Do you want to grow more and sell better? Build a relationship with yourself. Be vulnerable, honest, and humble. Lance Tyson introduces Scott McGohan, the CEO of McGohan Brabender. Scott’s story encompasses the people element of sales, but with a unique twist that would make Ben Franklin proud. Scott, by his own admission, started his journey as a destructive hero. Now, he encourages his people to discover and live their personal values. According to Scott, to sell well, you must like yourself and have a good relationship with yourself. Listen to this episode and you’ll come away ready to renew your investment in your own personal growth.
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Against the Sales Odds Reviews Sales and Personal Growth With Scott McGohan
I’m excited about this episode. This is somebody I find an almost decade-plus relationship with and had been deep in the trenches with them at times, Scott McGohan. He is the CEO of McGohan Brabender, a very big regional player as it relates to health benefits, strategic thinking around. I have learned so much from this person over the years. Scott, welcome to the show. I’m excited to have you.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it very much.
Tell everybody a little bit about McGohan Brabender from your end, your responsibilities, and what that looks like for people who might not be familiar.
We serve 1,200 employers at 4 offices in Indianapolis, Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton. We represent about 125,000 employees. I like to say 250,000 belly buttons, moms, dads, kids, and about $1.5 billion of healthcare spends. We manage benefits for organizations. We hope people don’t think we sell insurance because that would be a miserable existence. What we do is we help employers empower them with decisions, so they can get back to doing what they love to do, and that’s to grow their company, product, services and workforce. We love what we do.
When I think about the way you think about the business approach to the marketplace, I go back to several years ago, when your organization probably still doesn’t educate employers about metabolic syndrome and all those things that cause risk as we try to take care of our employees as they age. The strategy around that and, more important, with you, the passion around how you are going to educate the C-Suite. That’s when Obamacare first came out of that whole what you taught me there. Talk a little bit about your business, that strategic thinking, and how that strategic thinking around the customer turns into marketing and sales. That’s your genius at the end of the day.
I appreciate that. One of the things is I like to give ourselves a bunch of credit for what we have done. Legislatively, they always say, when you think of change, you can either do it yourself or be forced to it. When the government changed our industry, we were forced to do two things. Number one is we could be self-serving and protective about what we did, try to hire lobbyists to protect our industry, which a lot of firms did. We were like, “Forget it. We are not going to do that. This is complicated.” We provide service value and knowledge. Our customers are going to be confused. Let’s be students. Let’s educate customers in regards to this legislative mountain. Let’s be brave and understand it, knowing at the end, there will be a business on the other side of it. We tore down everything we knew about what we were doing and said, “Let’s start all over.”
One of the biggest things you taught me is the difference between what a president of an organization to CEO. What I learned from you as a CEO, it’s looking forward, looking at that mountain or how to evolve. I looked at that time. I’m like, “This person understands how he’s going to not turn a battleship but take on a wave and be able to wrap yourself around it.” He did that and McGohan Brabender has evolved since. You have had a lot of great people around you but it also takes a lot of strategic direction. How many folks do you have in sales traditionally but then how many people support sales? You are in a very competitive space. The industry you do is so competitive.
We have probably 23 people with their feet on the ground selling inside of an organization that is right at 200 people. Now there’s a difference between people in sales and a difference from two people who are selling. You taught us that.
In your position, what always fascinates me about you is I remember, and I know it could still happen, within two seconds, you could hop on the phone and you are running this large organization that you can jump right into any sales situation, anytime and do it as well to somebody that does it 24/7. Let’s talk a little bit about your mentality around selling. To me, it’s a very servant sales model that you have because, like you said before, it’s embracing change and what’s going on. It’s embracing the customer. You can always see it through the customer’s eyes. Talk about that philosophy and where that comes from because it’s special.
I learned it from my dad. I remember when I took him on a prospect call with me. We went there, put together this big binder, and his presentation was awesome. I’m young. I’ve got two kids at home and trying to put food on the table. We go into this meeting, and my dad takes the binder from me. He doesn’t even open it up and talks to the guy for one hour. His name was Todd. He goes, “Todd, I don’t know who your broker is but they are doing a great job. If anything ever happens, I hope one day you call us.” I get in the car and I’m like, “What did you do?” I spent hours on that.
