Skip to main content

Press & Awards

Check back here often for the latest news on our new product releases, awards, recognitions, and other exciting achievements.

Press & Awards

Check back here often for the latest news on our new product releases, awards, recognitions, and other exciting achievements.

Home Automation Unplugged Episode #202: An Industry Q&A with Keith Esterly

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Keith Esterly , Chief Learning Architect at HTSA shares HTSA’s mission and commitment to the ongoing education of their member dealers.

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Keith Esterly. Recorded live on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022, at 12:30 pm. EST.

About Keith Esterly

Keith Esterly has over twenty years of experience as a salesperson, trainer and senior learning & development leader in the CE/CI industry. He started as a part-time stereo salesman at Bryn Mawr Stereo in 1987, sold some "custom" in California when CI was in its infancy, and went on to find his calling in the training and development world, spending ten years with the Tweeter Home Entertainment Group and another ten with Walmart. He’s a Penn State graduate, a compulsive landscaper and the world’s least intimidating (as he considers himself) lifelong martial arts student and Bruce Lee fan. He resides in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where the Philly suburbs meet the farms and wilderness.

Interview Recap

  • HTSA’s mission and commitment to the ongoing education of their member dealers
  • Different resources provided by HTSA, including Keith’s Relationship Science Program
  • Different strategies and tactics used by a successful salesperson

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #201 An Industry Q&A with Mike Sajecki


Ron:  Keith, how are you, sir?

Keith: Hey, fantastic. How are you doing, Ron? Thanks for having me on.

Ron:  My pleasure. Look at this. We got Paul Bochner saying "Keith is the man. Oh, and Ron, too" appreciate that Paul. And Paul, you have a cute motorcycle. How's that? And actually, he has a pretty badass motorcycle. Anyone that wants to see crazy speed on a bike. Check out Paul Bochner and his YouTube channel and his social feeds. He's a crazy man with those things.

Keith: I owe him a visit to his showroom. He's one of our newer members, newer. And he's within driving distance, so I owe him a visit.

Ron:  Awesome, man, we got some other people dropping some love here. We got Scott Able, and he says, "looking forward to the wisdom of Mr. Keith Esterly.".

Keith: Mr. Scott calling from Bozeman. That's one of my favorite towns Bozeman, Montana.

Ron:  How much snow is on the ground, Scott? Like I imagine Bozeman this time of year, I'm assuming you got some powder on the ground. Or maybe, how much powder is on the slopes? Because I know a lot of folks are up there, skiing. Keith, for our audience that may not know you, may not know HTSA, maybe give us a quick introduction. What is HTSA, and what's your role over there?

Keith: Yeah, absolutely. So to paraphrase our marketing material, which I believe in, by the way, HTSA is the leading trade consortium for the CI industry. Basically, we're one of a handful of buying groups that dealers can be members of and that vendors can be partners with. We try to do our best to make it worth it, picking us over the other ones for a good reason and then also making it worth the vendor's while to partner up with us. So we do what we can to get the member's rebates and whatnot. But beyond that, to try to add extra layers of value that may be the other groups haven't thought to offer yet. That's sort of the goal.

Ron:  Got it. And what's your role in that operation?

Keith: So I am officially their chief learning architect, which we kicked around all kinds of different titles for that. And eventually, I told John Robbins, who's the executive director. I said, Look, if I can't get the money, I'll settle for the cool title. So that's where we landed—cool business cards with a thought-provoking title. People are like, "Really? Who's this guy?".

Ron:  I've tried that here at One Firefly, that's not working so well, but clearly I need to do a better job selling it.

Keith: I think that's part of it.

Ron:  That's probably part of it. And we're going to talk about all sorts of fun things. I want to say you've designed, looking over here at my notes, what you call or HTSA calls, your relationship science program.

Keith: Yeah.

Ron:  Is that purely sales, or is it customer service or how do you kind of frame what that content is focused on?

Keith: So the relationship science thing is really, that concept is the reason they brought me on board. I'll backtrack a little. The HTSA group, before I was involved, they did a SWOT meeting, a SWOT analysis, really trying to figure out what did they face in the future, what might be a threat, what could they bring to their member dealers that would set them apart? And they unanimously agreed that education was a place where the industry itself was a little bit lacking. There was plenty of technical expertise. But beyond that, nothing was readily available. So lucky for me, one of the people I trained as a tweeter guy years ago is now the owner of one of our best members at HTSA. He found out I was looking for work, and he contacted John right away and said, "All right, we got a guy. Just a matter of figuring it out." So the relationship science thing is the newest version of what started as a sales training event many, many years ago, when I was still working for the Tweeter Home Entertainment Group, which is expanded out now to really go well beyond that to sort of repeat what you said, Ron. It's about client experience. It's about service approach. It covers loyalty creation in clients. It even goes deep into Cialdini's principles of influence, which anybody that I've ever trained has heard me say those words about 100 times. So, yeah, it's about sales, but it goes well beyond it. I even had one guy who I guess he's in Tahoe, good friend Igor, who I don't know if he works for an HTSA dealer anymore. But he said, "You know what? It's the death of a salesperson talking to you." Because when you get done in relationship science, you're not a salesperson anymore. You're some other awesome thing. So that was one of the best compliments I ever got.

Ron:  Are your students watching the movie Glengarry Glen Ross? Is that part of the curriculum?

Keith: Well, yeah, you know, it's funny. I'm glad I'm not the only one that brings up really old movies.

Ron:  It's a habit, a lot of times my staff is I mean, I feel I'm pretty young, but my staff is often younger, and they'll look at me sideways when I'll make references to movies like "that movie wasn't even out when I was born.".

Keith: So, well, I'll respond to that Glengarry thing. But I'll tell you this. One of the big concepts in the sales piece of my program talks about Jaws, and that used to be like a moment of completely unanimous, you know, cohesion with the group. Now we spend five minutes reminding people what the heck it was. It was about, yeah, the shark is fake, and it's kind of I have to find a new example.

Ron:  It has lost some of its luster.

