The Challenger Sales Model With a Twist

Connecting, Human-to-Human in Customer Interactions

What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve done to get a customer to notice you?

Have you ever challenged someone to a car race? This week I sit down with Marcus Jung, Vidyard’s Partner Manager. I’m pleased to share some of his great stories, ones that will provide you with insight into his talent for finding unique ways to stand out in his customer’s mind.

 

Marcus Jung, Vidyard Partner Manager
Marcus Jung, Vidyard Partner Manager

 

My original career path was going to take me into Hotel and Hospitality Management.

When you meet Marcus, whether that’s in person or on the phone, one thing becomes immediately clear—he’s a naturally gifted storyteller. He also loves board games. Actually, games of any kind. And, he loves to share. He’s going to cozy up to you as you get to know each other.

His manner, while direct, doesn’t manage to offend, because somehow he puts you at ease while getting up-close-and-personal, metaphorically speaking of course. Marcus has worked in the tech sector, and primarily at startups for the past eight years. When I asked him how he got into sales he naturally has an interesting story to share about co-op interview day.

“My original career path was going to take me into Hotel and Hospitality Management,” he explains. “My school program included a co-op placement, and because I was late handing in an assignment I missed the opportunity to study the placement opportunities. When I showed up at school on co-op interview day I had to scramble to find an available spot. I kind of crowd-sourced my choice by reviewing which companies were generating the most interest with the student body.”

I won janken and got the last co-op interview spot… that interview completely changed my career path.

He continues, “I went to put my name down under the company that seemed to be generating a lot of interest, and as I did that I literally crossed pens with another guy vying for the last interview spot. We both wanted it, so it was only fair that we janken for it.”

rock-paper-scissors-156171_960_720If you’re not familiar with Janken it is Japanese for Rock Paper Scissors. Saisho wa guu—janken pon! While kids play Rock Paper Scissors, Janken is a serious conflict resolution tool widely used in Japan to settle disputes, or to make decisions.

“I won janken and got the last co-op interview spot, and that interview completely changed my career path. The job placement was with an affiliate marketing network for dating sites. The company had one rule—no porn in the referrals. Since I was the intern, it was my job to search for porn in any of the search results for advertisers. My job forced me to watch porn.”

 

I had all this porn open on my computer, and all the pop-ups started coming up and going crazy, and I panicked!

 

“My first week on the job I was walking down the hallway at work and the CEO of the company was walking the other way towards me. Because of my job, I had all this porn open on my computer, and all the pop-ups started coming up and going crazy, and I panicked! It just didn’t feel right. It definitely felt like it was a hazing process. Thankfully it wasn’t long until I moved from compliance to data tracking, which is where we tracked which ads worked best. I worked there for a year.”

Working on the data tracking team provided Marcus with on-the-job training in the power of data, and it ultimately set him up for future success in his sales career. “I was 25 when I started working in enterprise sales,” says Marcus. “I was talking with big companies, Fortune 500 companies, and I was speaking with very smart people. I looked around at the other reps, and I knew that I didn’t have the sales experience of more seasoned salespeople. But I knew I could be different.”

​Cold-calling sucks for everyone involved, but I’ll do it because it can work.

Marcus believes that email is still the best channel for communication with a prospect. “I still cold-call but I prefer email. Cold-calling sucks for everyone involved, but I’ll do it because it can work.” He explains his approach to email, “I strive to be more personal in my outreach. I try to be human. I try to inject humanism into my email and messages, but I also take a heavy data approach to targeting my leads. I learned that from affiliate marketing days. When you combine those two things, statistics and personality, it’s being different but it’s also being smart.”

Being personal with your customer only really works well when you’re authentically interested in building a relationship. Marcus agrees, “customers are fiercely educated and knowledgeable today—they know what they’re getting into. They know the competition. It’s really hard to bullshit. They will call you out on it immediately. It’s a good thing.”

People are always looking for a new and innovative ways to communicate with people.