I will never forget what he said, “Scott, your job is to be useful to people. The other person that was serving that organization was useful. You just keep being useful for people. Those people will always come back.” Sure enough, two years later, the guy picked up the phone, that consultant dropped the ball, and we have had that customer for 25 years. I like speed. I want to go real fast. What he taught me was if I can stay humble, authentic, and useful, if I play the long game, I’m going to be in great shape.
Somebody said to me, “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.” I think about your dad because he was always methodical with his questions and would always take his time. I remember he told me one time, and you talk about a great business person. I remember it this way, so you tell me if it’s true, that whoever was at the front desk when a vendor would come in, wouldn’t he ask how that vendor treated the person at the front desk? I have told that for years. It wasn’t changed in my head. Treating people is so important to him.
Even our new hires. When we interview with our recruiter, the first person we will call is the front desk. We will call Cathy, “What do you think of so-and-so?” If they say, “Who? Do you mean Joe? He was amazing, very polite, courteous and friendly.” That’s why Cathy, their friends call her the first impressions team, and you better make one. My best sales came through. I started back in the day where you could knock on the front door and walk right in the front door of a company but that person at the front desk is the gatekeeper of the organization.
Talk about your trajectory. You are running a large organization. Where did you have to start in it? As you’ve got into the business world, where did you start? Was it at MB or somewhere else? Can you talk through that? How did you migrate into sales?
I worked as Tim Brabender’s assistant. I had a desk that was probably about 4 feet long inside of a cube. My uncle gave me good advice. He passed away. He said, “Scott, sit down with Tim Brabender and have him make a list of everything he hates to do. Your job is to try to do everything he hates to do.” It was great advice. My dad made it hard on me, too. We had seven people back then but on my first day of work, it snowed outside. We built a new building but he didn’t have anybody to shovel the parking lot. He said, “Go home and get my shovel out of the garage and put some jeans on a shovel.”
The first day, shovel.
All the people outside watched and it was hard. I needed a big piece of humble pie. I was an arrogant, pompous, probably jerk back then and I needed that. He knew it. He kept spoonfeeding my humble pie.
How many years ago? When did you start in the business?
Many years ago. I was Tim’s assistant for two years, knowing I wanted to go into sales, knowing that that’s where I wanted to go. As soon as I’ve got that cord cut, I jumped in. Back then, we didn’t have computers. We hand wrote on spreadsheets. My prospect list was a phone book. I sold loose diamonds in New York City. When I was there, I used to cold call and make appointments as I traveled around the country. If you were going to get in a car and drive around to different states, you had to have meetings. I wasn’t afraid to call anybody. When I started there, the person who trained me sat right in front of me as I was making cold calls one after another. The guy would hang up on me. He goes, “Make another one.”
Before you started, you sold what again? What were you doing again?
How do you get that job?
Rather than talking about the benefits of your product, identify what’s essential to your client and start there.
They called me Johnny Gentile. I was the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed kid there. During the gold boom, my dad owned part of a coin store where they bought gold. I ended up working with my brother at a jewelry store here in Dayton called International Diamond. We sold jewelry there, and then I ended up working for one of my dad’s friends down in Cincinnati. He owned a place called Diamond Showcase. It’s where I met my wife.
When I was buying loose diamonds, a guy came in and offered me a job and traveled around the country behind the wheel of a car before cell phones and drove around. My dad works a lot. He grew up in a family of eight brothers and sisters in a two-bedroom house. My dad worked hard and was a great guy. Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of my dad. He worked a lot.
I knew if I stayed in that industry and traveled, it was fun and glamorous but I couldn’t coach soccer, hang out with my kids. I wanted to stay local. I called them and said, “Can I come to work for you?” He said, “Go back to school.” “What are you talking about?” Sure enough, back to Miami University, working full-time, married, going to school full-time.
You made a decision why do you want to sell loose diamonds. From then to now, that one job had made you do what or what did you pick up from that you never had forgotten or an approach that you still have? That’s rough and tumble.
