Discovering Buyer Personas with AI

AI is a very trendy buzzword in the tech space right now. Advancements in artificial intelligence, or what I prefer to call assisted intelligence, are happening at an exponential rate, and as with any new technology there’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about what AI means, and more importantly how you can actually use it to improve your business.

Would you like to know more about your own customer data? How many companies have been hearing the hype around ‘big data’ for years, but still have yet to figure out how to discover insight into their own data?

Data on its own isn’t much–it’s just 1s and 0s. Things start to get interesting when you enrich that data with other data points that add context to the sea of unorganized information. If you want to know more about your customers, start by asking how they align with the buyer personas your marketing team uses to attract them in the first place.

AI can help you to better understand your customers, and what motivates them to take action as they move along the Buyer’s Journey.

If you are interested in learning more about AI, and how it can benefit your business register for our upcoming webinar delivered with our partners at Hydra.ai that will explore Discovering Buyers Personas with AI.

It’s happening on Friday May 25 at 10am PT, and it’s free!

 

Singapore Roadracing to Vidyard Partnerships

Building Relationships Creatively with Radical Transparency

This is Part 2 in my interview with Marcus Jung, Partner Manager at Vidyard. You can read Part 1 here if you missed it.

Partnerships is still selling, but it’s about communicating the value of winning together. Partnerships are critical for any startup.

Marcus’ role with Vidyard is a new one for him. He has always focused on building partnerships with his clients, but now it’s the focus of his job. “Partnerships is still selling, but it’s about communicating the value of winning together. Partnerships are critical for any startup. If we are going to hit our growth targets we can’t only do it as a direct sales team. It means we have to build programs that enable technology, agency, and distribution partners to be on our side when we’re speaking with customers. That’s what I manage.”

Having worked on the partner ecosystem team at Hootsuite, I’m familiar with the impact a strong and values-based partner program can have on brands and product. In today’s SaaS software world partnerships enable stand-alone products to compete with full-stack solutions, offering the customer a range of additional functionality to simplify workflows and improve efficiency.

Marcus is focused on building strong partnerships that leverage Vidyard’s brand recognition. “When we speaking with potential partners we have to come to the table with something that will help the other party,” he says. “We want to give them tools to sell more of what they do. We have to make them sticky.”

I discovered that a competitor was working the same deal, so I cold-called [them]…

If your responsible for technology, reseller or channel partnerships you should know that you can sometimes run into challenges that are somewhat unavoidable. Marcus agrees, “internal conflict is the biggest challenge we run into. There’s a natural tension and reps don’t always trust that partnerships are going to benefit them.”

He continues, “there’s an extra layer of complexity when partners are involved. You need to find a way to work together, a mutually beneficial way to work together, and sometimes it can be a major hurdle to figure out what that thing is. What’s interesting about Vidyard is that we can coexist with our competitors. Someone on the outside might see one of our partners as a direct competitor, but everyone has an edge somewhere, and we strive to find a way to work together.”

To illustrate, Marcus tells me a story of how he took a different approach when he was trying to close a deal with a customer. “I discovered that a competitor was working the same deal, so I cold-called the competitor, and said ‘hey, we’re both in this account, and here are my notes.’ I shared all the other people I had connected with in the account. Then I said, “I think we can with this together,’ and in short we became partners and we won the deal together.”

Partnering can shorten the deal cycle dramatically.

That’s a pretty confident thing to do, and I can just imagine sales manager reading this and panicking about any of their reps using this approach, but it does show the power in partnering. Marcus continues, “partnering can shorten the deal cycle dramatically. In this case, we shared budget numbers, figured out how we could both get what we wanted out of the deal and presented our solution to the customer. It worked and more importantly we shortened the deal cycle to a week.”

Sharing info is something a lot of old-school managers don’t want you doing, but in the world of SaaS, it’s almost necessary. Marcus is a big fan of his current boss. “She’s the greatest. She’s remote, and sometimes remote bosses can be challenging, but she’s fantastic. She’s a magician because she’s always there when you need her and she’s always supportive. She listens to me and really hears my ideas, and she knows how to motivate me and the rest of her team. The best thing is that she trusts you, and lets you do your thing.”