Working for Vidyard, Marcus has first-hand experience with the impact new communications tools can bring to customer engagements. “People are always looking for new and innovative ways to communicate with people,” he says. “Things are cyclical. Cold-calling is dying, or nearly dead. Highly personalized email was a new thing until it wasn’t. Social selling became a thing. Then it was abused. Buyers are savvy. Sellers abuse the channels more than they should until the next thing comes along.”

When I ask Marcus which tools he absolutely needs to do his job he responds without hesitation, “email. It can be either Outlook or Gmail. A phone. That’s all I need. I could live without a CRM. I like using SalesLoft for cadence. It organizes your templates and tells you when to follow-up with a prospect, which is helpful when you’re working a lot of deals. One of the big challenges in sales, because it’s still a largely a numbers game, is remembering what happened on your 3rd or 4th follow-up. SalesLoft helps you position where you are in the cycle with a particular customer.” And finally, his secret weapon: “a cup of coffee. Meeting in-person is still great.”

“The cool thing about video though,” he continues, “and in particular about Vidyard, is that it’s a really great way to cut through the noise. It’s something that stands out and enables you to connect. Video is here to stay.”

Next week we get the full story of how the car race challenge went down. Here’s a sneak peak: ‘I bet you’ve never been challenged to a race before.’ He responded immediately, saying ‘when and where?’

Read Part 2 in this interview with Marcus Jung here.

STIR Demo Day in Vancouver

British Columbia Startup-in-Residence Program

I had the opportunity to attend Demo Day for the inaugural cohort of BC STIR companies in Vancouver. If you’re not familiar with STIR it stands for Startup in Residence program originally conceived in San Francisco as a means of transforming government through entrepreneurship. STIR is a 16-week residency program designed to create effective and impactful public-private partnerships.

Resident companies work closely with their government sponsor departments to co-develop a solution that addresses the specific requirements of each department and its mission. The goal is to develop customized tools that fit their unique problems, along with an opportunity for startups to learn how to provide products that can be easily adapted and scaled in a cost-effective and resource-efficient way.

Five BC tech companies formed the first BC STIR cohort: Arkit, Big Bang Analytics, Design + Environment / App-Scoop, Latero Labs, and Purpose Five. Each startup was paired with a government department and was tasked with co-developing a technological solution to a real-world problem encountered by each department.

The demos showed creative solutions that addressed challenges such as finding placement locations for children under the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Latero Labs solution turned a process, that usually takes hours or even days to complete, into a 10 to 15-minute digital process.

Another innovative solution was delivered to the Ministry of Education by Big Bang Analytics, which developed a tool enabling school district staff across the province to have easy and flexible access to a comprehensive aggregate dataset of student educational performance. District administrators can compare their district’s educational performance to the provincial baseline, and identify at-risk students. A range of filters provide the ability to drill down on data points and ultimately result in the development of personalized student programs to ensure each at-risk student has access to programs and information that could enhance their chance of success in the education system.

I was impressed with the immediate real-world benefit of this residency program, and it was encouraging to hear both the public and private partners in the project rave about the opportunity to collaborate. STIR demonstrates that government can act quickly to solve issues when its staff members are empowered to work with innovative and nimble startup companies in the private sector. I look forward to future iterations of this program and the impact it will have on our community.

The Province of British Columbia is the first Canadian government sector organization to utilize the STIR methodology, and I look forward to the day when other regions adopt the principles of this program to solve their real-world challenges with innovative public-private partnerships. Government could use the injection of Startup Thinking, and the startups could use the experience and credibility a government partnership brings.

For more information on the BC STIR cohort visit BC Gov.

Can We Talk About Meetings?

Tips on getting a meeting with a propsect, but first can we talk about meetings

I vividly recall the day when Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes sent a company-wide memo letting his employees know that it was okay to leave any meeting that was no longer providing value, and this rule even applied to meetings with him. It was an interesting day.

This kind of policy change, while potentially challenging to old-school managers in love with ‘all hands on deck’ style of meeting, is likely music to the ears of most of us that have several daily or weekly meetings that, while informative, are not critical to their day-to-day job requirements.

Without a top-down mandate from your company CEO, missing a meeting, even if it is for good reason, can send a signal to your teammates that your time is more valuable than theirs. In egalitarian, flat organizations like startups this can definitely send the wrong message.

