Business Bites Episode 91: The Selling Staircase: How to Seamlessly Move Prospects Through the Selling Process

The Selling Staircase: How to Seamlessly Move Prospects Through the Selling Process

Episode 91 on the Business Bites Podcast

The Gist Of This Episode: To grow our businesses, selling is a must. But to a lot of us, it feels like a dirty word. It doesn’t have to. In this episode, Rachel is joined by Nikki Rausch from the Sales Maven. They discuss what selling really is and how to sell in a natural and authentic way. 


What you will learn:

  • What the selling staircase is
  • How your voice modulation can make you sound either confident or completely unsure of yourself
  • How to create curiosity so people want to know more
  • How to recognize true buying signals
  • and more!

Expand To Read Episode Transcripts

Rachel: Hey guys, Rachel Brenke from The Business Bites podcast. And I am joined with Nikki of Sales Maven. I am excited for this interview, because you guys know I love bringing on wonderfully strong, powerful women who are just killing it in the area of business. And she’s dedicated to authentic selling, and she has this unique ability to transform the misunderstood process of selling. You guys know that I’m all about serving over selling, but guess what? We still have to sell, that’s what it’s called. And so Nikki is going to share all of that with us today. So Nikki thank you so much for coming on.

Nikki: Thank you for having me, Rachel. I appreciate it.

Rachel: Yeah, I’m excited. We had a bunch of like scheduling conflicts and I was sick and all of this, and I was like, “Oh, I have to have her. I hope she doesn’t get booked up.” But you guys are absolutely going to love what she is going to bring. So let’s start with a little about who you are and how you got into entrepreneurship, and where you’re at now.

Nikki: Okay. Well, my background is as a professional sales rep. I was in technology sales for 17 years and I have now been in sales for 25 total. And I don’t know if this will relate to your audience or not, but at some point in my career, I started feeling like, “Gosh, it seems like there should be something more than this for me. Like there should be something more fulfilling in some way.” And so I got really curious about that. I ended up leaving the industry that I was in, and at the time I was studying neurolinguistic programming, which if that’s a new term to anybody, it’s really the study of communication.

And I went to help my NLP teacher grow her business while I kind of figured out what I was going to do when I grew up, is really kind of how I thought of it. But technically I was grown up, I was just about to turn 40. And so I got really curious around this, and while I was helping her grow her business, it was really when I started to meet these amazing entrepreneurs. And I was so intrigued by spending time with them, because entrepreneurs are so passionate about what they do.

And yet a lot of them were struggling to make money. And the piece that I found a lot of them were missing in the business kind of building was sales. They didn’t really understand the sales process. So I started helping some of them on the side, and really my business grew out of that. Of people going like, “Can you help me? What am I supposed to do here? What am I supposed to say?” And what I found was the piece that I’m really comfortable with and that I love is the language piece of sales. Because a lot of people can tell you like how to go out and find leads, but that’s really marketing. What a lot of people don’t ever tell you is what do you say to that lead when they-

Rachel: What do you do with the leads?

Nikki: And how do you have that conversation, and how do you seamlessly move somebody through the selling process where you get to the part where you exchange dollars for services.

And so I’ve really dedicated my business to teaching people how to do that. And primarily women, because I find that women entrepreneurs, they struggle with some of those conversations because we want to be connected. You know? We don’t want to come across salesy or gross or aggressive or we don’t want people to judge us. You know, all these things that run through our heads. And so really that’s what I’ve been doing for the last five and a half years. And I’ve developed this framework that I call the selling staircase, which allows for people to show up and be themselves, be authentic in a real conversation with somebody and be strategic. Here’s how you recognize when to move somebody to the next step.

Rachel: It’s so funny guys, it’s like I fed her the buzz words authentic. And what was the second you said, of just being confident in it and strategic? Yes, yes, yes. Because I talk about that a lot. My audience is any entrepreneur, but it is primarily talking to women and creatives. And I find even in creative, or especially in creative entrepreneurs, I think even more so the creative side tries to take over. And perhaps a lot of fear in selling in language and messaging gets lost. And I also think as creatives put themselves at even higher level when it comes to that because it’s like a catch 22.

The very creatives articulate themselves, but then they have the fear that they’re not able to and it just becomes this whole game. And so I’m glad that you’re going to be able to share a bit about the selling staircase so that these particular entrepreneurs can definitely utilize that. Before we get to the steps of it though, I do want to ask, and I asked this of many of my partners that come on the podcast. If you could go back in time to the beginning of your business, what would you tell yourself or change?