So how would she respond to Marcus’s radical transparency approach? “Sometimes you have to take the chance. It’s a high-risk game though. It can blow up on you. With partnerships, its a trust exercise. You learn quickly who can you trust. If it’s not a huge corporate risk, I think it’s a risk worth taking. I’ve had it succeed more times than its failed.”

Every vendor in our space was already wining and dining him, and there wasn’t anything we could do that was going to impress him.

Speaking of high-risk activities, we should probably get to the story of the car race challenge. Marcus had re-located to Hootsuite’s Asia HQ in Singapore, and had set himself a personal goal of owning the logos dotting Singapore’s incredible skyline.

He explains, “I was trying to find my way into one of the largest bank accounts in Asia, who’s HQ is in Singapore. I was very persistent, and one day I did manage to connect with the right VP at the bank. He was really transparent with me, saying that every vendor in our space was already wining and dining him, and there wasn’t anything we could do that was going to impress him.”

He continues, “so I thought about this for a moment, and then I went to work. I did some research on the prospect. I discovered that he is a big car junkie. He loves cars, he collects them. He races them. He writes about them on blogs and social media. So I got back in touch and said, ‘I bet you’ve never been challenged to a race before.’ He responded immediately, saying ‘when and where?’

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in my sales career is to find a way to immediately differentiate yourself. Be different, but in a smart way.

This story is awesome in so many ways, and it demonstrates the power of making yourself relevant and unforgettable. Marcus explains that he was “looking for something to humanize me with the prospect. I had to find something that he is passionate about, and find a way to connect. People remember how you make them feel. In the case of the bank, my customer had never been challenged to a race—and race we did. Of course he destroyed me, but more importantly, I broke through. I built a human relationship, and he is still someone I speak with to this day.”

From affiliate marketing to social media to personalized video communications, Marcus Jung is someone you can always count on for a great story, and a killer close rate. I’ll leave the final word to Marcus: “the biggest lesson I’ve learned in my sales career is to find a way to immediately differentiate yourself. Be different, but in a smart way.”

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.

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.

bethengland-final

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.

Public Sector Selling – Part 2 |Winning

Winning RFPs with Teamwork

In the second post on Public Sector Sales, Oren and I continue our conversation, discussing his amazing record on blind RFPs and the shift in perspective that has made all the difference in his approach to selling software.

Prospecting is a little different in the public sector because the opportunities are public and you effectively decide which ones are the best fit for your product and company. It shifts the focus from cold-calling to winning deals. As we all know winning RFPs is no easy thing. So how does Oren win blind RFPs? “When you find an RFP it is sometimes biased towards the incumbent. It sounds like a simple concept—just get ahead of the competition and influence the RFP. The problem is that you could spend three years working with the customer to shape the RFP before it comes out (if it ever does), but I’d rather spend my time winning the business rather than getting into the account.”

I like the public sector, there’s so much oversight in the buying process. Even if you have a vendor mucking around, there’s only a limited amount of influence a vendor can have over a deal.

He continues, “I like the public sector, there’s so much oversight in the buying process. Even if you have a vendor mucking around, there’s only a limited amount of influence a vendor can have over a deal. The real challenge is to standout. In an RFP where 10-15 proposals are submitted, you must personalize your communications and overload it with value to overcome what other vendors are trying to do to upset the deal. I work the deal.”

“You have to personalize and tailor every piece of communication that goes out to the customer. You have to add value to every element of communication. Sharing an article on LinkedIn is not adding value. You have to tell the customer they’re wrong when they are. You need to show the customer a different way of doing things. Tell them about what they should’ve asked. Talk to them about risk. Show them ‘you get them’, and show them ‘the future state’. That’s how you add value,” he says.

“RFP deals are commoditized—most people could care less who the vendor is. Pundits will tell you to walk away from an RFP that you didn’t help the customer write. But, the reality is I’m seeing very little vendor bias in blind RFPs, and in fact, I’m winning blind RFPs all the time,” he says. Oren’s approach definitely turns conventional wisdom on RFPs on its head.

My win rate on blind RFPs is closer to 30% and the best part is the deals are coming to me!

