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!

 

Sales Software 2.0 – Conversational Sales and Intelligent Bots

Stop reading email, and start having conversations with your customers

Sales 2.0; Inbound Marketing/Inbound Sales; Sales Enablement; Cold Calling is Dead. Long live Cold Calling 2.0—you’ve heard the hype. Some of it’s true. Sales has indeed changed a great deal in a short amount of time. What’s also interesting about all the fuss around the ‘new sales model’ is that, well, there’s a lot of noise, and cutting through the clatter to get to the heart of the message can be a challenge.

Take sales software for instance. What new tools do sales reps actually use to get their job done more effectively. Salesforce would love you to say Salesforce, but the reality is reps like to spend as little time in, on or around Salesforce (sorry Marc it’s true). I could posit many reasons why that is, but the reality is that sales reps want to spend their time engaging and interacting with customers. Updating Salesforce with the bare minimum of information to keep their bosses happy is what most reps do, but the cloud based CRM is not a primary tool that most reps use to get their jobs done.

How to be successful in sales

Ask a successful sales rep what makes them effective in their job, and odds are they’re going to mention that being a good listener counts; or understanding the customer’s requirements is critical; and, of course being a trusted advisor to their customers is key. It’s a relationship based interaction. Ironically, the ‘R’ in CRM is often the one component that gets forgotten as companies scale.

LinkedIn, Twitter, email, phone calls—these are the tools that enable reps to build relationships with customers IRL. I’d add one more tool the list—AI-powered live chat because as most reps will acknowledge timing is also part of being successful.

Website chat has rapidly evolved, from a somewhat awkward integration that felt like more an intrusion on the customer’s journey, to something much more useful. The integration of artificial or assisted intelligence is something that makes chat really, ah, come to life.

As companies allocate more resources towards inbound marketing (thanks Hubspot), it only makes sense to engage the customer as quickly as possible once they’ve visited your website, and what could be more helpful than a friendly chat bot on your company site? Let me qualify that, a friendly and intelligent chat bot on your website.

As radical as this sounds, don’t make your customers fill out forms on your website. It may seem like a good idea because that’s how inbound works, but we’ve been asking customers to do that for 20 years, and arguably it’s a tired way of capturing customer intent. If I’m on your website now and I’m interested in getting some info about a product or service, don’t make me fill out a form, and wait for a response.

Enable your customers to engage with you in real-time. Stop reading email, and start having conversations with your customers. I know it sounds a little ‘out there’, but it wasn’t that long ago when inbound marketing made a lot of marketers uncomfortable.

If you’d like to learn how your business can take advantage of this technology use chat us up (see the bottom right of this screen).

Sales Enablement Best Practices

Top 5 Sales Enablement Best Practices for SME Business

If you are in a sales leadership role you are most definitely a busy person these days. You’ve likely spent the past few months reviewing your department’s annual performance with an eye to next year as you develop corporate strategy and revenue projections. Of course, there’s also the matter of year-end, something that demands exponentially more attention as we approach the 31st of December, which happens to be a Sunday this year, but of course, you already knew that.

As you diligently Cratchit-away the remaining days in the quarter and year, you can be forgiven for not giving your 2018 plans your full and undivided attention. But, come January, when thoughts of sugar plum fairies have already faded, you will be fully engaged in the next fiscal, and the challenge of how to increase your team’s performance and efficiency will be unavoidable. If you are thinking about the content, tools and training your team will require to be more effective then you’re thinking about sales enablement.

If the phrase ‘sales enablement’ is a little unfamiliar then don’t worry because it hasn’t hit peak-hype yet, which means that if you’re reading this article you should give yourself a pat on the back because your business acumen and good instincts are second to none.

“Sales enablement is the technology, processes, and content that empower sales teams to sell efficiently at a higher velocity.”

Hubspot’s definition of sales enablement captures the essence of the activity in its simplest form: “Sales enablement is the technology, processes, and content that empower sales teams to sell efficiently at a higher velocity.”

Start thinking of sales enablement as an overall strategy rather than a quick fix, one-size-fits-all training session. It’s a process that you should engage in continuously because it is something that is never done.

CapacityFlux has put together this list of the top five sales enablement best practices to help you prepare for the New Year. The intent is to get you off and running with an effective sales enablement strategy and practice for 2018.

