do not feel comfortable with or who don’t understand their needs.
If prospects are already struggling to be understood, using ‘aggressive’ tactics could further drive a wedge between any trust built costing you a sale. Instead of traditional selling, or ‘aggressive’ selling, I prefer consultative selling, which allows you to know your prospects and understand their needs. This will help guide your prospect to the solution that works best for them and allow you to still make the sale.
With so many solutions available, one factor that will make the difference between closing the deal or missing an opportunity is the trust you build with your prospect, and you won’t build it by being aggressive.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How did you come out of it and what did you learn from it?
I’d say the darkest period of my life was from the second year of starting a company until the 4th year. The first year I had enough money to live comfortably and although it was challenging, it always felt like great progress was being made. It became a real grind once we got the building blocks in place but we then had to get the airplane up to speed to takeoff. Really, being an entrepreneur has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s been incredibly rewarding and helped me develop so much in my career, as a leader, and as a person. That being said, I can’t necessarily recommend it unless you really want it, are willing to give up basically everything for it, and truly understand what that means.
The hardest part of starting Badger was finding great co-founders. No one can do everything, and bringing in great people early on when you face insurmountable odds is one of the toughest parts of launching a business. We really lucked out with the team, but it was challenging.
There are many great risks in starting a business. Not only your money and reputation but also the opportunity costs of the salary that you’re foregoing. But if it does work out, the rewards can be more meaningful than at a salaried job – in terms of absolute dollars and in terms of career satisfaction. This is also what motivates me, being passionate about my business, its mission, and about creating meaningful jobs and careers for my employees.
There are a ton of judgment calls and calculated risks I had to face when starting Badger. There are millions of pages of complex rules and regulations and thousands of best practices to understand. But obviously, you don’t have the resources to deal with them all perfectly when you’re starting out. I believe you have to do your best and do right by the people you’re interacting with. Work on getting everything in place over time and as resources become available. In my experience, everything takes longer than you expect, and since time is money, this also means that you tend to need more money than you think you’ll need.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Something that contributed to my success was having good advice and a mentor early on in my career. Mark Flessel was my first Sales Manager at Google and gave me one of the best pieces of advice I still carry to this day. He told me to focus on understanding my prospect’s needs and pain points are and this would help me understand what their goals are. Using this information, I could map my solution to show them how I could help them achieve their goals and make them more successful.
I have found time and time again in sales, taking the time to ask the right questions to understand my customer’s business drivers has allowed me to differentiate my solution over my competitors. This is something that I have applied from the very beginning in my company, Badger Maps, and it’s proved to be one of the best sales strategies to follow. Understanding your prospects’ business allows you to create a more effective sales pitch and overcome objections successfully.
I think that having one basic (often overlooked), but a great piece of advice to carry with you throughout your career, which you can impart to others, can really help you be successful
What is your morning routine?
I have never been a morning person, and I have always preferred to work late into the night, so a morning routine is especially important for me. And while some successful people take pride in their sometimes absurd morning routines, I believe a morning routine only needs to be consistent to be successful; your morning routine should help you feel more productive and on track. I believe that a good salesperson needs to have mental endurance and energy throughout their day, along with organization and focus. So I have tailored my routine over time to reflect that.
Part of my morning routine begins in the evening to prepare myself for the next day. I recommend doing small things like laying out your clothes and preparing your meals. This can save time in the morning and can help you relax for the night. Waking up in the morning, I avoid hitting the snooze button. The snooze button is your worst enemy. Waking up to the first alarm encourages your brain to feel on top of your day so you don’t feel like you’re falling behind.
I try to get in at least 5 minutes of exercise and meditation in the morning. Both increase your energy and improve your focus and endurance for the day. Exercise allows your blood to start flowing and wakes up your whole body, so you won’t feel sluggish. Meditation helps you prepare and focus on your day, allowing you to channel your energy and use it accordingly.
Next is thinking of breakfast. Everyone says breakfast is the most important meal of the day and they say that for a reason. It’s important to note that breakfast isn’t a cup of coffee and an orange on your way out the door, either. With a hearty breakfast, which can be as easy as two eggs and a piece of toast, you will be able to fuel up for the day without overeating. The more nutritious your breakfast, the better. Some tips for a good breakfast: carbs will boost your energy up momentarily, protein will keep your energy going, and fiber will keep you feeling full. I drink about a pot of coffee every and making coffee is the first thing I do when I wake up.