But, sometimes your time is more valuable, or precious than your workmates. Obviously, you can’t only prioritize your time above all others, otherwise, you will quickly find yourself isolated. However, if you’re working to deadline on a project, then an inconveniently timed inter-departmental meeting can play havoc with your ability to focus and deliver on objectives.

Meetings are a contributing factor to the stress level of your workforce.

Meetings are the bane of most employees, but the impact goes beyond simple disruption. They are a contributing factor to the stress level of your workforce. Meetings are sometimes necessary, but they are often a default response to dealing with a situation. With email and productivity tools like Slack, company intranets, Workplace by Facebook, and other communication channels, do you really need another meeting to deal with that small issue that has cropped up?

Think of that weekly hour-long departmental meeting we have all suffered through. The one where you feel your will to live slip away second-by-second. The one where the team gathers around a conference room table, some members joining remotely by teleconference, all suffering through a pointless meandering waste of time.

Meetings like this are a safety blanket for some managers (the team met to discuss blah blah blah, Check.), but they are a waste of everyone’s time. If you are tasked with running a meeting (because sometimes they are a necessary evil), set the bar by including an agenda with your meeting invite. It gives your team the opportunity to show up prepared and ready to contribute. If there’s no agenda, no structure, or no point, and you are simply meeting because you always meet every Tuesday—then you don’t need to meet!

If you must hold a meeting, then all attendees should show up and be ready to contribute through active participation.

bored faceThe corollary to my advice against the creation of unnecessary meetings is that if you must hold a meeting, then all attendees should show up and be ready to contribute through active participation. Is there anything more annoying than a colleague that shows up to a meeting, and doesn’t say a word, only to start complaining about everything discussed in the meeting the moment the meeting is over? It’s the equivalent of complaining about politics but then not exercising your franchise to vote. You don’t get a say if you don’t participate in the process.

Being accountable to your colleagues is critical in a startup. In fact, so much of the agile development model depends on simple stand-up meetings where each member reports on their progress and what they plan on completing each day.

 

Scrum meetings are an effective tool for reviewing tasks and challenges.

Developers and engineers that follow Scrum are familiar with the daily standup meeting. Scrum meetings are an effective tool for reviewing tasks and challenges. They encourage accountability, because a team member has only three things to report on:
1) What they did yesterday;
2) What they will do today;
3) Detail any roadblocks preventing code delivery.

When an engineer says “I will do this today,” they are making a commitment to the rest of the team that unless there’s an unexpected roadblock, the task they are working on will be delivered by the following day. That commitment and accountability is key. It’s the glue that keeps the team focused and delivering.

A related management methodology is the 1:1 meeting format. I’m a big fan of 1:1 meetings. If you’ve been involved with a startup, then odds are you’ll be familiar with this style of meeting. If not, it’s a simple meeting structure with a regular cadence that provides an opportunity for you to have a direct conversation with your direct reports on the tasks they are working on, the challenges or roadblocks they are encountering, or the goals they wish to work towards. For a good summary of the benefits of 1:1s check out Michael Wolfe’s post on Medium.

Good managers know how to stay out of the way of their high-functioning team members and instead focus their time on working with underperforming staff. For both contexts, weekly 1:1s are a great tool to check-in, while also providing opportunities for coaching. 1:1s also surface information quickly. You access information quickly and have a framework to act on something you’ve learned in a 1:1 with the rest of the team.

Given the significant baggage we all carry about meetings, imagine the challenge you will face as a sales rep when you casually request time out of a busy executive’s day to go over your sales pitch.

Given the significant baggage we all carry about meetings, imagine the challenge you will face as a sales rep when you casually request time out of a busy executive’s day to go over your sales pitch. You can imagine how your request triggers a stress-induced facial tick that results in a firm ‘no.’ Plan your prospect meetings carefully.

In my experience, reaching out to a prospective customer to schedule time for that critical first meeting is a delicate request that requires finesse. Typically, I’ll deliver this request via email—we’re all overworked so don’t try to surprise a prospect with a call out of the blue to corner them into taking a meeting. My email will outline the nature of the request, the time commitment required and the intended outcome. I always give the prospect an out, but the ‘out’ is more of a delay than a firm no.