Sales Enablement Best Practice #1 – Make the buyer’s experience central to your sales enablement strategy

The most effective thing you can do as a manager is to consider how your sales and marketing activities map to the buyer’s journey. Sales enablement is all about addressing the customer or buyer’s requirements.

It’s no secret that the internet has changed how customers purchase today. Once a customer has identified an issue they turn to the internet and begin researching that problem, inevitably stumbling upon content that validates their issue and provides potential solutions. This is the premise of inbound marketing, and again, you shouldn’t be surprised that sales enablement and inbound marketing are closely linked.

Providing your sales team with access to relevant resources that buyers are looking for is critical. If you know who your customer is, and where they are on the buyer’s journey then you will also have a good idea of when the customer will want access to information that is relevant to their progressive journey through your sales funnel.

Sales Enablement Best Practice #2 – Understand and Map Your Customer Touchpoints

Think of every opportunity a customer has to interact with your business—there are probably quite a few. Think about how they might discover your brand. Did they look you up because they just suddenly knew who you were? Nope. They did some googling and discovered your company for a reason, probably because your content marketing is working. Now think about all the other ways a customer could discover your business: social media, phone calls, trade shows, email correspondence, newsletters, conferences, webinars, white papers, case studies—you get the idea. Those touchpoints represent all your customer touchpoints. Now map that out.

Sales Enablement Best Practice #3 – Connect Customer Touchpoints to Content Throughout the Buyer’s Journey

Does marketing or sales own the customer touchpoint for a case study? The answer may depend on which stage the customer is at in the buyer’s journey. A white paper discussing the relevant challenges of an industry use-case, distributed across social media channels might attract a customer during the awareness phase, but a more specific customer case study supplied in an email interaction with a helpful sales rep might be what’s required during the consideration phase of the buyer’s journey.

Or, if the customer’s problem is complex, and they spend a lot of time in the consideration or evaluation stage you may find reasons for providing more educational content that helps them decide if your product or service is the right fit.

Knowing how and when customers interact with your content will greatly improve its effectiveness. This, in turn, will also help you stand out from the sea of vendors that are literally throwing content at their customers in the hope that some of it will stick. Remember, hope is not a strategy.

Sales Enablement Best Practice #4 – Ruthlessly Qualify Your Leads

If you haven’t read my post on lead qualification I recommend you do. Better lead qualification can significantly improve your sales team’s performance and efficiency. Understand your ideal customer, realized in your buyer personas, and start categorizing and qualifying leads against those personas. Do not invest time in selling to prospects that are not ready to buy, or that do not fit your ideal customer profile. If you aggressively qualify leads it will save your company time and money, because you won’t waste resources chasing down customers that are a bad fit.

Sales Enablement Best Practice #5 – Get Technology Out of the Way

Don’t let technology roadblock your success. It’s tempting to look at the ‘shiny new thing’ and hope it’s going to help you hit your number, but before investing time and effort on a new system consider providing training on the tools and process you already have in place. Effective sales enablement seeks to remove roadblocks and improve efficiencies.

Technology is a double-edged sword. It enables us to do so much more, whether it’s being more efficient or increasing the impact of our efforts, but it can also become a barrier to success if the product or platform itself becomes the raison-d’être rather than the solution to a problem it is ultimately intended to deliver.

A familiar example of a massive potential tech roadblock is your CRM. Customer Relationship Management technology manages your company’s customer relationships and interactions, and it’s a critical requirement for any business today. Tools such as Salesforce, Hubspot or Pipedrive all include a CRM as a component of their platforms.

However, as you will quickly discover, the CRM is just one small part of a much more complex set of tools. The why’s of low consumption/adoption rates is a topic for another post, but the root of frustration for so many sales reps is often the convoluted and onerous process that builds up around the function of using and maintaining a CRM.

Knowing the consumption rates of the tools in your toolbox will help you understand where your sales force spends its time. Check out the login rates on your CRM. Odds are it’s lower than you think. I know a lot of sales people that hate using their CRM and only interact with it when they have to. The likelihood of success of your sales enablement strategy will be greatly impacted if it is designed around a CRM that nobody uses.

new-years-eve-2776646_960_720These sales enablement best practices are designed to help you focus on activities that will contribute the most value to your sales activity in the coming months. You may already be following some of these best practices without knowing it, and if not there’s still time to get your team ready for the next fiscal.

Best of luck in 2018!

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.

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.

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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.

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.