Finally, find a way to nurture your knowledge. No matter how experienced you are in your field, or how much wisdom you’ve attained over the years, it’s refreshing to hear different ideas and perspectives on a daily basis. Podcasts (or audiobooks) are a great way to keep learning while multitasking. While on your commute, or getting ready for the day, select a podcast that fits your mood.
The key to a morning routine is being able to stick with it. It’s about getting into the habit of a morning routine–being able to go through it without feeling like you are dragging yourself around. It may feel a little odd at first, but with persistence, it will improve. Once you get used to it, you’ll be increasing productivity and setting up your whole day for success.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I like to block out distractions as much as possible. When I’m working I turn off notifications, put my phone on silent, and keep off social media. I think multitasking is an important skill to have and sometimes is necessary, but if it can be avoided, do so. Turning everything off allows you to tune into what you’re doing better and allows you to accomplish even more in both work and life.
Another habit/behavior I live by is eliminating my commute. I live about a mile from the Badger Maps office which allows me to walk with my dog to work. I think that driving to work for 30 minutes in the morning is a lot more stressful and detrimental to productivity so I make sure to eliminate it if possible.
I think that COVID has been a saving grace for this in a sense. Since most people are working remotely right now, they are no longer plagued by unnecessary commutes, and those who are commuting are not encountering traffic leading to shorter commute times and easier parking therefore are less stressed and have more free time.
With the free time I do have, I make sure to try to spend enough quality time with close friends and family, as well as I have quiet times whether I am just enjoying peace and quiet for a brief moment or using it to pump out chores and tasks, it’s important to eliminate noise and distractions when possible.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I strive for my perfect balance, which is all about having enough time to do the things outside of work that is really important to me so that I have no distractions while I am working. I consciously make sure that those are the things that I’m actually doing with my free time otherwise I will feel out of balance. One trick is to outsource everything I can, like cleaning my house, etc., because these things have to get done, but aren’t what will keep me in balance.
To be more productive, I try to cut through all the noise and get the important things done – even when they’re not urgent. I recommend carving off time to do the things that are important but not urgent, or you end up rudderless and failing to act strategically in your business. The way I carve off time to get those important things done is by working late at night or early in the morning when there aren’t distractions. The key is that the phone doesn’t ring, there are no meetings, and no one is grabbing me to take care of things that are on fire.
Another productivity tip is writing down every night the most important things you want to do the next day, and then doing those things before you do anything else. I think for me to be at my most productive, it’s important to have some of my day unscheduled. So many things come up that if you didn’t have unblocked time throughout the day, you wouldn’t be able to jump into the things that are really important to keep the team moving efficiently.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I think for each individual, oftentimes, the books that are most influential to them are books that help them out in an aspect of their life. Whether it’s cooking, money, etc., everyone turns to books to teach them how to get what they want and/or need out of something. For me, I turned to a lot of sales books for tips on confidence, how to sell, and how to grow my mindset in my early career, which has led me to where I am today.
As a salesperson, investing in yourself is key to standing out from the crowd and advancing your career. I chose 3 books that influenced me most in my sales career and I hope I can have some impact on new salespeople seeing this today.
This book talks about how sales is a natural activity common to all human beings and that we all practice the art of selling in our daily lives. You’ll learn about alternatives to the traditional elevator pitch, rules to understand others’ points of view, how you can make your message clearer and more persuasive, and much more.
This book breaks down the history of power into 48 essential laws. The rules are meant to explain how prudence, confidence, and self-preservation can help you influence and persuade others. This is a top sales book recommended for salespeople who are trying to improve their negotiation skills and overcome objections.
Its purpose is to help you cut down your working time, be able to work from wherever you want, and make more money! The book has an entrepreneurial mindset and provides many proven tips to simplify your life and become more productive.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
In life, and in sales, there are many highs and lows, but despite all that, it’s important to stay composed and rational, and never lose sight of the motivation that got you to where you are in the first place. Whether you’re a sales rep in search of motivation, or you’re a manager trying to motivate your team to stay on track and crush their quota, reading motivational quotes is always an easy way to get instantly inspired.
Here are some of my favorite quotes to stay motivated:
“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way, if you don’t you’ll find an excuse” – Jim Rohn
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right” – Henry Ford
“Today is always the most productive day of your week” – Mark Hunter
“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to look for it” – Henry David Thoreau