Nikki: Oh, I love that question so much. So what I would tell myself is be willing to invest and take and move quicker. When I had an idea, I would tell myself, take action. Because you really don’t know if something’s going to work until you start.

Rachel: You know, I’ve shared about that before is I have multiple brands and I have some that have “failed.” And they probably weren’t failed by other people’s definitions, but for me it wasn’t giving the return I wanted. And it’s funny though, I would sit back and go, “Why is this not as hard hitting as I thought it would be?” But it’s essentially what you just said. I spent too much time sitting there looking and thinking and going, “Oh, this has to sell. People have to buy into this.”

Then they don’t. And then I had these other actions that are more like off the cuff things that take on like wildfire and yeah. I love your answer to that because I look back in the very beginning of my business, I was strategic and purposeful, but I was willing to throw the ideas out there and see what works, and it was more of like imperfect action rather than perfect inaction. And I actually have to fight that now being over a decade in business because now I’m like, “Oh, you’re a more mature business owner than that. You should be sitting here and going and doing this right.” But that’s not necessarily right. The whole impulsive and seeing what works, the idea, like you said, is really important.

Nikki: Yeah. Yeah, definitely be willing to take that chance. I tell this to my clients now, too. It’s like when they have an idea, like let’s see what happens. Let’s put it out into market, let’s test it. The other thing I think sometimes people think it has to be all or nothing, but a lot of times you can test things. I encourage my clients often to beta test things in the market. So it’s less scary for them, right? To see are people going to buy it? Will they try it out? Like what do I need to tweak? How can I make it better? All those things. So I love that.

Rachel: And you know, there are some publishers that will pre-sell a book before it’s ever written because they want to see if the concept is going to be bought into. And then of course once it does sell, then the author is hair on fire trying to write the book and get it done. But it’s true, I’ve seen that happen. So just know you guys can pull from what large corporations are doing even though you may not be a large corporation. And another thing like that can be having a control group. And I caution when I say control group, I don’t want you to go get your mom and your sister and your best friend and ask them, “What do you think of this idea?” Because what are they all going to say? We love it, until you ask them to pay you money and then they’ll be like, “What now?”

I’m glad you say that because, and this is a good kind of crossover to the selling staircase that I want to get focused on for them to hear. But I know that in the beginning of entrepreneurship, who is it that we’re selling to and who is really buying into us? Well, it’s our family and friends because they want to support us. But then I see entrepreneurs who have like this spike of clients or customers, and then they fall off and they’re going, “Wait, what’s happened?” It was like, well you’ve already hit the threshold of how much product your mom or your sister is going to buy from you because they’re probably not your audience anyways. And then you really have to start getting the leads in selling to them and getting them up that selling staircase in order to thrive as a successful business person. So where do they start with the selling staircase? And I love the name of it cause I can just visualize it. So I’m ready for you to walk up it. Let’s walk through it.

Nikki: Perfect. Thank you so much. So the first step is the introduction phase. And the introduction phase may be that you’re meeting somebody for the first time or they’re being introduced to you for the first time, but it can also be that you’re introducing the concept to somebody you’ve known for a while about your product or service. So in the introduction phase, it’s your job to make a powerful, strong first impression and show up from this place of credibility and confidence, so that people believe you when you talk about what it is that you’re doing.

Rachel: I love that.

Nikki: Yeah. And then once you’ve made a strong first impression, and there are things that you can do to make a strong first impression. So for instance, one thing that when you’re talking about who you are and what you know and what you do, you want to curl your voice down at the end of your sentences. Because if you talk about, “Well, I think I do this and then I might have that.” You actually sound like you’re really unsure of yourself and people won’t believe you. They’ll go like, “Ooh, this person, I don’t know if I can trust what they’re saying yet, but when you talk about like, “Here’s what I do and this is what it’s going to do for you,” people will believe you because you’re congruent. You sound like you really … Like she’s got it. She knows what she’s talking about.

Rachel: And what do you recommend to people that aren’t confident? And I loved the way that you gave the example of it because at first I was like, what? And now I’m like, Oh, I find myself doing that sometimes when I’m unsure. So how do you coach people to get over that hump? So we don’t have this, “Oh, I think I have a podcast.”