My email might go something like this:

Hi [Prospect Name],

Thank you for your interest in [whatever it is they are interested in]. Do you have 20 minutes for a quick call this week to discuss your requirements, so I can determine if our product is the right fit? If this week doesn’t work I’m available at the following times next week: [Time A], [Time B], [Time C].

Thanks for your interest in [Company Name or Product] and I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Sincerely,
[Your Name]

That’s it. Nine times out of ten this kind of message lands the meeting, and it’s a meeting you won’t want to miss.

Improve Sales Pipeline Performance

A Simple Strategy That Will Automatically Improve Your Close Rate

Would you sit up and pay attention if I said to you I could increase your close rate by a significant margin by focusing on doing one thing really well?

If you read that question and thought, ‘ya right, there’s never just one thing…’ you get extra points, but there is something that your sales organization can do that does contribute to better and more predictable pipeline—and it has to do with lead qualification.

HINT: It has to do with lead qualification.

Before we go too far down the road of qualification, let’s talk about the two kinds of leads you encounter in sales: MQLs and SQLs. MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) are leads that come in at the very top of the funnel, and they’re indicative of user interest in your content, but not necessarily predictive in terms of intent to buy. An MQL is created when a visitor provides their content information on a webform or indicates they want to learn more about something on your website.

The SQL (Sales Qualified Lead), or Sales Accepted Lead (SAL) is a lead that marketing has passed on to sales, and one that the sales team has vetted (vetting criteria will vary based on a company’s sales process), turning a general interest lead into a prospect lead, or simply prospect. Depending on your sales team’s level of sophistication, a business development rep or a sales associate may vet the lead.

The one thing you can do to improve your sales effectiveness is to brutally vet each and every lead that enters your pipeline.

The one thing you can do to improve your sales effectiveness is to brutally vet each and every lead that enters your pipeline. Sounds simple, right? In practice, it’s much harder to implement. Why? Because when someone shows interest in your product your sales team gets excited, and unless your team is methodically following sound qualification procedures you will find that your pipeline gets polluted with poor-quality leads.

You have a target market for a reason, so make sure your sales team is using the definition of an ideal customer—not just any customer—as the pass/fail bar in lead-vetting. Approach qualifying a customer with the same dedication that you put into qualifying a candidate employee. Better to part ways early than wait until the lead has progressed all the way down your sales pipeline, when you’ve spent countless hours working the deal, before cutting them loose.

This is probably the easiest way you can improve the effectiveness of your sales activity. When a poorly qualified lead gets turned into an opportunity, and somewhere down the line, the deal falls through—everyone involved will feel the pain of wasted time and resources. It’s frustrating, so try to minimize the number of times that happens.

Sales reps should expect that most leads will not be an ideal customer fit. They should look for reasons to disqualify them.

Finding customers that are a good fit for your product or service is critical, especially as you launch your business. Your early customers will become advocates for your brand. They are your partners. They will provide you with references and leads—so make sure you are finding the right kind of customer.

Sales reps should expect that most leads will not be an ideal customer fit. They should look for reasons to disqualify them. In my sales experience, telling a customer that I didn’t think they were ready to buy my product or suggesting that maybe they needed another solution actually helped me hit my quota. Why? Because I was able to focus my time on working qualified deals where the customer’s interest was aligned with the product I was selling.

When you’re upfront with a customer, and remove them from the funnel you are doing them a service. You are not selling them something they don’t need, and more importantly, you are removing a lead out of your pipeline that would have been 100% non-contributive.

Ultimately, lead qualification says volumes about your sales process.

What’s better, disqualifying a customer today doesn’t mean they’ll never become a customer. There’s a reason why that customer initially reached out. They may be genuinely interested in your product, but they may not be ready to buy today. It sounds counter-intuitive to turn away business, especially for a startup, but being radically transparent with a customer actually earns you their trust.

Ultimately, lead qualification comes down to your sales process. If your sales team relies on inbound leads to build pipeline, then you have to invest in a qualification process that ensures you have alignment with marketing leads, your product, and your sales process. Otherwise, you are wasting time and money.