This might sound way too noble and virtuous but what I have learned about myself back then is, I didn’t like myself. I was trying to fit in everywhere. I was a chameleon, good at it and paid well for doing it. When I found myself, and I could end up being a friend of Scott, I could sell tires and be the same guy. I don’t think it matters what I do or what I sell. If I’ve got a great relationship with myself, vulnerable, honest and humble, that’s hopefully the gift that I can give people sitting in the walls of MB.
One of the things that you taught me, I will never forget it, I say to my sons and myself, I always thought I had a handle on that relationship with myself, sometimes, “Your mind is like a bad neighbor, and it’s not going to be alone in it.” I will owe you that for the rest of my life. In the last couple of years, for me, between COVID, there has been a couple of conversations with myself that I should not be having with myself.
I can laugh at it but those words have rung true for me like nothing else. That self-relationship that you 100% taught me more than anybody else, and you can have a big personality but you have to be humble, too. You can create your own world also. You make yourself valuable to Tim Brabender. Your dad holds you back. You aren’t going to the sales right away, even though knowing you, you were ready from day one, the day you were shoveling the driveway. What was the transition after his assistance? Did you get into sales?
Back then, it was great. We had no protected client. I could call anybody. I will give you an example. I called the Founder of the Iams Company, Clay Mathile. In my dad’s office, I’m like, “I will call him.” He goes, “You don’t know him.” I’m like, “I don’t care.” I call him. I’m 24 years old. I have no idea. He said, “I don’t handle the benefits here but there’s a guy here, his name’s Dick Lee and he does.” I said, “Thank you.” He said, “Before you go, good luck in your career. Keep doing what you are doing. You are going to do well in life.”
I have never forgotten that. I ended up calling the guy he told me to call, and that guy knew I knew nothing. He knew I knew zero. 7 or 8 years later, I ended up getting the Iams Company. It was great. Tim Brabender said, “Have eight things happen all at one time. Have eight activities and customers or prospects you are talking to. 2 or 3 will fall but you’ve always got to keep eight alive. If you don’t have eight alive, things are going to get bad.”
With all the work you and I have done over the years, things that frustrate me and you, like some of the blinding flashes of the obvious. When you were in sales, like your dad said, it kept feeding you humble pie, as somebody who is leading you when you were in sales, what was challenging about leaving, Scott? What were you as a salesperson?
I was defined as a destructive hero. I was successful, founder’s son, arrogant, pompous. I thought I was the smartest guy in the room. That was hard for people to deal with. I did all that. I told you this before is because I didn’t have much respect for myself. My assistant, Victoria, came into my office one day and said, “You’ve got values painted on the wall. You don’t exhibit one of them. You talk about my own values every day. Now is my last day.” That was a wake-up call.
That’s when I met Pete and said, “I’m a sick dude and I need some help. If I’ve got some help and gave you access, would you give me a shot?” She said, “As long as we can ask each other three questions every day, ‘Am I okay? Are you okay? Are we okay?’” As hard as that was, that’s probably one of the best gifts that I have ever gotten, somebody that was willing to tell me the truth.
It’s somebody you trust and obviously saw the value in her because you are like, “Where are you going?”
Even that was a lie back then. Do you know why I did it? This is the honest truth. I was more worried about what people would think about me if she left than her leaving. I was this big dude. I did it not out of virtue or nobility, zero. I did it to cover my own rear end. I found some beautiful things on the other side of that. I’m not patting myself on the back because I didn’t have much virtue in that hard work.
I can tell you the transformation because Scott and I had many tough conversations. It was an ego-list because we are both at a spot where we want to make things better. He means it when he says it. Scott, when you were coming through the ranks, let’s talk about strategy and tax. You are one of the best negotiators I know because you are usually trying to connect and also think you are highly into tailoring a solution. What were your strong suits from a skillset or capacity, whether it was a negotiation, asking questions or presenting? What were your main go-to when you sold day-to-day?
One is I love Accounting in school because what I appreciated was I always wanted to act like I was sitting on the other side of the table. If I understood financially what the impact of the benefits was, I would say, “Eight percent increase is in a bad increase,” it’s not a bad increase unless you are in a business with a 2% margin. That’s a big increase. All of a sudden, you increased a sales goal by 25%. It was really having the understanding of the financial impact. Additionally, people in our industry talked to human resources. They are all creative. They’ve got all these great ideas and grandiose strategies. Do you know what they hear? Work. In other words, the strategy would be, “Part of my job is to identify what you love to do.”