He continues, “when I talk to the people in procurement, and I ask them if they talked to a vendor before putting out an RFP, they usually say ‘no.’ In fact, they usually say ‘we just put it out.’ They don’t have time to talk to people. Most companies walk away from the public sector and RFPs because the close rate is so bad. Sure, if you have a bad process you are looking at a 5% win probability. My win rate on blind RFPs is closer to 30% and the best part is the deals are coming to me!”

So how does Oren win one out of every three RFPs he responds to? “The way to win deals is to take everything you know about the customer and work it into the RFP, but you also need to add a lot more info than what they’ve asked for in the RFP. The customer won’t know to ask about everything, so you need to guide them to your way of thinking. I add a section called: ‘Here’s What You Need to Know’, and it covers off what they didn’t ask but really should have. It all goes back to communication. Being a good listener is critical but you need to apply what you have heard in your RFP response.”

He continues, “For a recent RFP submission we created a section called ‘Your Success Criteria’. In it, we showed the customer what they are currently doing, and showed them a vision of where they could be. The customer didn’t ask for this, so we had to make it up, but the information we included was based on our company’s experience with similar customers. We had the confidence to say, ‘you’re trying to do this and you’re struggling because of this, this and that,’ and everything tied back to strong product proof points.”

I’m in the replacement business—my prospects already have a product in place—just not mine!

When responding to RFPs you have to put your thinking cap on and find a way to differentiate yourself from your competitor’s product. Oren says, “you have to stand out. You have to deliver something they didn’t ask for. You have to play to your strengths. You need to shape the conversation. Ask yourself, ‘how I can bring insight to the customer?’ When I write an RFP response I’m imaging the purchasing committee nodding their heads when they read my proposal. Even if the customer disagrees, if they nod then they’ll remember me.”

Oren discovered a truth that I believe applies to any type of selling, and like most truths, it’s brilliantly simple. So what is it? He explains, “I’m in the replacement business—my prospects already have a product in place—just not mine! When I realized this it was transformational. There are very few instances where what you’re selling to someone is a new product that addresses a previously unknown challenge. Nine times out of ten the customer already has something that solves the problem. My job as a sales rep is to convince customers that it’s worth replacing their current tool with mine.”

He continues, “that’s a major hassle for any organization. In order for me to win a new customer, that customer has to stop using my competitor’s product. To overcome replacement inertia I need to be able to stand out; I have to connect. I’m always thinking, ‘what can I say that will make them remember me?’ Ten other people are going to come in and try to win the deal but how will they stand out enough for the customer to start thinking about a new possibility? People tend to ignore that.

When startups try to hire sales superstars they need to think about what makes that person a superstar.

“Startups think they’re going to win customers by their ‘innovation’ but from the buyer’s perspective, it’s an incremental gain, because of the costs of switching to a new solution, and the risk involved in switching. In the public sector, it’s painful to make a change. You see startups advertising for sales reps with skills in finding or developing new markets, or introducing new products to the market etc., but the reality is that their product isn’t new in the way they think it is. It may be better but it’s not necessarily new. You deploy a different strategy when you realize you’re in the replacement business.”

“Being so focused on innovation and product, startups don’t do well in my environment, because they are too focused on the deal, and they’re blindsided by the post-deal stuff that more established companies bring to the table to make that transition more pleasant and much less risky: account management, support structures, customer success, etc. This something that is very hard to do when you’re a cash-strapped startup or are focused on rapid growth. From a buyer’s perspective, you may have a great looking solution, but if you don’t have customer service, account management, and established risk mitigation processes, why would I bet my career on your company?”

When it comes to startups, a lot of founders will rely on their advisors and network to find a superstar sales rep. Oren asks a good question that every founder should think about. “When startups try to hire sales superstars they need to think about what makes that person a superstar. Are they an A-Type personality or are they successful because they’re great communicators?”

I use the Challenger sales methodology. Once you get it, it revolutionizes your thought process.

Challenger Sales ModelOren offers some advice that could benefit startup sales teams and it’s again quite simple. Be confident in how you handle the customer. It requires great communication skills. “I use the Challenger sales methodology. Once you get it, it revolutionizes your thought process.” He recalls a recent customer interaction that demonstrates how the model can work to your advantage.

“A prospect we’re working on an RFP with reached out with a request for us to present a deep-dive product demo. They gave us three hours to do the demo and answer questions. When I reviewed the two-page request of use cases to demo I quickly realized that there was no way we could get through all the use cases in just three hours. We would run out of time.”