I can’t stress the importance of lead qualification enough. If you are startup, lead qualification is table stakes. If your startup is on a growth trajectory then you need to effectively and efficiently drive revenue from every customer interaction you have. With the impact a sales team has on your company’s burn rate, you literally cannot waste time or money on bad leads—because you will go broke before earned revenue can offset the cost of your salesforce.

Radical Transparency – Part 2

How Social Media Has Transformed This Sales Reps Approach To Sales

This week I continue my conversation with Beth England, having left off the last post with Beth discussing how she uses her Discovery questions at cocktail parties. This week we explore her approach to sales, why she loves the job and how she measures success.

idea-lightbulbThe more effective your discovery process, the more effective you will be in uncovering relevant information that could make the difference in truly helping your customer solve a problem. It also provides you with the background on a situation, which may come in handy if have to go back to the client and challenge them if they assert a conflicting requirement later on in the sales process.

Chicago_Mercantile_Exchange_1.jpg

In a commoditized environment you need to stand out.

“In a commoditized environment, you need to stand out,” says Beth. “If you have services that you can add value to the client’s business then you’re going to win the business. If you can bring an idea to your client that nobody else has thought to bring them, then you’re going to stand out.”

Speaking of standing out, sometimes you have to go the extra mile to standout from the competition. Remember, you’re in the replacement business, so what can you do to differentiate yourself from the five other vendors competing for the customer’s attention and business? Beth recommends being fearless, “I’ve done some crazy things in sales presentations. I once stuck a mini Chips Ahoy basketball hoop to my forehead…I mean sometimes you have to do nutty things to get attention. I’ve done some whack-a-doodle things.”

Ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to get into somewhat uncomfortable territory—remember there’s never a stupid question. Beth says, “it’s okay to ask what competitors have suggested. Doing so can give you an opportunity to differentiate yourself. We don’t ask enough questions as salespeople—and shame on us for not doing so. You need to go deep.”

 

The number one thing you can do for a client is to tell them more about themselves then they know, or thought they understood. That’s how you win big deals.

We’ve talked a lot about asking questions to learn as much as you can about your customer, but sales reps also need to do their homework before they start asking questions. Beth says “most salespeople wait for the client to tell them what their pain is, but we should be able to tell them what the pain is. Being able to speak about the challenges and opportunities around your client’s brand demonstrates that you’ve done your homework.”

Beth continues, “the number one thing you can do for a client is to tell them more about themselves then they know, or thought they understood. That’s how you win big deals. If you can tell your client more than they know about themselves, then you will have their attention every time, and that requires lots of research. You need to know more about what their competition is doing, and how they differ in the marketplace. What are reviews saying about their products or services?”

TWITTER birdsIt may seem paradoxical to say ‘ask your customer lots of questions’ and also stress that you need to tell them something they don’t know about their business, but it’s how you make yourself an invaluable sales rep. If you haven’t done your due diligence on your prospect then you may not know the right questions to ask. Beth provides an example from her Hootsuite days, “for one of my large clients, I was able to point out that one of their staff, someone who represented themselves as an employee of the brand on social media, was also posing in lingerie in her Twitter photos—which was obviously against the company’s social media standards. I was able to show them the power of my product by showing them a real-world example—using real data.”

 

Sales is all about working hard, but it’s not a 9-to-5 job. It’s a high-risk high reward endeavour.

As the saying goes, everything in moderation—so don’t forget to tell your customer they’re doing a good job when that’s the case. Beth says, “tell them when and how they’re doing it right. Then, once you’ve identified the opportunity make a link to clear business statements on how your product can help the client, and if you can back up your claims with publicly available 3rd party data, then it makes you look like you’re more thoughtful about their business than anyone that’s come before you. Be thoughtful about their business.”

Sales isn’t a job for Beth so much as a professional lifestyle. “Sales is freedom for me,” she says. “Sales is all about working hard, but it’s not a 9-to-5 job. If you can get what you need to do done in four hours—great! I put in way more than eight hours a day, but if I have time in my day I will play hooky and go catch a Cub’s game. But, it also means putting in long hours when you need to do the work. It’s a high-risk high reward endeavour.”