Keith: Yeah. You can always tell the people of your generation because I put the, you know, I put the little picture of Roy Scheider, and half the group goes "arghhhh ." And then half the group is like:

Ron:  Who's that?

Keith: Yeah, it's like putting up a picture of Buster Keaton. Yeah, but the Glengarry thing, you know, that's terrific. We used to play that for people all the time, really, because this comes right from the program, too; one of the worst bits of advice ever given to any salesperson is "always be closing." As soon as you're told that as a new person, you're pretty much screwed because that, of course, is terrible advice. You can't always be closing. It just gets people set crazy, yet it's a great scene. Freaking steak knives, baby.

Ron:  Steak knives! All right. So let's go into the time machine, if you will, Keith, and let's go back. If you don't mind, share may be the origin, your origin story. You're a superhero. Everybody listening and watching wants to know where your origin story began. Maybe take us from the beginning to the present. Then I want to pull a lot of threads on relationship science and a lot of other topics.

Keith: Sure.

Ron:  Take us back in time.

Keith: Yeah. Like so many of my fellow film majors from college, I ended up in a retail setting break pretty soon after graduating. So, yeah, I was a film major at Penn State, which now is a great film school. All kinds of famous people come out of there. My only famous co-student is the guy who wrote Seven. You may have heard of that movie.

Ron:  I remember watching Seven at the theater and the Seven Deadly Sins, and some of those scenes are still scarred in my brain.

Keith: So he was in our screenwriting class. I remember, you know, we would argue over who got the last jelly donut. So he, my friend Gary Blouse, who works for Storm in our industry, he always gives me that I probably wrote Six, which is why I'm doing this right now. So shout out to Gary Glass. But look, I was looking for work, and a friend of mine's parents owned Bryn Mawr Stereo at the time, and they were kind enough to say, "Look, go talk to our VP and maybe he'll be crazy enough to hire you." So I went in, and I had an interview with this guy. He's little known these days in our industry; I just kid, it was Richard Glikes, who runs Azione.

Ron:  Richard, who? No one's heard that name.

Keith: Yeah, he's an unknown player. Yeah. So he was crazy enough to hire me. I guess he figured, "Look, how much harm can he do?" So I started my career in 1989 as a floating salesperson, part-time for Bryn Mawr Stereo. Fast forward, I ended up doing that full time and getting some experience a little success. I moved to Long Beach because, once again, like writing the movie six, I moved to Long Beach, California, to get in the film industry. It's about 40 miles off target, right? So at Richard's recommendation, an outfit out there hired me, a place called Audio Concepts, and they were actually very much like Bryn Mawr Stereo at the time. They sold Bang and Olufsen and Nakamichi and higher-end stuff Macintosh, BMW. But they also did integration. In those days, custom was a bunch of Sonance loudspeakers. Adcom amplifiers and a whole lot of wall plates with volume controls and all that business. So I did that for a year and got to know some people out there. I have stories from that that still show up in my training events, just things you learn along the way. But I ended up back at Bryn Mawr Stereo again in Philly, did that for a while, bouncing around.

At some point, they got bought out by Tweeter Home Entertainment Group as Tweeter expanded in the 90s. And what was really cool at the time, I think I was working for Verizon Wireless or Bell Atlantic Mobile at the time, because that's where the money was, if you were a guy like me at the time and I started getting calls from my old stereo store buddies saying, "You've got to come back because they have this job here, that'd be perfect for you." And I'm like, "What's that? Janitor? They're, like, "no trainer." And I remember saying, "that's worse than the janitor." I'm like, Look, I've been to plenty of trainings, and I said, "That's where you put people that are just too dumb to talk to clients, but too nice to fire, and I'm not interested." Look, if you've been to bad trainings, you know, that's not an exaggeration.

Ron:  That's so true.

Keith: But to make a long story longer, they were like, "Look, now these guys are different," and a bunch of the guys that were in the training team that are still in the business, right? Like in later editions. Phil Jones at Sound United, Jeff Rodgers, Russ Hoffman's running part of UIC, Like a bunch of the guys were terrific, but they're like, Look, these guys report up the sales. They're not somebody's aunt or cousin that they just kind of string along. So as it turned out, they weren't kidding. This guy, Paul Schindler, who was a VP at Tweeter, had what he calls like a serial psychotic over hobbyist, right? He jumps from one thing to the other and learns more about it than anyone else on Earth. He took over the training thing, and he actually created a professional group. We didn't know it at the time, but we were really doing top-notch stuff. And you know, it was primitive in ways, and eventually, it got more and more modern, but it was really awesome by the end of my time there; Tweeter had expanded to be like 800 million a year and stores up and down both coasts, Chicago, Texas. And we really figured out to a certain degree custom at a large scale with the help of some really smart people that we imported and hired from Sound Advice for when you and I were talking. Steve Samson, Dave Tabisy, these guys, another guy, Brian Herdy, was part of that crew. He was the director of profanity; if he ever hears about this, he remembers that story. But yeah, things were really going great. We invented a new selling skills plan because we realized you couldn't keep selling retail style and survive. Right? The internet was eating away at Best Buy's success, and Best Buy and Wal-Mart were trying to eat away at ours. You know, Amazon was looming, wasn't really the killer it became. We realized that you needed to teach your team how to make money and succeed if you're expecting the business to. So a bunch of us put together this solution selling skills class that we instituted, and it was unbelievably effective.

It turns out that really, the way this thing came about was probably the opposite of most sales trainings. We just looked at what had worked in the best interaction situations, the sales that had yielded repeat, loyal, long-term clients who bought broadly across our offerings. We just looked at those and said, "What happened to all of those?" And how do we teach people to try to do that with everybody they talked to, to whatever extent it's appropriate. It was transformative. It wasn't enough to save the company. You know, you and I were talking about this earlier. By the time 07 and 08 rolled around that, Tweeter was struggling, and the Wal-Marts of the world were really bringing it.

Ron:  You were telling me a story before we went live about the Wal-Mart impact. Do you mind sharing that now?

