A Blueprint for Digital-First Selling with Jeff Davis

Our seventh episode  of Ready, Set, Sell recently aired featuring Jeff Davis, associate director of business and brand strategy at AbbVie and the founder and principal of Aligned Growth Strategies. In case you weren’t able to tune in, we’ve got a recap of the podcast below, covering major themes such as:

  • The importance of strategically aligning sales and marketing
  • Establishing a 360-degree view of the buyer
  • Using digital tools to seamlessly engage your customer
  • Retaining employee and customer attention
  • The eight steps to digital-first selling
  • Establishing a feedback loop from sales to marketing
  • Metrics that matter more than closing deals
  • NASA engineering and Dr. Suess

Who is Jeff Davis?

Tony: When it comes to finding success in any industry, pursuit, or discipline, perspective is everything.

Hannah: And, as today’s guest reminds us, having the capacity to understand multiple perspectives at once can be an invaluable skill in today’s market.

Tony: This is especially true for sales and marketing teams. In any organization, these two teams need to work together synergistically to produce the best results. But we all know that understanding the business through both a sales and marketing lens can be a challenge.

Hannah: That’s why I’m so excited about our guest today, who is Jeff Davis, the associate director of business and brand strategy at AbbVie and the founder and principal of Aligned Growth Strategies. Jeff has spent most of his career helping B2B leaders align their sales and marketing teams to optimize outcomes overall.

Tony: And he’s here with us today to share his top tricks of the trade when it comes to sales and marketing alignment, digital-first selling, and some of the key ingredients of accelerating revenue growth. You’re sure to walk away from this episode feeling more motivated than ever, inspired and knowledgeable more than ever before. Enjoy the episode.

Hannah: Hey, Jeff, welcome to the podcast.

Jeff: Hey, how are you? Thank you for having me.

Hannah: You need to bless the listeners with your incredible career journey and give everybody a bit of insight into how you went from being a mechanical engineer at NASA to transitioning into a technical healthcare sales role. I need to hear this.

Jeff: As you said, Hannah, I started my educational career at Purdue as a mechanical engineer. I always loved math and science. My mom actually was a math professor, so I couldn’t really be bad at math because that would look really bad. Right before I graduated, actually, I was interning at NASA and asked people what I should do with the rest of my life. Surprisingly, the two answers I got from the consultants we were working with was either sales or consulting, to which I said at the time absolutely not, because I just spent five years of my life getting this degree. I’m going to go be an engineer. But after undergrad, I actually took a leap of faith. I said, well, maybe they’re right. Right. You know, what’s the worst-case scenario? I can always go back to engineering. And so eventually ended up in healthcare sales. I’d always had an interest in healthcare and biotech and that sort of thing. And it actually stuck. Like, I really enjoyed it. I did well. I started my career at Pfizer as a rep here in Chicago. And I believe that a lot of the engineering process that I learned in school actually helped me be a successful salesperson. So, it all kind of came together.

Tony: Well, it’s funny, when I looked into your background, I got a little intimidated right away because I think you’re the first NASA engineer I’ve ever spoken to in person. I appreciate you joining here, of course. When you think about the world of B2B sales, what interests you the most and, in particular, about increasing revenue growth?

Jeff: It really does go back to the beginning of my journey. What I found as a rep is that there were many times that I felt there was a disconnect between us as boots on the ground and what marketing was doing. Back then — and industries have changed, and companies have gotten better at this— but it was very much an ivory tower. Like we said, strategy. If it doesn’t work, doesn’t happen. It’s the salespeople’s fault. And we’ll get to that in a second. But we would be frustrated because we’d be asking for things, and saying we really need to have these conversations. And, obviously, if you’re a seasoned salesperson, you can try to figure it out or you just make it on your own or whatnot but that’s not sustainable. At that time, that’s what motivated me actually to go back to business school because I didn’t have the language or the visibility to articulate what I was feeling. I knew something was off, I knew there was a disconnect. But at that vantage point, I’m only boots on the ground. I don’t see all the things that are happening, you know, behind the scenes. And so once I went back to business school, I transformed myself into a marketer, as I say, and then I joined the brand team as a brand lead.

And, you know, and I talk about this on my LinkedIn, I’m a marketer with the soul of the salesperson, right. Like I will always be at my core a salesperson. No matter where I go and what I do, I’ve been a marketer for years. But I got in selfishly to advocate for salespeople. I was going to go to the corporate office and tell them what reps needed and all that sort of thing. And when I got there and started working with super-smart people, I realized they just didn’t have the vantage point of being a seller. It wasn’t that they had like this goal to make our lives difficult or they didn’t care. They just didn’t have that last little step of like actually talking to a customer.

What I found was it wasn’t that sales and marketing hated each other. I believe they fundamentally don’t understand each other and that’s what causes conflict.