“It’s the thrill of the hunt,” she says. ” We get so caught up in closing the deal that we forget that the hunt is fun. It should be fun.” She continues, “if you’re doing sales you’re not the typical boring person that’s out there. Chances are you’re fairly dynamic. I’m always working. If I’m at a party and someone says, ‘you should talk to so-and-so’ or if I realize that the person I’m speaking with could help me with a deal now or in the future, I’ll pull up my phone with LinkedIn up and connect with them right there, so I can follow-up.”

 

In my experience, a warm intro [via social media] results in a 50/50 success rate in getting where you want to go.

When I ask her about the one thing, the one tool that she wished she had to make her more effective, her answer surprised me: “An old-fashioned secretary would be great! A PA would make all the difference in my life. There are weeks when I have no food in the house, and I live out in the country!”

If you’re in sales you’ve likely heard the old chestnut ‘sales is a numbers game,’ but the savvy sales rep isn’t cold calling today. “I don’t miss dialing for dollars,” she says. “Many organizations are still telling their people to do it, even though it doesn’t work. It’s so messed up.” Social media has changed the game for Beth. She says, “it’s all about cultivating your social presence. In my 2,000+ contacts on LinkedIn, there’s a chance someone knows somebody, and a warm introduction is better than a cold email.” She continues, “in my experience, a warm intro results in a 50/50 success rate in getting where you want to go.”

Your network, personal and professional, is critical to your success as a sales rep. It’s especially the case at a startup. Beth explains, “some startup CEOs are better at playing the game than others. If your CEO is quarterbacking a deal for you then great! In a lot of cases, a startup CEO isn’t playing that role, because it’s not in their DNA. However, if the competitor’s CEO is actively quarterbacking a deal, it means the deal is happening at a C-suite to C-suite level, and that level of engagement means you have to work much harder to win the deal away from your competitor.” She continues, “work with your contacts to understand the playing field. Make sure you know what’s really happening with a deal.”

 

When you lose a deal…don’t just hang your head and cry. Pull up your big girl panties and ask ‘why?’

It’s also important to remember that winning doesn’t have to be your only success indicator. Beth says, “Sometimes when you lose a deal it can still be considered a point of success. We lose deals for lots of reasons. More time than not, it’s because the client made a pivot, and you can’t do anything about that situation.”

She continues with some great advice, “when you lose a deal, the most important thing you can do is contact the client and say ‘I completely respect your decision, and I’m trying to improve my process and our company is too, so could we schedule a post-mortem chat to learn how we can improve our methods going forward?’ Don’t just hang your head and cry. Pull up your big girl panties and ask ‘why?’”

It’s equally important to understand why you win deals—don’t assume it’s because you have the better product with the best price. The win could have everything to do with something you did that was important to your client, but that wasn’t specifically discussed as part of the procurement process. Remember, when you’re in sales, you’re in the replacement business. Maybe you won because you were responsive, or because you didn’t pressure the client, showing up when you were uninvited…those are the little things that mean the world to customers.

Beth agrees, “find out why you won the deal. Sometimes the reason you win isn’t just about your product. In the case of a major account win, it came down to how our company respected the rules procurement had established. You need to know an organization well enough to know when to ask for permission or forgiveness. For instance, you absolutely need to follow the rules in a regulated industry. Find out the reasons why you won. It’s often the little things you did that mean the world.”

 

I firmly believe that you cannot push a client to make a decision faster than they are ready to. You can’t force the desire to purchase.

When closing a deal it can be tempting to offer incentives to get the deal done. As other sales reps have commented, it’s more effective to incentivize the deal with non-monetary benefits. Beth agrees, “My bosses always tell me that I’m nuts, but the cadence of a deal, is the cadence of the deal. I firmly believe that you cannot push a client to make a decision faster than they are ready to. You can’t force the desire to purchase.”

She continues, “extra discounting at end of quarter—everybody does it and it does not work! I can think of one time in 20+ years where it worked. So why do we still do that? It reeks of desperation. It undermines value-based sales. Even when I’ve been told to do it, I never do it.”