He continues, “So now I have a problem. The customer is asking for something, but they’re not giving me enough time. If I just show up and do what the customer wants we would fail. We’d have to skip over things but what if the one thing we end up not showing them is the thing they really wanted to see? I told the customer that they didn’t allocate enough time for our demo and offered a solution: either we spend two days to conduct a deep-dive demo (at no cost to them) or we have to edit the list of requests.”

Think about the messaging you get from most sales experts. You get lots of advice on the mechanics of the sales process, but you what you rarely get is training in the skills you need as an individual in order to follow through on those strategies.

What Oren did next is a perfect application of the Challenge model, “I reached out to one of our customers who had requested a similar deep-dive demo in the past, and with their permission sent our prospect their contact info. The idea is to have one customer educate the other about the best way to buy. The result? Our prospect is now reworking the agenda for us to give us the time to address all their requirements.“

Oren could have said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the customer, but instead he took the opportunity to teach his customer something new (that the request was impossible to achieve given their experience); added value to the process by offering to do a two-day workshop at no cost, and he injected a reference into the process. He took control of the conversation and guided the customer to a mutually beneficial outcome.

He concludes, “I happen to know that our prospect sent the original demo invite out to four other vendors. If the other folks didn’t push back then they’re going to fail. This is an example of communications skills that can be taught, but it’s completely ignored in most sales organizations. Think about the messaging you get from most sales experts. You get lots of advice on the mechanics of the sales process, but you what you rarely get is training in the skills you need as an individual in order to follow through on those strategies.”

There’s a lot to unpack in Oren’s take on selling to the public sector. His understanding that you need to stand out in your customer’s mind is key, as is his point about easing a prospect’s solution replacement anxiety. Working together as a team and great inter-team and vendor-customer communication is also an important point that sometimes gets missed in the hustle to get a deal done.

Let me know what you think about this post. Did you find it interesting? Did it make you reconsider RFPs? I’m interested to hear about your public sector sales experience.

 

 

 

 

Selling to the Public Sector – Part 1

Winning RFPs in the Public Sector Requires Teamwork

I enjoy a good story as much as the next person, and people that work in sales generally have a lot of interesting stories to tell, perhaps only rivaled by sports-fishing tales about the one that got away.

Asking salespeople to talk about their process is a fascinating way to spend an hour or three. That may come as a surprise, especially if you haven’t had the opportunity to speak with a sales professional outside of a sales transaction.

In this post, I delve into public sector sales with my guest and former Hootsuite colleague Oren Friedman. Oren is a Public Sector Sales Leader at SumTotal, a Skillsoft Company. I first met Oren at Hootsuite. Not long after joining the startup I became a member of Hootsuite’s partner team. I quickly discovered Oren’s wicked sense of humour and sharp mind, and we quickly hit it off. We’ve both since gone on to new challenges, but we’ve been scheming ever since about ways that we can work together again.

I’ve lived through and survived the Dotcom bust, and the 2008 mini-bust as a sales guy. I think I get it.

Trained as a lawyer, Oren has been a sales rep since the late 90s. “I’ve lived through and survived the Dotcom bust and the 2008 mini-bust as a sales guy. I think I get it. If you’re a small company, I’ve been there. If you’re a Vancouver mid-size company of 100 people, I’ve been there. If you work for a large company, I’ve been there. I’ve worked for large stratified companies like TELUS and SAP and where I work now there are 2,500 people,” he says.

Oren currently sells to public sector customers, with a focus on education at the State and local government level, selling SaaS solutions valued from $100K into the millions. “I’m in field sales or outside sales. That’s a critical distinction,” says Oren. He continues: ”a lot of startups only do inside sales—the entire sales process: prospecting, demos, contracting—is done over the phone. In my case, it doesn’t work that way. I don’t think you can sell any product in the public sector that way. I need to have face-to-face time with the customer.”

Today, selling and buying is definitely a team effort.

For someone who’s sold for the past twenty years, Oren has seen a lot of change. “It’s tempting to talk about trends, but when I look back at my career the one thing that stands out is that as sellers we have way more information than we ever had in the past. Today we can use LinkedIn, Glassdoor, etc.; and customers have much more info too. But, the biggest change that I’ve understood is that today, today, selling and buying is definitely a team effort,” he said.