HR might say, “I love recruiting.” “I would love to take the things at your desk that allows you to go do what you love to do. Go recruit. We can do that for you.” Instead of talking all about benefits and what we did, it was identified and what was important to them and how could I use what we had to allow them to do what they love to do, not in a selfish way, in a real honest, open and candid way.
That’s always important. When you are doing work with somebody, it’s not always about relationships. It’s about credibility. Sometimes it’s about being an agitator, not in a bad way but being able to do that. I always felt your approach from a leadership standpoint or a sales and even from a marketing standpoint is you never started at the problem or opportunity. I felt you always went through the door first, person then problem, and then some payout. You never skipped the person.
I remember hopping on a plane one time and you said, “You are killing the culture because you are a culture killer.” I’m going, “I’m offended to that. I don’t think I have ever been called a culture killer,” but then when you describe the frustration around the people, I took that coaching to heart. That coaching lives with me because I didn’t want to skip the person and go right to the heart of the matter. I always thought I was but you truly are that. When you sell and market, you are attacking the person in front of everything.
Like I was telling our sales folks. Imagine if you walked on a car lot and the person selling you the car got paid the same, whether you drove home in your own car or bought a new one. That’s what being useful is. In our business, whether they go to Anthem, United or stay the same, we are paid the same. Instead of trying to change the world, change that person’s life for a minute. Give them hope that there’s less burden and frustration. There’s more safety. There are all of those things. Everybody wants to get to the end game so fast. I had to learn that from my dad. My dad used to say, “Slow down.” I used to think he was clueless. He wasn’t clueless. He knew. Slow down. It will all work out.
I know you are a big UD fan. To me, the business now is more about running a half-court offense. It’s not a run and gun. Slow everything down, make the good pass. How long do you sell before you start to formally get into a management position? I want to go back to being healthy with yourself because I know you take servant leadership and connect them with people. Personally, where did you struggle to make the jump from sales, where it’s the glorification of the individual to also ego-driven? We all know it for all of us into leadership. What was that first struggle for you in that first position?
When Victoria called me on the carpet, then I’ve got Ed and Pete Conch involved in it, we get taught a lot in school or college but to understand about ourselves, it’s hard work. I started to see the real benefits of helping people understand what their core values were. What was most important to them? I started teaching classes inside of McGohan Brabender. One of them was called the CEO of You. Would you hire yourself? Are you on probation or would you fire yourself as the CEO? Your personal best, those life essentials. I did three years of those. They were voluntary. Lunches were covered.
Everything matters if you care about your brand, including your tone, eye contact, and Zoom background.
I paid for lunch. Probably 60% of the workforce showed up once a month and I loved it. I’ve got fed through that because I enjoy public speaking but also I liked watching the impact that had on people. People here thought, “Why are you doing that? You are not getting paid to do that.” It gave me personal credibility. It also gave me credibility in the workforce. The story I told you about Victoria, I tell it to every new hire. I don’t use my past to beat up on myself. I use it to be useful to other people. I’ve just got a real passion for individual personal growth.
I was listening to a podcast with Chip Wilson. He was the Founder of Lululemon and sold it if you are familiar with that yoga clothing. I love it. He literally was talking about the same thing that he was completely dedicated to Lulu’s early years. He’s since sold the business but to go through that personal leadership and how much he was involved in the evolution of that, number one, it helped them connect with people. It’s somebody who could give back. He thought it was his personal responsibility as a business to grow that staff. He said, “That’s what made Lulu different early.”
They had to go through Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits, landmark, and some other things that were some Brian Tracy stuff. You also, as a leader, have made a major investment in your people and to learning. I don’t know if you are willing to go here but I always thought as an organization, you spend a big chunk of the operating budget on dedication, not industry stuff but personal development. Talk about that because that’s a foundational leadership thing for you, even beyond what the industry calls for.