Keith: Well, yeah. And the foreshadowing is... Quickly after this. I ended up working for them in a most unlikely situation, which that's another story. But yeah, the way I understand it, and the disclaimer is this: I don't remember the details exactly, but it was something like this. You know, the training team at Tweeter had been intimately connected with the sales leadership. That changed so that Tweeter had different buyers' different approaches; they brought in a whole different executive team. We tried to kind of do what we could do. But one of the Black Fridays before, whether it was 07 or 08, I can't remember. The legend is this; that we as a company, Tweeter, had found out that Panasonic or someone had built all these 50-inch panels for the World Cup, which hadn't sold because in Europe, that was too much TV. So they kind of over speculated. They were sitting on a bunch of inventory, and our buyers had been just like, "Yeah," they were all over it, and they bought a thousand of these and said, "We're going to crush this weekend." That was about five for each store. They figured they'd be bringing in great clients. Our guys could solution sell them and get add-ons; the Blu ray, the mountings, the cables, the install, all this stuff. Well, you can only out chess Wal-Mart so much, right? So it turns out that they bought the other like 50,000 TVs sitting around for like two hundred dollars less than we paid. So our cost was their advertised price that Black Friday weekend. So you can imagine what happened, right? And let me back up. The training team in previous years would have been brought in to put together an event for every store to let them know what was coming. How do you sell a Wal-Mart customer in the Tweeter fashion? We would have handled it at least some way. But at the time, we were no longer; we weren't behind the curtain with leadership at Tweeter that year. So what happened was, the savvy Walmart advertisement readers that weekend said, "Well, look at this. Tweeter has a price guarantee, and they have what looks like the same TV." So, you know, 50 minutes after stores opened, all five of those TVs had been sold like basically at every Tweeter store in the country with no add ons, no warranty, no labor, no anything because our guys never saw it coming. People came out of the Walmart and said, "I want this, I'm a Walmart customer. I don't care about any of this other stuff. I just want to get the cheapest price I can and go home," which is fine, there's a lot of people like that. So that left what I think was really the most indelible scar on both the company, but more importantly, I think on the sales team, like, I can't tell you how many calls I got, and I'm sure my colleagues around other regions of Tweeter did too. I got guys calling me up saying, "What did you do to me?" Like, how could you let that happen? Which is kind of cool, right? That they actually respected us enough to think we could have had something to do with it.

Ron:  It's a nice compliment, subtle, but it's a compliment

Keith: Yeah. And all we could tell them was we had no idea this even was happening, which was a surprise to them because we had always been involved in that. So that was brutal. A lot of other things went on. It was a tough time for a lot of places with the economy. But the next year here's an ironic story. I don't mean to throw shade at Tweeter because I love the place, and I'm still in touch with dozens and dozens of people there. But we did an all-company training event where we were telling, among other things, how the company was recommitting to the sales team. And one of the guys who was a partner of mine in Boston was delivering this commitment to the team as half the home office group was being terminated and leaving the building with their personal effects, which you could see out the window of the training room. So you can imagine. These were the things that happened, right? So after that, a friend of mine who had worked for us as an HR guy called me from a little place called Walmart, and he said, "Look, this probably sounds crazy," he says, "but you need to come to take the Northeast director of training job at Walmart." And I remember saying, "that's absurd," right? I mean, we're high touch, we're luxury goods, high everything. And he said. " I've seen the other people that did this job at Wal-Mart, and trust me; we need you to come over here." So I didn't believe him, but I tried it out. And you know, it turned out at the time they were looking for an outside voice to really transform the Northeast, primarily when it came to client experience. Which, you know, really Wal-Mart?

Ron:  Was it just electronics, or was it store-wide? You were affecting all of their staff and all the ways they interacted with customers.

Keith: Yeah, it was that second one, and more really, it was hard to describe to people who they would always ask me what story you working in? And I was responsible for, I think at the time, like eight hundred and eighty stores, it was a it was a big job and. I remember that I was in an interview after the training team, the training guy, they were very good guys from Arkansas, from the corporate team, and they actually asked me, "Why do you want to leave?" And I remember telling them, "first," I said, "I have to cancel because I have an all-company event at Tweeter, and they come first." And somehow, they decided to stay an extra day and interview me the next day, so I went in, and I was chatting with him, and the guy says, "Well, what's making you decide to leave?" And I said, "Well, you called me first of all," but I said, "confidentially, at some point, you have to jump from the Titanic to the iceberg if you want to live through this." And that's kind of what was going on.

Like Wal-Mart was this big, gigantic sort of not 100 percent conscious but smarter than I realized object destroying the titanic of our company and other, as you know, other companies in the same vein during those days. So I went to interview the HR VP probably within the next week, and she told me that it was all about customer service, which I was like laughing. I'm like, "You're kidding me, right?" And she's like, "Well, no, this is what we care about." I said, "Look, I just did a training with my tweeter salespeople, during which we showed customer service rankings, and Wal-Mart came in 50th out of 50. And they all laughed, and I stopped them, and I said, "Make no mistake, they're not trying to be anything better than 50. They do what they do." They stack it high. Let it fly. It's volume. It's not about any of the things that we care about. And I told her, I said, I told the group, that's why there's a smiley face on the back of the people smocks, because when they flee from every customer interaction, at least somebody looks happy about it. So she luckily did what you just did, and she said, look, I think we can offer you the job. And I said, Well, now that you've heard me say that and you're still offering me the job, well, then clearly you know what you're getting yourself into. So I'll accept it. I ended up moving from high touch high, you know, high profile, expensive retail and custom to Wal-Mart.

Ron:  Do you feel you were able to make an impact, or what was that experience like?

Keith: Sorry, I forgot we had a phone in the basement.

Ron:  No worries.