Nikki: Well, some of it is practice. Actually I say a lot of the stuff that I teach requires some muscle memory. So just like when you’re learning something new, you’ve got to practice. So sometimes, and I still do this. When I’m driving in my car, I practice saying things out loud because I have got to sound like I do know what I’m talking about. And you might be going, “But I do know what I’m talking about, but I’m still struggling to say it.” It’s learning how to curl your voice down at the end of your sentences so that when you are speaking, you speak from a place of credibility. Because people who curl their sentences down at the end, and by the way, this isn’t like an all or nothing. Again, this is when you’re talking about who you are, what you know and what you do.

That’s when you curl your voice down. There’s also time to call your voice up too, which is when you want to be seen as approachable and friendly and curious. And when you’re asking a question. And can you hear it in my voice right there? There’s a difference between this and this, right? It’s just like this tiny subtle things. And so just practice. And if you’re not sure if you’re doing it, listen to your voicemail because on your voicemail you get a sense of like are you a curler upper by nature, or curl down by nature?

Rachel: Oh, man, I’m a curl downer.

Nikki: That’s a really strong place to be. But there’s also a time when you do want to be seen as approachable and you want people to feel comfortable to ask you questions, and so you need to be able to do both.

Rachel: Yeah. And I kind of want to equate this a bit and give some maybe confidence building to those listening. I think part of where this comes from is you don’t even know for sure if you’re going to be able to make this entrepreneurship thing or maybe you’re battling this idea of “Oh, people are looking at me as not a serious business owner.” And you are. If you’re putting yourself out in business, you’re a business owner, whether it’s part time, full time. You know, you’re making money, not making money. It is all about projecting the confidence of it. And it’s funny because I just had a flashback to when I was in court within the last few weeks, and there was a segment when I’m talking to the judge. I didn’t really understand what he was asking, but I had to come up with an answer and I was very curled down the whole time.

However, opposing counsel was kind of very curled up because he didn’t know how to respond either. But who did the judge end up bringing the hammer down on? The other dude who seemed unsure of himself, even though what I said probably was jibberish and didn’t make any sense. So hopefully the curl down distracted him a little bit. But I share that example in that oftentimes we think we think professional services, doctors, lawyers, accountants, all that kind of stuff. But you guys can utilize this language as a creative business, as a boutique owner, whatever position that you’re in, it applies across the board.

Nikki: That’s right. Yep.

Rachel: Awesome. All right, so we’ve gone over what steps so far and what else do we have to go through?

Nikki: So I’ve got step two now, which is creating curiosity. And creating curiosity is about peaking somebody’s interest to want to know more. And one of the easiest ways to create curiosity is how do you answer questions. For instance, a really simple question that we get asked all the time is like, “Hey Rachel, how are you?” And you might have an answer that is like, Oh, I’m fine or good. Or some people have crazy fun answers like, “Oh, I’m living the dream,” or couldn’t be better. Whatever. But if you just leave it there, you actually don’t open the door to talk about your business, and you need to be talking about your business in order to grow it.

So I always suggest have what I call, and I’m not going to go into too much detail about this for the sake of time. But I have what I call here kitty, kitty statements. You need to have a statement that creates enough curiosity for people just like you’re calling a cat, where you go here, kitty, kitty. You want them to ask you a question. So, for instance, if you were about to launch something and somebody says, “Hey Rachel, how are you?” I want you to say something like, “Oh, I’m fantastic. I’m getting ready to launch a brand new product or a brand new service.” Because then somebody gets to go, “Oh, well, what is that?” Well, now you get to talk about it. So create some curiosity.

Rachel: Oh, I love that. And I also feel like it turns the table. So then you are inviting people to invite you to talk about yourself as opposed to you just being like, “Well, let me tell you all that’s going on.”

Nikki: And I call that word vomiting. And we never want to word vomit on people, because we never want people to walk away from a conversation being like, “Wow, I’m so sorry I asked.” Right? We want them to want more. So once you’ve created curiosity, what usually happens is a prospective client will start giving buying signals. And a buying signal is them indicating in some way that they have a potential need or something that is of interest to them.

So when you get a buying signal, and a buying signal for instance might be somebody saying like if you say I’m launching this new thing, and they say, “Huh, that sounds so interesting. I wonder if I could use that.” That’s a huge buying signal right there. So you don’t just say like, “Oh, well, here’s the website,” or “Oh, here’s my card, or go listen to my podcast.” I want you to say, “Oh. Well, is that something you’d like to talk about more?” That’s what I call an invitation to move them to the next step. Because when they say yes, now you’ve got real permission to kind of dig in and find out what’s going on for them. So when you get a buying signal, you issue an invitation and you move somebody to the next step.