It probably started when we built that immersion room in the back. It’s like 2,000 square feet. It’s just to help our workforce understand what we do, how we do it. More importantly, why we do it is because even when we decided to change our vision to empowering business, empowering people, and if we are lucky, creating healthier birthdays for people. There were a lot of people that like, “You are crazy. That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard.” That gets up in your head. Maybe it is stupid. Maybe it’s not smart but we kept plugging away, 1.5% or 2% growth. We believe in the fact that, “If we could find the victims, naysayers, bystanders in this company, move them out or convert them in.”
If we believed it and were resolute in our words, language, and our commitment to our customers, and community, we could win not by selling insurance but by empowering business and people. It’s hard as a leader to the head trash gets up in your head. What if they are right? What if they are wrong? The burning desire inside of me was around, “Does it feel right?” All of that is around storytelling. We spend a ton of time on communication. We do weekly emails to the entire workforce. We meet with our workforce once a month. We have employee meetings, surveys and leadership sessions. I could go on and on around what we do, hopefully for the workforce to let them know that we simply care.
One of the things I realized over time with your organization when I was at Dale Carnegie, Motorola was benchmarked at one point. The mid-‘90s and early 2000s have been an organization that’s dedicated to education. I heard one time, they spend 5% of the net operating budget on educating their employees. The thing I learned from you is you don’t run off a customer satisfaction index as much as you run off an employee satisfaction index.
I always felt that way. I have been involved with some organizations whose culture is strong, and some of their cultures is occult. You can see it when you go in but people stay at McGohan Brabender. That’s the tie in prepping for those. The average tenure of an MBA employee has to be a lot of here. I have mentioned ten plus average. It freaked me out.
Before the affordable CARE Act, we used to pride ourselves on 98% retention. Sometimes that’s not that good. We have the family wall, 200 picture frames of people on the wall, 80% of our workforce comes from referrals of family and friends from our workforce. Eighty percent of the workforce don’t feel like they are fairly compensated. The survey says 80% of the people would recommend a family or a friend but 80% feel like they are not fairly compensated, then why would you recommend a family or a friend to the organization?
It starts with we hire someone. We send flowers to their home before they are even hired the first week. I call them on the phone two days before they start, “Do you have any questions? Thanks for trusting MB.” Mike Suttman, the President, calls them after their first day, “Anything we can do for you?” The personal touches, handwritten notes, letters in the mail. It’s not that complicated. It’s pretty simple.
When you think about a net promoter score, it is more about, “Would you recommend a product or service to somebody else?” The fact that 80% of the people who work for you come from a referral. That puts MB in Apple’s category in terms of net promoter score when you look at it from a job standpoint.
The other thing is you spend a lot of time with the group of folks, and a lot of people go into be a client-facing between account managers and people that manage, take care and communicate to accounts, then you have more of a traditional Salesforce that is in front out hunting then the rest is farming. What are some big things through the years as you look at salespeople that frustrate you about salespeople, that you are going, “If he would only fix that, it would be better.” What are some things you like to celebrate? Maybe we will get into the MB victory part. Everybody could have that but it’s a pretty good deal. It’s one of my favorites.
Some of the things that frustrate me, obviously, are when you lead an organization, and you don’t even have to lead it. If you care about your brand, everything matters. Your tone and eye contact matter. We are on a sales call. One of the virtual backgrounds looked like a nightclub, like, “Where did you find that? It’s going to change now.” Sometimes leaders want to be liked more than they want to be trusted. If you want to be trusted, sometimes you have to have tough conversations with people but you can’t. You’ve got to have them all the time, every time. If you don’t have a suit jacket and a tie on or you don’t look professional, then don’t get on a Zoom or Teams call.
When somebody’s attitude copping out, maybe you say, “I don’t think being in this building now is a good idea for you. You need to go home.” One of the things that we are trying to coach people is, “These are the things I need you to stop doing, keep doing and want you to start doing,” but it has to be done every time on time. The days of the employee, the reviews, every six months, you are going to get this big, huge can of whoop pulled out on you of everything he did. Have at in the moment.
As a leader, too, one of the greatest things you can do is walk around the building, be around your people, eyeballs, be in there, be in a relationship, not in their role. We spend on the victory card. It’s a huge card. We’ve got one in every office, and somebody sells something amazing. We ring the bell. We run them around the building, and the whole office comes and celebrates but we will do that when somebody passes a test or has a huge anniversary.