Keith: So basically, their deal at the time as they were trying to transform the client experience for real. The Northeast was fifth out of five divisions every month in every customer experience survey. You can imagine if you've been to Philly and Boston and New York, this is their look. This is a union country. There were no Wal-Marts. They had come into this area by buying shabby, abandoned retail boxes. It was a wreck. So it wasn't surprising. I'll kind of go into it a little because it shows up in relationship science; we talk about this too. They were focusing on price and product like, look, we got to have it cheap, and we got to have it in stock. That was their big thing when it came to customer experience because that was part of what mattered. And you know, I took a lesson from Disney, and I remember asking these guys, I'm like, Why would you focus on that? They already see that coming. Like, you can't win points at Walmart by being 10 cents cheaper than Target and actually having the dog food in the tube socks. You can only lose points by not having them, so you got to run your business. But that's not what I would be worrying about. What you don't expect at Walmart is the guy at the front door to say hi to your kid without frightening him. You don't expect people in the aisles to say hi to you while they're loading inventory. You certainly don't expect them to take you to product, and you don't expect anybody to be happy. I said, do that, watch what happens. Your scores will go through the roof. We built this program where I refused to train anything. All it was, was getting every store meeting to include, like a moment of truth scenario where you asked the group at the Wal-Mart. Here's a common scenario what's the worst way to respond? Which, of course, they were all great at? Right? And they love telling you the worst thing you could do. And then the manager would just give them a reputation of clearly never doing that stupid thing. What do you do instead? And they all said, well, here's what you do. And believe it or not, whether or not I mean, that's that was once part of a lot more things we did. But basically, at the end of 90 days, the Northeast went from worst to first, revenue went up, profit went up, the average cart went up, it was the first time they ever found a statistical connection between associate engagement, experience scores and dollars like they always thought it would be there, but they finally found enough that it lined up. We got a call from the finance team; they wanted to know what we were doing. It was something that happened in the Northeast, and my boss put me on. I was like; Yeah, here is what we're doing. It's pretty great.


Keith: Then the Southeast was pissed because they were always first. So they shipped me down there to teach their team. Remember Ros Brewer, she was the CFO of Starbucks recently, and now she, I think, is the CEO of CVS or one of the pharmacy chains. She dragged me down. She goes, "Do whatever you did there." So then, of course, a month later, they outdid the Northeast. So it was fun just messing with people's, just doing what would work rather than what people thought would be smart. And that's kind of what this is all about. You know, that's what our members deserve, it's what the clients deserve; is how can you teach people to be great? They just usually need permission and a little bit of information.

Ron:  Let's bring it to the present. You went from Walmart, and how did you land here at HTSA?

Keith: So Walmart was terrific, ten years of that. But what happened there was they wanted me to move to Arkansas, and I wasn't into it. At some point, Andrew Davis, owner of Grammophon, a good friend of mine and his first job in the industry, was at Tweeter. I was his trainer, me and my partners. He got offered that company. They're like, Look; you want to buy this place? Because he did all these things that we taught them, and he constantly said, Oh, that's a Keith Esterly move. So Brian Hopkins, who founded around the place, sold it to him, had been hearing my name for ten years. So when Andrew called up and said, You should hire this guy? He's like, Oh, is that the guy whose binder you still have? And yeah, so they brought me in. We talked, and I was like, Yeah, let's do it. And it's been a ball ever since.

Ron:  So high level, take us through maybe some of your belief systems around relationship science, and you've been doing that even here for the last 30 minutes. But you know, not everyone listening or watching is going to have the benefit of being able to go through your exact curriculum. So maybe what could you share at a high level here in this forum?

Keith: Yeah, I guess one of the things that are the initial statement we make is the first decision is you need to move away from that transactional, to be shooting for a relationship deal like a transactional relationship. That's the first thing that we really zoom in on. It's that if you're constantly worried about closing a transaction, whether it's a project or whatever, you know, just a sale, even you're aiming too low. If you missed closing, you end up basically with nothing, and you're leaving some devastation in your wake. If you switch your goal to becoming, how do I become their expert friend in the business, whether or not they ever buy from me? And how do they keep them happy the whole time and pleased and comfortable? All your decisions are made for you, and you behave differently. You listen better, and it turns out you recommend more stuff and close more often. Because you become, pretty quickly, their expert friend in the business or, as we call them in Philly, "their guy" like everybody's got a guy for stuff they're into. Our job is to become that guy in our industry, and it's meant to be gender-neutral. I'm old, so I still think you can say Guy if refers to girls. So I get it that it's probably not the best term. But the idea is to become their friend, whether you buy from me or not. I want to hear what you need to help you out. And if you don't buy fine, you know, one of the things I learned at Audio Concepts from a guy, Martin Byrne, who is still in our industry. He's one of the top reps in Southern California. To watch him, you would never have thought he gave one f about closing a deal. I watched him leave the store. Like, people will be like, I want to buy all this, I want BMW Matrix eight O 1s and Macintosh, and he would just wander off to the coffee shop, they follow. Like, he exhibited no desperation, right? He just like, and I'm not even, I mean, maybe a little exaggeration, but not much. And he would come back. They wouldn't, and I would ask if they were buying, and he would say, I don't know. But then two weeks later, there's a stack of all that stuff going out to that guy's place because there was no desperation on Martin's part, right? He would just do what he did. He would ask them what they needed, what they were picturing, what they were in love with. All the great questions like you were talking about earlier, just a consultative conversation where he would just let the other guy talk, and he would say, well, "Here's what I would recommend. What you just described this mental movie of yourself in the near future enjoying our stuff. These are the props I would recommend you get to bring it to life. You're free to get as many or as few of them as you'd like. It's purely up to you." It's a thing of beauty when you watch it work, and that's in a nutshell what we teach the guys and girls, women and men, to do in relationship science; is to see every person you talk to as a human. And two of the catchphrases, Ron, that I like the first one is your job really is to make them, to make their day somehow better for having met you. Whatever they're looking for out of you, they need to be better for having met you. And I once had a sales guy, a smart ass asked me, he's like, "Oh, what my job as a salesperson now is to make people's day?" I remember saying, "No, it's your job as a human being, but as a salesperson, you're lucky enough to get paid extra when you do it right." And the other thing I tell our guys is, "look, try to be the first human they've talked to because chances are if they're in this business looking for stuff, they're not getting human conversations, they're getting tech talk and spec talk and sales talk. So if you can be the first human they've talked to all day, you're making a big difference in their life, and chances are they're going to want to stick around."