Rachel: And I think it’s definitely important that you really are good at interpreting buying signals, because I feel like those that have confidence in what they’re doing but are blind to buying or lack of buying signals and they just still, like you said, word vomit. They’ll still put out there their product. That is more of a deterrent.

And I’m probably going to be really a lot harder for you to come back around and talk to me later. In my mind, I’m thinking of people that I haven’t talked to in 20 years that all of a sudden in my Facebook inbox saying, “Hey girl, what’s up?” And I’m not really interested in what they’re selling. I’m trying to be friendly, but I’m not really communicating by … Maybe I am. Maybe now I’m all like self-reflecting. Maybe I’m giving buying signals and I didn’t really mean to be, but I guess my point of what I’m trying to get at is make sure you’re really in tune with the signals that you’re hearing. If they’re true buying signals, or it’s just somebody being polite.

Nikki: That’s right. And just because you think you get a buying signal, and actually I wrote my second book, is all about buying signals. Just because you think someone might’ve given you a buying signal, it’s your job to check it out. It isn’t necessarily your job to go in for the hard sale because you haven’t actually moved up the staircase to the point where you even have permission to propose something to them yet. Because once you get a buying signal, the next step in the process is the discovery. That’s finding out do they actually have a need or a want or desire, or a problem that they need solved. And if they don’t, there’s no purpose in selling to them then. Because trying to convince somebody to buy from you that doesn’t have a need or a want, all you’re going to do is damage the relationship.

So this is why people who show up in your Facebook message or whatever and like, “Hey girl, I just want to sell something to you.” That’s why it feels gross. It’s because you didn’t actually give them a buying signal that was a legit buying signal. You might have given them an inclination of something, but it’s their job to check it out and make sure like, “Hey Rachel, do you really have a need here? Is this something I can help you with?” Get permission for Rachel to say yes before you start selling her, because otherwise you turn people off.

Rachel: And to take it even a step further, something I’ve learned through business is that if they’re really not the person that needs … Like what you were just saying, that may not have the problem that I have the solution to, or they may not be the customer that I’m looking for. But by getting them into buy, you’re going to have more problems on the backend. Whether it’s customer service dissatisfaction, bad review, bad recommendations, or just neutral. You don’t want to waste your … On the front end, you don’t want to waste your energies on someone that isn’t actually going to be … You want to look longterm beyond just customer. Right?

We want them to buy, but we also want them to buy and then talk about us. Come back and buy, be repeat buyers. On the back end, we also don’t want them to be a customer service nightmare. And if you didn’t follow kind of the steps that Nikki’s been going through here, not only is it going to get someone hopefully up the staircase, but you’re also going to qualify them in the process to see if it’s even a customer you want to have at all.

Nikki: That’s right. There’s nothing worse than having an unsatisfied customer who’s paid you money, because it’s bad for your business. It’s also really bad for your mental state of mind, right? Because it makes it so much harder for you to go back out to that and have that next sales conversation, because you’re coming from this place like everybody hates me. Nobody wants to buy from me. This customer is so unhappy. And of course, like I have this with clients all the time. They get one bad review out of a hundred, and they only focus on the one bad review.

You can’t please everybody, but you do want to make sure you’re targeting your ideal clients because they will be the people, like you said, that will go out and will shout from the rooftops like Rachel is awesome. Everybody should be working with Rachel. Like she is your go to person when it comes to this, this and this. Like we want to create ambassadors in the marketplace for us. We don’t want people to go like, well I hired her and she was okay. Like, that’s so bad. I never want anybody saying that about me.

Rachel: Or worse, she was horrible.

Nikki: She didn’t deliver. She didn’t meet my expectations, any of that stuff because it’s bad for business, but it’s really bad for mindset and especially for our confidence issues in sales.

Rachel: And that’s actually was the next point I was going to make was I see this a lot, especially those that are new in their entrepreneurship journey. The fear drives them. Maybe their family is dependent upon this money or they’re just haven’t gotten over the idea that not everyone is your customer. And so you’re willing to do and say and try to convince someone so you can make that sale.

And perhaps it’s easier for us, Nikki, to say this because we’re on this side of the hump now. Because I do remember in the beginning I also was like, Oh my gosh, if anyone shows any buying signal, I have to get them to buy and I got to make the sale. And if I don’t, I’m not going to succeed. And I think it’s easier in the beginning to fall into that emotional, mental trap. Like you were saying about the one review out of the a hundred, yeah. This is definitely something that I feel like all entrepreneurs go through. So if you guys are sitting here listening, just feel comforted to know you’re not alone and now you kind of can make a perspective shift so you don’t stay in that cycle.