He continues, “from a sellers perspective, the sales process is a team exercise. For every active deal I have at least one sales engineer/solutions architect; a contracts/legal person; I usually have value engineers involved as well that help build the business case; I have proposal writers; I have marketing; I have professional services—it’s a team. It’s my deal, but if they fail then I fail. You never see these people mentioned as part of the sales process, but they’re critical to it.”

Team_Sport_F1_PitStop

Oren is talking about an incredibly complex sales process, with a cycle that can stretch over 12-18 months, so how does this compare to the startup? “It’s the same for startups, but it’s not seen as the same thing. If I’m selling for a startup I can’t close a big deal without a team effort. I need the CEO or founders to get involved. I need marketing on board. I need engineering on-side,” he says.

We focus on the sales person as a hero. We forget that sales reps require different skills to be successful today.

What’s interesting about his perspective is that some sales managers and company executives don’t necessarily see sales as a team effort. “We focus on the salesperson as a hero,” he says. “We forget that sales reps require different skills to be successful today. How do I get visibility to what my other team members are doing? They’re busy so how do I get them interested in helping me?”

“If you have terrible interpersonal communications skills; if you don’t have strong leadership skills; if you’re not trained in team management—guess what? You’re going to have problems,” he says. “This speaks to a fundamental issue with sales training and sales methodologies—communication skills. When you’re inside sales rep you get a script. Fine. In my business it’s useless. When I’m meeting with a customer I have to be in the moment. I have to connect and make a real connection at that point in time. I then need to relate the customer’s requirements back to my team. It requires great communication skills. Nobody is teaching communications skills.”

Communication skills is a huge gap.

Thinking about hiring practices Oren believes that, “communication skills is a huge gap. From a founders’ perspective, they read a book on how to set up a sales org; they bring in consultants to set up the methodology; and marketing pushes out the messaging; but, when the sales rep connects with the customer, it all fails if the rep can’t connect with the customer.”

He continues, “you end up with salespeople that know a product’s features but don’t necessarily know how to communicate value to the customer. They are taught what to communicate, but often times, they’re not capable of executing because they’ve not been shown how to do that. The people doing the hiring aren’t necessarily screening for communication ability.”

It used to be that having good communication skills meant being comfortable speaking in front of people, but listening is an equally important part of communication. Processing, analyzing and learning from what you’ve heard enables you to provide value to your customers.

It was in the early days of Hootsuite, when the company was still based in Vancouver’s Railtown, that Oren spoke to the sales team about his technique for using LinkedIn to build relationships with prospects and customers. His talk lasted about 20 minutes, and by the end of it, he had demonstrated how to weaponize the business-oriented social network.

1024px-LinkedIn_Logo.svgHis LinkedIn techniques weren’t magical, but by sharing his process, which is methodic and disciplined, he showed how real connections could be made with customers. Much of what he talked about that day was is what you’ll discover when reading about social selling from so-called “experts”, but he presented it without all the hype and distraction of self-promotion.

At a recent SumTotal internal sales team conference, Oren again presented a talk about his methodology for winning Public Sector deals with personalized RFPs. He’s had great success in winning RFPs, killing his quota in the process, so naturally, sales management is interested to know what the secret is to his success.

Nobody talks about the need to personalize an RFP response.

“Buyers, especially in the public sector, make all decisions by committee and those decisions are driven by consensus. It’s also similar for large enterprise. You need to influence a team of people with divergent interests. You have to have the patience to differentiate every conversation and every element of an RFP response to address the individual, personalizing it for that member of the team. If I’m speaking with a technical person or if I’m talking to a CFO I can’t have the same conversation but a lot of reps do, and they take a similar approach when writing an RFP response.”

Sales Management wants to understand why Oren is successful when other’s are struggling. He says, “If I look at my colleagues, the ones that are struggling for success, and I take out of consideration the level of effort they’re putting into their activity, it all comes down to their ability to communicate. The ones that struggle the most can’t get meetings. Or, if they do get a meeting they can’t get close to closing the deal because they can’t connect with the customer. They don’t stand out, they don’t connect emotionally with the buying team, and they don’t adapt their message. In most cases, it’s not even ‘their’ message that they’re delivering, buyers can tell when it’s not authentic.”