Ron:  Do you believe salespeople are born or made or a combination of all the above? What do you believe there?

Keith: You know, I was definitely made. You know, people tell me I'm a natural trainer and a natural salesperson. But it's really not true. You know, even somebody like you, right? You would seem to be a natural at it. But you work hard at it, and you pay attention to what works, and you learn. So really, I would tell you there are more made than born, you know, when we get done what we do, working with groups of folks, even the person with the least experience can come out of that as unbelievably successful. It looked like it if someone were to watch you talk to a client, they think, "Oh man, he's just a natural. I could never do that." Look, it's all just innate. But what we did in the foundation of this program and what it's evolved into it's the breaking down of everything that happens in a great interaction and a discussion of it. You can learn to do every single piece of it. And once you learn it, you can do it like a human. And it's a thing of beauty. Dave Chase who now runs Cogent 360, which is like a training company in our business. He's a great friend of mine and, ex-partner, co-worker. He says, "Look, it's all about the pain to gain ratio; if pain outweighs the gain, no one will do it. But if the gain outweighs the pain, people be all in." So what the program does is it fixes the pain to gain ratio, not just for the client. It definitely does for them, it makes it way better for them, but it also makes wicked easy. Boston talks right there. It makes it wicked easy for the sales team. They're like, "Oh my gosh, I can do that. And that's the fun of it to walk away from places. Dude, I get calls in the airport while I'm leaving from doing an event with people saying, "You're not going to believe this. I did the thing you said would happen? And it happened, and I closed like the first time I sold a three thousand dollar amp that quickly. It's terrific.

Ron:  You were telling me the story, I'm jumping way back, but the first, I think you said, your first sales at Bryn Mawr Studio. Do you mind sharing that story?

Keith: Oh, well, yeah. I learned this at Bryn Mawr from our friend Richard Glitz, right? He taught me a lot of things. A lot of the stuff that we talk about has been learned since then. But dude, he was all about it, right? So he taught me that if somebody asks you if you carry a brand, the answer is never "Yes." The answer is, "Yes would you like to get one?" And then you get "No" out of the way, or you get a "Yes." So I was working in Long Beach, and they had taken a flier on me. They called Richard, and he's like, "Hire the kid." So I had to live up to that. So it was a December night. I'll never forget this is. It's me and the owner's wife in this store. Four of us worked there, and at eight o'clock at night, a woman came walking in. First of all, red flag, right? No women came into these stores in those days. She walked up to me, and she says, "Hi." Of course, I probably ruined it, I was probably off to a bad start. "Hi, thanks for coming in. My name's Keith, blah blah" I probably did it all wrong, but she just says, "Do you carry Macintosh stereos?" And I said incorrectly, "Yes." And I was like, whoops. Luckily, she said, "did they make a CD player?" And I said, "Why yes, would you like to get one?" And she said, "I think so," and walked away from me. Believe me; she was happy to get away from the stereo salesperson. She walked away, pulled out her black Amex and waited for me to drag it out. And that was a $3000 player probably in 1989; the owner's wife was just like, dumbstruck. She's like, "Oh man, like, we got the right guy" I remember telling her, "Look," I said, "I know one trick, and you just saw it.".

Ron:  It's all downhill from here.

Keith: Don't get your hopes up, but those are the kind of genius things that get overlooked, right? So what that was about was; that was understanding a couple of things. One is you need to know that this doesn't have to take any longer than the client wants it to. So it can be over and done in a second if necessary. It's recognizing a buying sign, right? Any sign of interest needs to be met with a sign of your willingness to sell them some product, but you have to meet their level of energy and intensity. However intense their buying sign is, you can't go beyond it or undermatch it. You just got to meet it. So this person was like, "Hey, do you carry these?" "Yes, when you get one?" "I think so." It was amazing. She didn't want to talk to me. She wanted to be out of there so fast. But I could've ruined it, right? I could have talked her to death. Shown here is a CD player. She would have been like, "I'm out." And of course, the part of the story that we didn't get to is this; Obviously, her husband had been in talking to Martin at the coffee shop, and it was his deal. So this woman just knew that the husband wanted something. She came in to buy the CD player as a token of permission for him to buy the rest. So of course, at the end of the day, Martin got the deal, as he had done all the work, but the beauty of it was. I had at least preserved enough relationship with her and our little store that she didn't bail. So it was a victory, and I to this day, I credit Richard with teaching me that tactic, and now I explain to everybody exactly how it works, all the nuances and why it works and the psychology behind it. And the best part is, like an industry veteran in these classes, Ron, I've had, I had at least one time where it took us 15 tries before an industry veteran salesperson could respond to a simple buying sign with a simple asking for the sale question. It was like the fifth mistake. We are on the floor laughing at everyone. I would just say, right, I'm going to give you a buying sign. You just ask me a closing question. You ready? "Do these come in black?".

Ron:  Yes. How many would you like?

Keith: There you go, perfect. It's taken me 15 tries in classes full of people to get there.

Ron:  I was nervous right now; I was like, "Oh no, I'm live here. I don't know if I'm going to answer the right thing.".