Beth recommends going back to your discovery process and delivering what the client wants. She says, “I’m still using a two-way Joint Goals Document, which is the precursor to the Statement of Work. Take everything you’ve discussed and capture it in an objectives document. When you discover when the client needs to go live with a proposed solution then you can work back from there to create a project rollout plan. Their answers form the basis of your statement of work document, and you have something to present back to the them that is based on their reality.” It’s an organic way to hold the customer accountable and show them how you’re going to help them get to where they want to go.

As you can see, Beth lives and breathes sales, but the thing is, you never feel like she’s selling you something. She is genuinely interested in helping people, and solving problems. If you’re looking for social media strategy and campaign management you can find her on Twitter: @cubphan, or on LinkedIn.

 

Building Trust with Radical Transparency

How Social Media Has Transformed This Reps Approach To Sales and How Radical Transparency Builds Trust

This week features an interview with the fantastically fun and insightful Beth England. Beth has worked in CPG, technology, social media, and she now runs her own social media agency as Principal at 3rd Coast Digital Consulting. Beth and I worked together for several years at Hootsuite, where I had the great fortune to be on Beth’s team, helping land what at the time was the biggest deal in company history. I learned a great deal about her approach to sales in working that deal, and I’m pleased to be able to share her methodology with you in this post. It’s a post about social selling without specifically talking about social selling.

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So when did this food-obsessed Cubs fan learn the most about the art and science of selling? “I’ve been at five startups and it was probably my first one that taught me the most,” she says. “It was called Efficient Market Services (EMS) and I worked there in the 90s. It was a rowdy, crazy, fun time in market research. That’s where I learned to ask forgiveness instead of permission. In fact, it was encouraged.”

Beth says that EMS’s product was far ahead of its time and this made selling it to customers sometimes challenging. “It was all new so, and we had to figure out a way to get deals done. You tried everything, and it might not be a repeatable process, but if you are delivering for a client, you find a way to deliver. Once you’ve closed the deal, then you go back and retro-engineer your actions into a repeatable process.”

 

If I look at all my sales experience from the 90s onwards, the key piece has been personal relationships, whether I was selling cookies to grocery stores, or software to Fortune 100 companies.

She continues, “my first sales job was in 1990. If I look at all my sales experience from the 90s onwards, the key piece has been personal relationships, whether I was selling cookies to grocery stores, or software to Fortune 100 companies. It’s about building trust. It’s about becoming a trusted advisor. If you’re genuinely looking out for your clients best interests they will seek you out.”

It’s a tragically misunderstood point in sales, but being upfront and honest with your customer is how you build trust. The old bait and switch might work once or twice, but people catch on fast, and in a world of social networking and review sites, your reputation will suffer very quickly. Beth says, “you have to be willing to tell the customer that they don’t need your product if they don’t need your product. If they’re buying a Ferrari, but only need a VW bug then tell them to buy the bug. You might lose out on the sale today, but you’ll win that customer down the road.”

Building trust starts with asking questions that enable you to learn as much as you can about your client. “I believe the first point of contact with a prospect is all about setting the context for dialogue so that it is about the client. You need to understand what the client is trying to accomplish. Ask them ‘what’s working? What’s not working. Who do you aspire to be?’ Getting them talking and opening up is key. But your first discovery session should be no more than 30 minutes. Any longer and you’ll lose them.”

2000px-Facebook.svgSo how does Beth connect with customers today? “I’ve used to have hard and fast rules that I adopted when I started using Facebook ten years ago: I didn’t invite my current co-workers to connect, but as I moved from role-to-role I would invite my colleagues or clients, people that I’d built a personal relationship with, to connect and be part of my Facebook network.”

Today, Beth has changed her approach. She relies on Facebook to build an integrated personal and professional network. “I’m very active on Facebook. Social media is a big part of my personal brand. I don’t have a website, so I rely on being very candid with my followers, and I make sure that I’ve cultivated a wide and varied group. It’s people that I’ve worked with in the past, that are important to me, and that have a vested interest in my personal life and success. Make sure that you’re connected to those people, and be very candid with those people about what’s going on professionally. It’s the number one way I’ve sourced clients. It works better than LinkedIn, and I’m doing it through my personal page.”