“Likewise, it has huge implications on how you design communication systems in a company. If your sales team doesn’t know how to communicate you’re going to lose deals.” He continues, “internal communication issues can cost you deals–especially if you need to make changes in product and your product team doesn’t understand what it is you are asking of them.”

Next week will feature Part 2 of our interview, where Oren and I discuss his amazing track record on blind RFPs and an interesting shift in perspective that changed how he sells software.

Startup Selling – Part 4 | Social Selling

Social Selling, Storytelling, CRMs and Tools

In this final post with Ethan, we continue the conversation about his approach to social selling, his take on CRMs and wraps things up with a review of some of the tools he uses to do his job.

With all the talk about social selling, it’s easy for a sales rep to get caught up in the feeling that you have to get on board or miss out on hitting your targets. However, the worst thing a sales rep can do when attempting to sell socially is to push out sales offers through Twitter or LinkedIn and call it ‘social selling’—that’s called Spam.

It’s 100% not going to work and is in fact just lazy. Take the time to think about your prospect. What makes them tick? What is going to get them excited about your product? Now find a way to build a story about your product and the solution you’re offering that your prospect will find absolutely irresistible. Next, find a way to authentically connect with your prospect. Social Selling is all about communication, and that involves both talking and listening.

Storytelling is a great tool but it’s hard for me. I have to work at it because it doesn’t come naturally.​

Ethan continues, “a lot of good storytelling comes from experience and good sales reps will find a way to adapt their experience with other customers, whether that’s objections or challenges that the product has helped the customer overcome, and make that relevant for the prospective customer. I’ve been selling software for more than ten years now so I have a good repertoire of experience that I can draw on, but it still works.”

The good news for today’s sales reps is that the number of tools at their disposable is virtually endless. Much to the chagrin of the IT department, we live in the age of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD). As discussed earlier, this has shifted how tools and software are purchased and deployed and it’s no different for sales reps, as they determine what works best for them in their process.

My company uses Salesforce as a CRM, but I use it as infrequently as possible. It just gets in the way of my process.

There’s no doubt that Salesforce is the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools. Salesforce changed the game when Marc Benioff launched his CRM as a SaaS software product in 1999. It took little time for the platform to become the default sales tool for sales teams. If you’ve sold anything in the past five or ten years then you’ve likely used Salesforce. As the platform has matured its complexity has increased exponentially. For sales managers, it’s a very powerful tool. For sales reps, it’s a nightmare.

“My company gave me a PC laptop but I use my own MacBook instead so I use iCloud Notes to keep track of my prospects, customers, and deals. Every customer gets their own note that includes a summary of their LinkedIn profile, primary contact info, contract, and procurement info. As I work an opp, I add relevant information to the Note, such as objections, POC requirements, anything tangible that will have an impact on the deal.”

Most sales managers will insist that their reps document everything in the company CRM so that the company has a record of what’s gone on in the deal and where the deal is at for forecasting purposes. Unfortunately, documenting a deal in a CRM like Salesforce can take away from the time a rep has to work opportunities. The intention of the mandate is good, but the execution exposes a flaw in CRM software design—most applications are built with reporting in mind and this is often at odds with the tools available to the rep.

Most CRMs are terrible products for tracking data. ​​Pulling basic info out of the data, such as the deal stage or the deal size isn’t that hard but that only tells you the basics.

“Most deals don’t follow a clean process. The customer changes his mind, dates get pushed, requirements change, contacts move on and new decision makers enter the picture. How do you track all of this in a CRM?”

What’s more, when a deal does eventually close and the customer relationship shifts from sales to Account Management or Customer Success, the details of the customer engagement captured in the sales process get lost in the CRM. Customers get frustrated at having to provide answers again to questions that they’ve already addressed with the sales rep.

When a deal closes, I hand over my Notes file to the Customer Success team so they know everything they need to know about the customer. When they engage the customer with a post-sale kick-off call they don’t have to ask them all the same questions over again that already came out in the sales process.

Selling SaaS is as much about offering a compelling solution as it is about instilling confidence in the customer that your product or service is going to deliver. There’s nothing as off-putting to a customer as feeling that the company they’ve just invested five or six figures with on software license is going to let them down because the sales and customer success teams don’t know how to talk to each other. The customer wants to know that they’ve been heard and the best way to build confidence and trust post-sale is to demonstrate that your company understands its customers.