Keith: We should have rehearsed it. I apologize for putting you on the spot. But I have people say; I'll be like, "Do these come in black?" And they'll be like, "Yes." I'm like, "Awesome." Grab a card; I go to the next person, you know? "Can I get this by Wednesday?" And they go, "Yeah, Wednesday, maybe Thursday. Let me get that." I'm like, "Move on." I'm like, "Do these come in black?" They'll be like, "And also white." And then they want to talk to me about how great they look in black and how it's a piano black color that reflects, you know, images around it. So blends in. I'm just like, "Why are you still talking?" Like, I might just be that woman who just wants to be told, yes. And then, of course, we zoom out, right, because it's not about merely the transaction. But you always have to let the client buy something if they want to. So if I say these come in black, you go, "Yeah, how many do you want?" "Well, I'm thinking about two," and then you have to stop and go; "Keith would have told me that I now need to circle back and start at the welcome," and you'll be like, "So glad you're getting these because we're already at the close. We're like, we're at the ask for the sale step, right? You got to circle back and say, by the way, "Welcome to One Firefly audio. My name's Ron. What the heck brought you in today, anyway? How did you find out about us?" And we're going to start from the beginning, and now you're going to ask me, "Gee, what are these for? Who's going to use them? Did you know that they also come in a different kind of..." like you and I may or may not care as the client, but your job is to try to become my buddy because just selling the black speakers and let me leave, you've meant nothing to me.

Ron:  I go back about this point about a year and a half ago. I generally lease cars, and so I was leasing a new car, a BMW, and I remember I had done all my research in advance. I knew exactly what I wanted. I knew the make, model, year, finish fit, everything. Now, right now, no one can get those cars right because no one can get cars. But a year and a half ago, I could get it. And I walked into the showroom, sat down with the salesperson, and I said, I want this car. And it was, you know, it was a nice car, and it was tricked out, and I said, "I'm ready to go, what's the next step?" And, you know, I've got a good credit score ready to finance; all that should be easy. He goes well. "Don't you want to? Let me get someone to schedule, I'll bring the car around, and we'll clean it up, and I'll demo the interior, and I'll get a test drive scheduled." "Why are we doing any of that?" He's like, "Well, don't you want to see the interior?" I was like, "Am I going to be disappointed?".

Keith: All right. Like, can you somehow get more of a yes out of me than you have now? Like, all you can do now is unsell the car.

Ron:  He was insistent that I test drive the car. I was like, "I don't need to test drive the car. It's a BMW. Am I going to be disappointed? I'm looking at this review, and it says it's the number one car in its class. That's all I need. I'm done." Literally, my wife and I were like astounded at the salesperson, how long it took us to get there, yes, so he would just start the paperwork. And then once we got all the paperwork, and you've been in a car dealership that can take forever, and now that all that was going, I was like, "Yeah, no, I'll look at it." The one that I'm buying, I'll go look at, because as a buyer, I didn't need to see it. I had already done my research. I knew exactly what I wanted, and I knew people that I respected what they said about that particular vehicle. They know much more about cars than I do. I don't know that much. I just want to sit in, and I want it to be, you know if I can afford it, the best of the best. But that is a perfect example in my mind of poor salesmanship on that other person's part. They clearly had no idea what they were doing.

Keith: He made it your problem to talk him into; it's like it should always be gloriously awesome for the customer. Don't make anything their problem.

Ron:  Match the salesperson. You said it, you said it more eloquently than me, but I love that philosophy. The salesperson should match the speed and cadence, and level of desire of the customer.

Keith: Right!

Ron:  And in that case, I knew exactly what I wanted. And then I just think about all of our folks in our industry, all the people that you train. I have a passion for selling and the art and science of selling. I read books on it. I listen to podcasts on it. I love the human-to-human interaction and the psychology of it, and the gamesmanship of it. I find that very exciting. But how many in our industry, and this goes bigger picture, have never had formal training? Have never had formal coaching?

Keith: So, Ron, you just went where I was thinking to go next so well, Segway by both of us. The way that John Robbins describes it is this; They decided that HTSA needed to lead the way on elevating the human interaction side of our business to the same unbelievable level that the design and specifying and installation part of our business was already famous for. And that's at the first or second line in every welcome letter I send to every participant, to every brochure I send out to our dealers. That's what we're here for. Because think about it, the way, the skill level that our industry has, even the mediocre integrators do amazing things, the great ones? It's mind-blowing. And yet the amount of time and energy that they're able to spend on the human side has been almost zero. Right? You can find the Sandler method, which is a popular sales training thing. You can find any number of these things. But it's kind of like reading about installation. You know, it's a different thing than what we do. And really it's gorgeous to work with guys because, I think this is fair to say, I think it's true. I've yet to have somebody walk away going "puff." Like the best people in my groups are the ones who've been doing it for 40 years. Because they nod at, I always tell them this; you're going to know probably 90 percent of what we talk about. No one is surprised to hear that you have to ask questions of a client or that you should be liked, or that you should ask for the sale. I said, but we're going to cover 50,000 details. So think about what 10 percent of that even is. There's so much stuff that they haven't been able; they haven't had the luxury of time to think about it. Whereas I have as a trainer, I get to sit around and think about it. I don't have to go do it, right? So I put it to the test, and what works we put in there, just like you were describing, so that these guys who have spent and women, they've spent their lives learning the product, the product knowledge, what works here, what doesn't work? How do I solve these unbelievably challenging problems? That's what we do in the sales side because it's no different than solving a solution or coming up with a solution for an install problem. That's how the human interaction side is too. It's predictable, but it's wily. It's the same thing every time, yet different every time. And I've been blessed that I've been able to basically get paid to think about it forever. Now I get to go share it with people, and I want them looking at this part of their job, just like they do the other part and something you said, right? The car example. So the car dealer thing is a little bit different because, you know, we want someone who says, I want music around the house, we want to get them thinking, not just wall to wall control and lighting and sound and shades. I want them thinking property line to property line. Right? I want to really have them get the client thinking big. Car sales it's a little bit limited compared to that. But here's the thing. How often do our guys act like that? They think knowing all about the car is the key to success? When it's half the battle. You got it.

Ron:  I would take that concept a little further, and I'll make it integrator specific. How often does the consumer or prospect come to the salesperson and ask for a specific type of solution? They go, " I need a camera, I need a security system or a surveillance system added to the exterior of my home." And I would challenge that many salespeople go, "Great, how many cameras do you need? OK, how many stations? All right. Got it." And boom, I'd made a sale. I go, and then what happens? They go out to install it, and there's another integrator's van on the property and go, "What are they here for?" "Oh, they're here to install my home theater.".