 

​If you’re putting out content that people can engage with personally, in all likelihood you can port that over to professional engagement.

She continues, “if you’re at a phase where you’re thinking about developing a social media led sales strategy, you ought to go and look at your Facebook profile and make sure you have the connections you need and make sure that you’re publishing content that is representative of who your public face is. So, no pictures of you getting drunk and stay away from politics. My personal content themes are food, travel and my home life. If you’re putting out content that people can engage with personally, in all likelihood you can port that over to professional engagement.”

It may seem counter-intuitive to fully integrate one’s personal and professional lives, but for Beth, it’s how she builds trust. It’s her take social selling. “Using Facebook professionally is a definitive change in how I used to approach sales, but I’ve always been honest and open about where my life is at.”

She builds on the idea of transparency, “ethics are very important to me. I stay away from companies with questionable ethics unless they’re asking for my help to fix an issue—that’s a situation where I would take the time to consider the request.” She continues, “I wouldn’t necessarily work for a company in an industry that I know absolutely nothing about. You need to be judicious. Look at the company’s mission statement and values. Are they aligned with yours?”

 

I use a blend of many sales methodologies…

For experienced sales professionals, a sales methodology that fits your personal style is more about creating a system that reflects who you are as an individual while providing a structure to guide your activity. It should be authentic, and it shouldn’t feel regimented or put on. Given her transparent approach to an integrated personal and professional life, I was curious which sales methodology Beth follows.“I use a blend of many sales methodologies,” she says. “Take from each of them what works for you. If you do that you’re going to be successful. My sales template has bits-n-bobs from everything.”

She continues, “Some sales models are way too complex, and if they’re too complex that means you’re not going to do it. Simplify things, dumb it down, and pick three to five elements to execute against. I use bits from SPIN and Challenger.”

Beth offers young sales reps a tip: “as young salespeople we’re looking for the client to tell us ‘what are the steps we need to follow’ or ‘what are the benchmarks we need to hit?’ But, you don’t need to do that.” She continues, “you need to ask your client one question and one question only, and that is:
‘When do you see yourself going live with my solution?’

And, that’s where you get all the information that the client may know, but may not have shared yet, and the best part is they will tell you all about it organically.” Reframing the conversation to have the customer visualize an ideal situation is something you’ll recognize if you’ve studied the Challenger Sales model.

 

Under promise. Over-deliver, always!

Setting expectations with a client is another misunderstood or under-utilized technique that establishes trust. “Under promise. Over-deliver, always! It’s also about being comfortable to ask your client ‘what’s magical about a date.’ Managing expectations is really important. We often forget to manage our client’s expectations. Taking a closing date as gospel. You need to challenge clients. Why do you think you need that then? What’s magical about that date? I always teach my teams to ask that question.”

Setting yourself apart as a trusted advisor to your clients helps you win in the short and long-term. Clients want their suppliers to be looking out for their best interests. Can you save your customer money? Can you make their lives easier? Can you help your prospect get a promotion? Showing your customer something they didn’t know helps you stand out from the competition.

 

When you are who you are every day it increases the likelihood your clients are going to trust you.

Beth believes you need to “challenge clients as to why they need, or think they need, something. Push them when they want something that’s wrong. You have to be able to say to a client, ‘you hired me for a reason, let me help you.’ I see a lot of salespeople that don’t show their real personalities, they’re basically following a script—it comes off as insincere. When you are who you are every day it increases the likelihood your clients are going to trust you.”

Integrate your sales process and methodology into your daily routine. Sure, it’s a commitment to a ‘sales lifestyle’, but if you do, you’re going to find that you’ll become much more effective in asking questions and listening because it will feel natural. Beth agrees: “I always follow the same steps with prospects because it’s part of my daily repertoire. It is what I do because it is who I am. I use discovery questions at cocktail parties! It’s a great way to get people to open up.”

In Radical Transparency Part 2 we continue our discussion with Beth, getting her take on selling into the C-Suite and other strategies she uses to build trust with her clients.