Thanks to Ethan for his candour. Opening up about one’s individual process isn’t easy, but I believe the most successful reps are the ones that share. Why? Because for every opportunity for a rep to shares his or her experience there will be ten more opportunities to learn from someone else. Sharing ideas and discussing challenges builds a sales team’s capacity and resilience—and it’s something I believe every sales manager should encourage.

This concludes our session with Ethan. Next week the Startup Thinking blog examines Public Sector sales with an interview with Oren Friedman.

 

 

 

 

Startup Selling – Part 3 | Managing Pipeline

Managing Pipeline in a Shifting World

In the second Startup Selling post, we talked about pipeline and discussed the best course of action to avoid pressuring the customer as a sales rep works a deal through its various stages. But, in an ever-shifting world of startup software sales how does a sales rep manage pipeline to keep her customers and her manager happy? Ethan tells us how he approaches this challenge.

“I’m conservative with pipeline, but I’m comfortable with reporting up my numbers and standing behind the progress of those deals. My approach is to go into a quarter knowing that I’m likely to only close 2-3 deals. I look at what’s in the pipeline and what has a legitimate chance of closing. Once I’ve identified those deals I take half of the deal value and set that as my initial commit.”

So, how does this work with KPIs that sales managers rely on? Salesforce has gathered a lot of data, producing a corresponding set of metrics that many sales managers follow. Common wisdom suggests that more revenue in the pipeline results in more closed deals.

When you think about it, a rep can probably work a maximum of 10-15 opportunities at any one time—and a more realistic number is probably five.

“As I work through end-of-quarter I update my commit forecast as Stage 1 deals gets closer to close, or I move them out of quarter completely. Everything else gets moved out to pipeline, so it’s out of visibility in the quarter. It’s better than lowering your forecast and it works better for SaaS sales.”

Thinking more about sales metrics, another KPI that sales managers rely on is the number of touches a rep has with a prospect. The rule of thumb suggests that 10-12 touches are required to close a deal. Think about that for a moment—10-12 touches!

If we’re talking about total customer interactions that number might be reasonable, but if we’re talking about the number of touches applied to a prospect to qualify or engage them then that’s bordering on harassment. The sad reality is that many sales managers expect a prospect to get that many touches before there’s an opportunity attached to their name.

I believe the first touch should always be email. The customer doesn’t want a call out of the blue from someone they don’t know.

“I don’t even like it when my wife calls me out of the blue. I prefer it that she text me—otherwise, I think the house is on fire. Selling today requires a sales rep to be patient and wait for a response from the prospect. One thing I do that seems to work is to schedule an email that sends out at specific times in local timezones. Thinking like a customer, if they’re commuting into work why not hit them with a message on the way to work so they have time to digest it before they get in the office.”

Sales Metrics

Metric_Speed_ballonicon2.svgThis turns conventional sales wisdom on its head. Salesforce will tell you that 48% of sales reps don’t reach out a second time to prospective leads. I definitely do not recommend tossing out 50% of your leads, however thinking about how you would want to be engaged as a prospect is a good place to start developing sales management KPIs that reflect today’s busy and distracted buyer.

“Everyone today is so busy, so as a sales rep you need to understand that your sale is never going to be the highest priority for your customer. You cannot harass people with multiple calls a week or even a day to get them to close. Sales managers ask you to do this but it’s the completely wrong approach. Sales reps have better success to sit back and wait and let the customer come to you.”

You cannot force someone to buy something if they don’t want to buy it. You can try, you can call them, and email them and hit them up on Twitter or LinkedIn, but if they’re not ready to buy they’re not going to buy no matter what you do. If a customer is nervous, and not getting back to you or telling you putting off setting a close date, stop haranguing them and start thinking about the possible reasons why.

“You may not like what you’re hearing as a rep, but you need to think about the person on the other end of the relationship—the purchaser. They could be delaying a close for the simple reason that they’re nervous about making a decision because their job is potentially on the line. If a customer ever asks you why she should spend money on your product, I usually answer with the following ‘because it’s my job to make you look good and get you promoted.’”