It’s not false because it’s a little and a big victory. I remember when you were building out your inside sales team, which you’ve got a great crop from, they went appointments, most minuscule appointment but it wasn’t small to that person.
We forget when we are young and sales. Sometimes even the smallest thing mattered but somebody tapped us on the back and said, “Way to go, Lance.” They knew it wasn’t a big deal to you and you needed to hear it.
I made a small sale to my first boss. It wasn’t big in the grand scheme of things. He handed me a mop block and I still have it. It signified something. I don’t think I ever wrote with it. It was one of those things that he was waiting for me to make that first sale I wanted to. I heard somebody in the military say something. Military people have ribbons, and sometimes you look at all those ribbons but when you’ve got that ribbon and the ceremony around it, formal or informal recognition is important.
A couple of things as we are bringing this bird down for a landing. If you had to give advice to that, we get a lot of different people that watch us. We get the CEOs of companies that sales is voodoo and they don’t want to design the culture and the sale, you had some sales leaders that have massive teams. You would hone your philosophy and success down as it relates to leadership around sales. If we honed it more than that because you’ve got leadership but when you are thinking about leading the sales team, what would you say your strategy or philosophy is around that?
Everybody is different. Everybody is going through something in their own life. When you understand what those people are going through, the thick and thin, and you can meet them where they are and love them for who they are, where they are, you can change the world. If you are looking at Salesforce or at appointments and just calling people out on a dashboard or a spreadsheet, you probably shouldn’t lead. As far as sales, I will go back to what my dad taught me, even our own workforce, your job is to be the smartest person in the room everywhere you go. Everything you know is from the neck up.
Be a ferocious reader and learner. You come to my office, teach me something I don’t know. Teach me something. Teach somebody else something. Fifty-six is different than I was 24. I wouldn’t go back for anything but I have to look at those 24-year-olds and try to give them all my wisdom. Do you know what they are trying to do? They are trying to buy that nice fast car. Sometimes that’s not a bad motive. Some people need that. Maybe that’s what you want. Go get it. Eventually, in life, you will figure it out. It’s not going to make you happy but I’m not going to teach you that now. Life is going to hand you that one.
Sometimes, you can’t teach that experience, there’s no doubt. I’m going to ask you a couple of speed questions as we bring this bird down for a landing. If you would wrap up what success was in a nutshell but the audience was a 6 to an 8-year-old, you are sitting on the edge of a dock and they said, “Uncle Scott, what’s success?” You would say, what?
The mirror is a wonderful place to find a friend.
Be a ferocious reader and learner, and teach somebody else.
If anybody I could count on with one that wouldn’t even take any time at all, I’m totally writing that down. Next one. I might know because I have asked you similar questions before. If you had to play one business or sales song in your head, you’ve got a big freaking meeting coming up, what are you playing?
Journey, Don’t Stop Believing.
The other side that comes to me is I know you love Maggie May by Rod Stewart. I remember you telling me that walking up the steps of the training center one time because we were talking about songs and it’s stuck in my head. The last question and we bring this bird down for a landing. If you have to give a gift, one book, what book would you give to somebody?
My face is important to me, anything in the New Testament. There’s a book by Matthew Kelly. I gave it to an employee. The title of it is Perfectly Yourself. It’s a journey on how to stop beating up on yourself and finding who you are.
Scott, I appreciate you. You have always been a close friend, always be in there when I have a question, anytime I have ever needed help, and all the work we have done over the years together. I value our friendship. We don’t talk enough but we spend a lot of time together. I appreciate you, brother.
You have been a good friend. Thanks for having me, too.
About Scott McGohan
“Empowering Healthier Living” 50% of the health care dollar today is lifestyle based. That information screams to us that we have a fighting chance. It also tells us we must fight. Helping people fight the good fight.
Health care strategy, negotiation, execution and communication. Health care costs are often misunderstood and confusing. It is imperative people understand what they do not like. Employers are often the target of discontent from their employees, if employees understand the dysfunctional engine of the health care system it not only deflects the discontent from the employer it squarely places it at the center of the system, where it belongs.
Communication is key.
Specialties: Self funded plans, large fully insured plans, public speaking on health care locally and regionally