Hannah: Not everybody’s going to know who AbbVie are so I’d love for you to share a bit about your role at AbbVie and what drew you to that company in particular.

Jeff: At AbbVie, we’ve taken a really proactive approach to the fact that the industry as a whole has had to rethink what being patient-centric really is. Pharma tends to be a very conservative industry for many reasons. We’re making really significantly large investments in disease areas and therapeutic areas. But I think what we’re doing is rethinking what it means to be patient-centric — or customer-centric. Right. We have multiple customers. Their patients are the payers that we interact with.

So we’re looking at how do we leverage this kind of digital-first landscape in order to create increased intimacy with our customers and patients and really understand what they need and be able to engage them in a way that looks very different than we did a decade to three ago, because the world is different.

And if you really want to help people and you really want to get into their lives and help them understand what is out there that could potentially help save their life or make their life better. You’ve got to do it differently.

Hannah: I think it just goes much deeper when you start thinking about customer-centricity in general, something that we talk about a lot in the B2B space. So when you talk about patients and healthcare, it’s just much deeper. So thinking about your passion, your experience, and your love for counseling sales and marketing teams and creating alignment. Just, just go a little bit deeper. On why it’s so crucial for accelerating revenue growth.

Jeff: A lot of people will hang their hat on COVID and how that has changed things. And I absolutely believe that is true. But I think more than anything, it’s really brought to light some processes and things that were broken. It just made it worse. These themes, these issues that we’ve had have been brewing for quite some time, but a lot of us have relied on volume to mask the underlying infrastructure issues. Really today, because everything is so digital and because we’ve really been pushed into the future, it’s imperative that we change the way we sell and market. And a lot of companies are not realizing that the buyer is demanding a different experience.

And for some reason, we don’t look at our own personal lives, and interactions with B2C and see the parallel to B2B. We are humans buying from other humans. And while there are, there are unique things that are very B2C, right? I get that. But fundamentally, we as B2B should be looking at our B2C cousins and being like, how do we mimic that in our space?

Because people are getting more comfortable with buying larger purchases online. People do want more virtual human interactions. They don’t want traditional sales reps coming by as much, right? We have to take this hybrid approach. All of that stuff is happening. And I think a lot of revenue leaders and senior leaders that have been doing this for a really long time have been quite committed to saying yes, we fundamentally need to change the way that we go to market. That’s what’s causing some of this friction. And a lot of people seeing stagnant growth or declining growth are doing so because the way in which they’re engaging with the marketplace is out of date.

Tony: There are so many different things that you do, Jeff, from you know, you were a company founder, you’re a speaker, you’ve got a podcast, but you’re also an author. So in speaking about the book, you know, what is togetherness really mean to you and how can sales leaders use that to apply to their everyday roles?

Jeff: When I was in the early stages of my work, when I was just blogging, it hit me one day. And this is a\the true marketer in me, right? I was wondering about the ethos of what I’m trying to communicate. Togetherness can mean and does mean a lot of different things, but it is really beyond having skin in the game. It is a kind of omni joined presence where you always feel like you’re enmeshed with your counterpart. You can anticipate their needs. You have a strong sense of empathy because you know what their challenges are.

Tony: If you think about it, selling is a social event. I mean, people buy from people. And if you don’t take that concept to heart, you’re not really going to get to the next level of where you want to be in a successful organization.

Jeff: You are hundred percent correct. And we’re at a juncture where, as a revenue leader, whether it be sales and marketing, if you don’t fundamentally understand how much you need your counterpart, you are not going to be successful. Everybody is focused on the last 10, 20 percent of whatever it is of the buyer journey. Right. Some people say it’s 57, 75, 78, whatever, whatever the number is, we’ll say 57 to 75. If we’re all focused on that last 10, 15, 20 percent, we are just bombarding targets with the same stuff. And I said, There’s this open green pasture over here. Or they’re actually researching, they’re forming their ideas, they’re clarifying what their challenges are. And no one’s there. But you know who stereotypically is already there? Marketing. As a sales leader, your job is to get your people into the right conversations with the right type of accounts. That’s fundamentally your remit.

If you don’t understand what marketing is putting out into the marketplace and you don’t understand the messages and the story they’re telling, you are not doing your job as a sales leader.

Hannah: One thing you mentioned was that customers are demanding a different experience. And if I think about some of the conversations I have, I don’t even think they all know what that looks like. It just needs to be different. It needs to be more accommodating to their needs. Now, based on the fact that we are more virtual now, how would you start to define in your own words what digital-first setting is and why it’s important today?

Jeff: I look at it as using all of our digital tools, resources, etc. content to identify, target and really seamlessly engage today’s buyer. Right? To your point, we’re very much more enmeshed in digital. We’re always online. So we’re just using all these collective tools together to target, to identify, and then to engage with our buyers. Because the front end of this buying experience has become more virtual, more digital. People are starting their buyer journey with search. An estimated — I think — 80 plus percent or 90 percent of B2B buyers are starting their journey with digital search. Ninety percent is a lot. So think about that. If 90 percent of the people are starting there and this is just B2B. Ninety percent of people start on a journey digitally. If you’re not there, you’re not even making the shortlists companies are considering.