If sales reps start thinking this way, you shift the conversation from something transactional to something personal. It’s a solid strategy to help your customer manage up. If you sincerely believe that by buying your product you will improve your customer’s chance of moving up the corporate ladder and you work to provide them with the tools to make the argument internally to their manager, and their manager’s manager, then you set yourself apart from the competition because you’re demonstrating that you care about the individual on the other end of the deal and not just the deal.

Social Selling 2

There’s a lot of noise about social selling. Like any other trend, social selling has lost its meaning as more so-called experts jump on the bandwagon, offering their personal take on how to sell with social media. It’s sadly become just another buzzword championed by sales gurus and positioned as an opportunity to get ahead of the competition. Really, what these ‘experts’ are doing is taking advantage of our collective propensity for laziness. Sales reps are always looking for an edge, and if possible an easier way to do things and social selling is often positioned as alchemists’ gold.

At the end of the day, social selling is about building relationships. Remembering that you’re dealing with human beings can be tough when it’s your job on the line, but if sales reps build relationships with people, real relationships, then their chances of success will increase exponentially. Understanding the person behind the lead starts before your first outreach.

I spend time to learn three to five things about the customer before I get on a call with them. LinkedIn is a go-to resource.

“I pay particular attention to how the customer describes themselves. Check out their role in the company, how has it evolved over time, what’s their background and alma mater? Also, make sure you visit the company website because there may be more intel there. Basically, do your homework. Try to understand what kind of person you’re interacting with before you call or email them, because it’s not hard, and it sets you apart from 95% of other sales reps.”

 

 

Startup Selling + SaaS – Part 2

Who’s Actually Buying SaaS Software?

In part 1 we looked at how changes in the software product model have affected the way in which sales reps are selling into organizations. Another major shift and one that has had a big impact on the predictability of revenue projections is how software is purchased and consumed today—and it has to do with the person who’s actually doing the purchasing. Our sales rep interview continues with Ethan providing real-life examples from his sales experience.

“It used to be that the IT department carried the responsibility for purchasing software for the organization. IT worked with the company executive to identify requirements, allocate budget and oversee an installation and maintenance process.

IT developed and followed a clear process and as a vendor, you worked within that process to fulfill requirements. As a customer, the IT team was a sophisticated buyer. As a sales manager, this made it much easier to develop a sales methodology mirrored on this process. But, that’s no longer the case.”

Marketing departments are buying a lot more software today and Marketing is a lot less evolved as a purchaser, and in fact doesn’t want IT to get involved in the purchase cycle, but that makes for much less predictable cycles.

“Sales Managers often push their SaaS sales reps to create a sequence of events and ‘hold the customer accountable,’ but that’s an old-school approach. Today, the purchaser is purchasing a tool rather than a mission-critical component of the business, so missing a purchase date isn’t a big deal for the customer.”

When you look at Enterprise companies, the complexity of managing the purchase, deployment, and training of staff requires a sophisticated process to ensure a solid return on investment. However, with the shift in organizational purchasing patterns from a traditional and predictable IT model to one that is driven by the requirements of a specific use-case or department then you end up with something that is much less predictable.

Consider this: how many times have you had a conversation with a prospect who tells you that they want to deploy your product in 4-6 weeks, which is great until your customer discovers that the deal has to go through procurement, adding six months to the sales cycle.

“In the good old days, the IT team would have been upfront about the purchasing cycle. Today, your sales contact may not understand or even know about their company’s purchasing policies.”

Sales Managers have a really tough job and it’s only going to get more difficult. I feel for them because their skill set, one built from experience based on an older and different model, needs to evolve rapidly to reflect their current SaaS reality. Thankfully, startups provide a good model for understanding how to address this new reality. And what’s more good news is that the tools for success are built around a sales methodology that’s repeatable, so maybe things aren’t as dire as they first seem.

“I was lucky to have an old-school IBM guy show me the ropes. He was taught a formal sales methodology at IBM, one with a structured pipeline that included specific stages and probabilities, which made forecasting much easier. He taught me this methodology and it provided me with a great foundation in sales without even knowing. I still use it today.”

If you would like access to a PDF outlining a successful procurement/close methodology sign-up for the CapacityFlux Startup Thinking newsletter and we’ll send you a copy for free.