Nikki: The other thing about it is that when you show up from this place of desperation, even if you don’t think it’s coming across to the client, oftentimes it comes across in a way that just feels off. Like even if they can’t tell it’s desperation, something feels off and then the experience doesn’t go as well. And so I get it that it’s hard when we’re like, “Man, I’ve got bills to pay and I’m trying to see if this business is going to go,” or whatever it is. I honor that too of where you are. When you can take a step back and just say like it’s this idea of like not being overly attached to closing a sale.

Anytime you’re overly attached, i kind of compare it to it’s the difference between like holding your hand out, like palm facing up, you know, fingers relaxed. Or holding your hand out, palm facing up, but fingers clenched in a fist. And when you are desperate for the sale, you come across like you’re so attached to it, you’re holding on so tight that you end up wanting it more than the client does. And that puts you at a disadvantage in the selling process.

Rachel: 100%, and I also think it makes you … I don’t know. It trips you up from providing the full experience that you need because then you’ve swung the pendulum so far to wanting just the sale. You talk about that gripped fist that you forget about all the other things that make the experience at that point, and you just become frozen and paralyzed. And you may not realize it, but you’re absolutely right. I’ve seen it so many times, and I think this is where it comes back to what I always say. I really am looking to serve the person. And I say overselling, but it is selling. I’m just serving their needs and who they are. And if I determine that I can’t serve their needs, then we quit walking up that staircase together.

Nikki: That’s right. And you want to actually get people off the staircase as quick as possible if they’re not an ideal client for you because their time sucks. And I don’t mean like the people, but just the experience and the amount of energy that you put onto it, and you’re better off spending your time and energy doing other things to grow your business. Going out and finding those right clients. And whatever that means, whether that means getting out and going to a networking event, or whether that means putting on a webinar or whatever that means for your business. But you know, it’s not like one client is not going to make or break your business.

Rachel: No, no. And we could do a whole other episode just talking on that point right there. I want to thank you for sharing all of this information. This is already a great visualization, a lot of good notes on each step for you guys to take. Nikki has books on Amazon. I want you guys to go check out. I’m about to go order a couple of them myself because I want to also review them and get them up onto the website for you guys to know my insights for it.

Before I wrap up, Nikki, I’m going to ask you if there’s anything you want to leave them with, but I want you guys while she’s thinking on that real quick to know you can grab all the show notes at This is going to be episode 91, and we’re going to link all of Nikki’s stuff. So you’ll be able to find the Sales Maven link. Her books, website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, all of that. So again, So Nikki, what last nugget do you have for them?

Nikki: The last nugget I’m going to leave as in the selling process, the most important thing you need to do is always remember, it’s your job to invite people to the next step. That means you have to get the words out of your mouth and say it. And that could be something as simple as, is this something you’d be interested in learning more about? That’s an invitation. Be willing to invite people because that’s how you get people to move.

Rachel: Love it. Absolutely love it. It sounds so simplistic but it’s so hard hitting and it’s true. And I think if you guys keep doing it more and more. Simple invitations, you’ll definitely see the success and the results out of that. Well, Nikki, thank you so much for your time. I know you’re extremely busy. This selling staircase has been phenomenal for them. Guys, don’t forget, you can rewind, re-listen to this, take notes and of course, make sure you jump into the Business Bites Facebook group because we’re going to have a whole thread discussing this about Nikki’s episode, as well as related selling stuff. And I will see you guys on the next episode.

Featured Guest & Resources

Founder and CEO of “Sales Maven”, an organization dedicated to authentic selling, Nikki Rausch has the unique ability to transform the misunderstood process of “selling”.

With 25+ years of experience selling to such prestigious organizations as The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, and NASA, Nikki shattered sales records in many industries, receiving multiple “top producer” awards along the way.

Today, entrepreneurs and small business owners from a wide range of disciplines hire Nikki to show them how to sell successfully and authentically, without being pushy or “salesy.”

An engaging and sought-after speaker, she shares the secrets of her sales success through illuminating keynote addresses and business-changing workshops. Her robust Sales Maven Society ignites game-changing outcomes for clients.

Nikki’s popular books are available at Amazon.


You can find Nikki here:

About the author

Hi, I’m Rachel Brenke

Rachel Brenke

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