Keith: Right!

Ron:  "Well, what do you mean they're here to install my home theater? I do that." "Oh, I didn't know you do that. You didn't ask me about that.".

Keith: Transaction.

Ron:  It was a transactional sale, not a consultant. If you have a consumer interacting with you and they have some need for some technology, you owe it to yourself and your business that you represent, to find out if they have needs with their network or their audio system or their, and, and, and, and the whole list of capabilities that your business offers because often I would challenge the consumer probably has many needs, some they don't even know.

Keith: Correct. Yeah. Well, one of the ways we look at it, like sort of I call it the HTSA way right now because this is beginning to be adopted around through, you know, all of our dealers to some extent. But you're exactly right. If you sell people merely what they asked you for, you are basically the world's worst frickin website. Because if I had to get in my car and drive to your store to simply get what I already knew to ask for, I could have clicked, right? So you're adding no value, and it's doing nothing to prolong the success of our business, our industry. Well, we teach these. Our first response to everything like that is always this "Terrific; we absolutely have those. How many did you want?" Ask the sale, and they go, "Well, I was thinking three, four" You go, "Beautiful." And then you go, "Well, tell me this. What made you ask for these? What's going on, and what are you picturing?" And you take people to the visual, and you ask them to paint you a little picture of their future. And are they free to tell you, "Shut up, I just want cameras." Of course, that's fine. But more often than not, they go, "Well, we're building a house. We have this project." And you go, "Who are you working with? What have you looked at? What have you considered?" Then you either break the questioning thing into two parts, either discover their goals, or you create desires. So you got to find out everything they know before you say anything stupid. Then you should also bring up things they never thought about. You know, I'll give away a little thing from our event. Let me ask you real quick. Just answer, what color is the sky?

Ron:  Blue.

Keith: Right! That's what you say automatically, right?

Ron:  You're making me nervous! Maybe it's red; it's pink in the evening.

Keith: Right! So this is where we're going, right? One of the little, you know, the little key trickery things we do is I ask them that, and everybody goes "blue." And all right. So blue, why do you say that? Well, that's what you say. That's the answer. But why is it the answer? Well, is it blue most of the time? Yeah, yeah, that's it. Because it's blue most of the time. Well, no, it's black most of the time, right? Like, it's literally black half the time. It's all the other colors, some percentage less than 50. So blue is like an auto-answer because it's what we say. It's like the cliché sky is blue. But what is it, really? I mean, is it pink? Is it orange? So I put up a picture of a purple sky. And like, what if Ron said purple? We'd all laugh. But then we think, when is the sky purple, when it's at its best, right? Over the Pacific, when we're in Bali, right? Purple sky. The blue sky answer is when you don't really think about your question, and they don't think about the response, and no one learns anything. So I try to get our folks thinking about the purple sky. So cameras for what? Security. That's just a blue sky answer. But you have to know that that's what people are trained to say. So you'd say, "Well, it sounds terrific security for what, what's going on? What are you doing? Tell me everything." "Well, we're building a house." "Well, what kind of house? Whereat?" "Oh, I know, isn't that where Harrison Ford has a place up in Big Sky." "Oh, he's actually over in the Yellowstone Club." "Yeah. Oh, my cousin..." And now you're learning what they're picturing, and it's about them telling you. They're painting their pictures, and they're suddenly in a purple sky place. That's what we try to get all these folks to think about. Because I mean, look, clients deserve nothing less. They're coming to you with all this money they might give to you. The least we can do is make them feel better for having bumped into us.

Ron:  I'm imagining, Keith, there are people that are listening live or on replay or listening to the podcast, and they're going, "Holy bananas, I got to get some of this Keith training." What are the mechanics around people having access to you and the relationship science program that you teach?

Ron:  Well, that's a great question, and I'm happy to say that it's essentially an HTSA exclusive, right? Those were the guys that thought it through. They realized how much this could separate their folks from the herd. And they landed me. So here's how it works. If you're a dealer, you can have me come out to your place, and we'll do a customized version of this. It's a two-and-a-half-day event. It's an absolute ball. So far, the biggest success story for a client interaction during the three days I'm there is five hundred thousand plus. I had a guy come in on the second day and say, I used that thing you said to say, and here's what happened, and they close on a three hundred fifty thousand deal that they never would have, had I not done the thing. And the cool part was I ran into him nine months later and asked him, I that deal still for real? He's like, "Yeah, but it's not 300 grand." I'm like, "Argh" He goes, "It's 500 plus." So that's the greatest, we come out and do a custom thing, just with your group, just with your team. But twice a year, we also do one where it's open enrollment to our members, so you don't have to pay to have me come out; you have to waste your whole company's three days. You can just send two people down. We're doing one at Coastal Source at the end of the summer. Terrific Bunch and Marathon they're a great vendor partner, and we're doing one in Sonance in the wintertime, we always do. These aren't scheduled yet, but those are the time frames. And what's cool is those guys model the same friend in the business approach as vendors as we try to get our guys to do. So those are the ways where we've built up a Zoom version, where companies can't really go all in. They can do in a three-day, two and a half hour per day Zoom session. We have as many as 20 people on at once. It's kind of cool. It's a lot less time. It's probably about 70. Maybe it's 60 percent of the live event.

Ron:  I'm betting you appreciate the live events more. Not that you don't dislike Zoom, but there's just a lot to be said to be face to face with people.

Keith: Yeah, you can tell, right? And people always ask me, Wow, you're just a natural, and this must come easy to you. I'm like, "Dude, at the end of this day, I'm frickin exhausted." I mean, this is a 100 percent effort. It's the preparation that goes into it. Just like for your job on your webcast, right? Your podcast, you prep, you prepare. And then, when you do it, it looks like nothing's happening.

Ron:  It looks relaxed. But I mean, you decompress the moment the camera goes off, and I can imagine for you, two and a half days straight. I mean, I do a lot of training with like CEDIA stuff, you know, and maybe the longest sessions I've done are four hours. But for you as a trainer to go two and a half days straight, I mean you're on stage. You might not look like it to the audience, but you're performing in your own way. That is mentally exhausting.

