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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

IS YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING WORKING?

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who is CEO of a thriving retail business. He was telling me how much success he was having with Facebook as a marketing tool. Having previously worked for Hootsuite—a social media management tool—I was pleased to hear that social media was helping my friend build his business.

My friend told me how other business owners have started approaching him to ask him for advice on how they could leverage social media to increase sales. He’s too busy working on his business to start consulting, but he was amazed how frequently other business owners confided in him how little they knew about social media.

They were sharing horror stories of out-of-control customer complaints, posts that failed to connect with an audience and generally a lack of social success. They wanted my friend to fix their Facebook problem.

Social media for all its popularity can still be a challenge for business owners. Using old school sales pitches and traditional PR messaging just doesn’t work. The complaints my friend was hearing are a commonly shared frustration for startups that are trying to leverage social media.

If a customer walked in the door would you hand them a brochure and point them to the checkout line and wish them luck? I hope not! Many businesses do exactly that with their social posts. What kind of relationship are you building with your customer?

Start getting your social on by thinking about which social media network makes the most sense for your business to be active in. Don’t be a Jack of all trades and a master of none. Where do your customers live on social media? Are they on Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? Does your sales process lend itself to one network over another? Begin there.

And how will you define success? Is Facebook is better at driving customers to your business or do you get more traction on LinkedIn? How do you know? Are you asking your customers how they found out about your business? Better yet, track every interaction you can.

We live in the era of big data, so start using it.