Keith: Well, here's a plug. Here's what we're doing. I'll give you the rest of the HTSA stuff as we wind down. So the selling thing, the relationship science thing, is the core of why they added me. But it's not just with clients, right? It's relationships with who else? So we're working on this year bringing management training to our group because they all have managers, but none of them have, like none of them have any management programs, right? So the beauty of having been at Wal-Mart and Tweeter is that we were corporations. So I'm gathering and combining, and creating a relationship science management skills piece that our guys can send their new managers to. We have a project manager event that we do that blends in all the same concepts but with a different target outcome. So we're really we're expanding it beyond sales. And to your point, it is performance. It's, you know, it's demanding. At the end of the day, there's almost nothing I would rather have been doing.

Ron:  But it's accelerating, is it not? To train and share and give back? Personally, what I enjoy the most.

Keith: Yes! And when somebody tells you they use what you said, and it worked, and it made their day, and they leave saying, "I never thought I would like training. Thank you for not sucking." It's awesome. I tell every group; you deserve nothing less than the best. And I hope they take that and do it with their team members and their clients. And frankly, don't tell anybody, but with their families and with their friends and with strangers. Because what we talk about it's beyond work. It's how can you be that person to everybody?

Ron:  Human to human relations.

Keith: Yes, it's fantastic.

Ron:  You are a master. You have a couple of people throwing you some love. You have. Lawrence was, I think, making Josh in on your wicked, awesome comment. So thank you for doing it then. Then we have Jay. Jay says, "Got to go, but thanks for the refresher course, Keith. Like being back at King of Prussia, great stuff.".

Keith: He was one of our installation team leads in the day, and he's probably still in the business. He's a great one.

Ron:  It looks like it. Then you got Lawrence, says, "Keith, the best, was great to hear some of the high-level concepts again. And Scott's giving you some thumbs up and applause. So, Keith, shout out the conference. You have an HTSA conference coming up; when and where?

Keith: It's in Fort Lauderdale. We scheduled it two years ago, and COVID has intervened repeatedly. But it's going to be; I'm looking at my calendar for the 28th, 29th, 30th and 31st of March at the Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort. I cannot wait. I get to see everybody in person. We've seen them all on the zooms, but boy, it's going to be great to be together. There's Alan Pfanner showing up.

Ron:  Alan saying, "Good to see you again, Keith, loved your Tweeter training." I mean, look at that when someone makes an impact at training. That was what more than a decade ago, correct?

Keith: It was like 13, 14 years ago.

Ron:  13, 14 years ago, Keith, that is. I know you're proud of yourself. That's amazing. Someone says it 13, 14 years later. And Tomas, I appreciate you, sir. "Great interview." Well, I love doing this, man. I get to sit here and learn and bring some of the best and brightest from our industry on, and they share. So I appreciate the compliment, Tomas, but I learn as much as you do in these interviews. So I'm happy to be here.

Keith: I'm hoping to have you guys. I want to have you guys come down to our Coastal Source event if we can work it out.

Ron:  Man, you invite me; I'm there. And, you know, an extra little plug for Coastal Source. I'm putting Coastal Source in my backyard, actually.

Keith: We have that in common. We have that in common and some Sonance. I love working with these guys. Their stuff is great; the people are terrific.

Ron:  I'll be specific just so I'm plugging both appropriately. I've got Sonance going in my backyard for audio, and I've got Coastal Source going in my backyard for lighting, so.

Keith: Exactly, dude, we're partners in crime on that one.

Ron:  Show me pictures of your backyard; mine is still in progress. It's been in progress for quite a while, and God willing, it'll be done sooner than later.

Keith: Dude, I have the best job in the industry thanks to Jonny Robbins and Andrew Davis and all the people that let me train and help them over the years. And you know, you might have the other best job in the business, but I at least have one of them.

Ron:  I love what we do here at One Firefly. We get to help folks every day grow their business. And as our industry prospers and our clients prosper, we prosper. Our goals are aligned, and that is the best. It feels the best. Keith, those that want to get in touch with you personally or directly, emails, phones, Twitter handles, what do you want to shout out?

Keith: So the best way to reach me is probably This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. HTSA is spelled just like it sounds.

Ron:  Oh, and I love your new logo.

Keith: Oh man, it's a great one. You should be proud of it. And I have an awesome hat that I'm looking around for. I think I left it hanging upstairs. Here we go. Wait a second. I'm gonna show people; I'm going to get it out. Say what you want about Ron. That's a badass logo. We want to talk about being ahead of the curve and keeping our dealers ahead of the curve, thinking about what's next? We needed a logo that said that, and you guys really helped us come up with one that was terrific.

Ron:  We brought in Miguel. He's our designer; he's one of the best out there, and your team working with you and Jordan, it was fun. You guys knew exactly what you needed. You were a great communicator, and that's always best in a client when they can tell you and put into words what they know they want or what they're trying to achieve. Same for our audience when you're working with your customers, if you can. If you're lucky and you get a customer that knows what they want, then it's certainly much easier than otherwise. Keith, it was a pleasure having you on show 202 Automation Unplugged. Thank you again, sir.

Keith: Pleasure was mine.


Keith Esterly has over twenty years of experience as a salesperson, trainer and senior learning & development leader in the CE/CI industry. He started as a part-time stereo salesman at Bryn Mawr Stereo in 1987, sold some "custom" in California when CI was in its infancy, and went on to find his calling in the training and development world, spending ten years with the Tweeter Home Entertainment Group and another ten with Walmart. He’s a Penn State graduate, a compulsive landscaper and the world’s least intimidating (as he considers himself) lifelong martial arts student and Bruce Lee fan. He resides in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where the Philly suburbs meet the farms and wilderness.

Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly become the leading marketing firm specializing in integrated technology and security. The One Firefly team works hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution Mercury Pro.

Resources and links from the interview:

Keith can be reached directly by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.