Finding one’s niche

Tony: So, Hannah, I talk to a lot of different salespeople. They’re always trying to find out what is the niche or what’s the market that I should be selling into or how should I do these sorts of things? So how did you find the niche in what you’re doing?

Hannah: That’s a really good question, actually. I think about this a lot because at the start of my career, I was, and you might have experienced this as well. There was a lot of structure. Like you had like one career path as a salesperson. It’s like you do some inbound stuff and you’re in the trenches and then maybe you have a little target and then you’re just on the road. That’s it. That’s what you do. And then maybe you’re a leader. And I think a lot of that’s changed. But I am I was following this path that was dictated by the industry for probably half of my career. I started to get a bit chill. I don’t know, something’s missing here. I don’t know what I should be doing, but I don’t know if I like this.

I started to transition more into mentoring and onboarding people and coaching and team leadership and leading a few teams. I like this, that this is what I enjoy. I kind of carved out that helping and enabling other people to be incredible sales individuals. This is really where my niche is but it took me doing everything. And I’m a massive doer. I’m like, there’s an idea. Someone says, try this. I just do it. I just do it and figure it out. So yeah, I had to do a lot of stuff and fail at some things to realize that actually, this is my sweet spot.

Tony: You know, it’s brilliant. When I graduated from college, I knew right away that I wanted to host a Ready, Set, Sell podcast someday. You know, this is well before podcasts were even a thing, but I fell into sales. It wasn’t anything that I thought was going to be my future career path. I started doing it to get beer money at the time. But I found out that I was empathetic, and I was good at it, and I was listening to what people wanted. I tried a couple of things that really didn’t work. And eventually, I found a niche that worked well for me. I was able to apply the things that I did well with my work ethic tied directly to it, and that just put me onto the path to where I am now — sitting here in a room with you. I couldn’t think of a better spot for me to be in my career right now.

Hannah: Tony, finding alignment between sales and marketing is an important step to take on the road to success. As Jeff reminds us, it’s really that simple.

Tony: Yeah, it is. And usually, a company’s senior leadership team, including the CEO, needs to be on board when it comes to major culture shifts and those that lag behind will ultimately lose out on opportunities for success.

Hannah: I think Jeff’s concept of togetherness really captures the need for greater empathy across the board and more effective communication among teams.

Tony: Absolutely. I think that’s key because, without a deep understanding of the organization’s needs, you won’t get far in the world of sales or marketing. Togetherness is about anticipating each other’s needs and recognizing the value of other roles within the organization… so we can really begin to view the company as a cohesive whole instead of as a fragmented jigsaw puzzle.

Hannah: And this has only become more important in recent years as the pandemic accelerated many of the shifts that were already in motion. Let’s hear what Jeff has to say about the shift to digital-first selling and how sales execs can make the most of the changes.

Eight steps to digital-first selling

Tony: Companies are still struggling to figure out their selling identity. You know, as people are starting to convert to this digital-first selling, what tips or strategies would you recommend people to think about as they’re really trying to develop this identity?

Jeff: I did an article for Selling Power where I go through the eight steps of digital-first selling. Can I bore your audience with these eight steps?

Tony: They will not get bored. I can guarantee.

Jeff: The first one is understanding the buyer-first mindset. Fundamentally as a leadership team, you’ve got to accept that the way that we buy is different. Like did a search first, digital-first, etc. The second one, which a lot of people overlook, is establishing a 360-degree view of the buyer. This means connecting all of your data sources. So that’s web, that’s email, that’s social, that’s your CRM. One of the reasons that we make very suboptimal decisions is because we have suboptimal data and we have a suboptimal view of the customer.

So if I’m a sales leader and I don’t really interact with marketing, I may not have visibility to all the touchpoints that we’ve had with that customer prior to my seller getting in front of them. All I have is what my seller has done, which is not the complete picture. We’ve got to connect all those resources. And whether you do it internally or you hire somebody out to do that, it’s got to be connected. Because today it is table stakes to have a full view of our customer interactions.

After we do that, then we want to develop a cross-functional ideal customer profile (ICP) because I’ve also seen companies have different ICP between marketing and sales. I’m like, That’s interesting. That’s not the same person. How is that working? So I need an aligned ICP across the organization and I don’t believe in creating that out of just how we feel. I want to look at your CRM. I want to look at closed deals. And I want to see proof that that is true because there are people that the ICP that we want to be true and there’s ICP that is true.

And then I also want to dig a level deeper and look at does that ICP provide us the most ROI? After we have our clarity in our ICP, then we need to develop a buyer’s journey. This is for marketers more so than salespeople. I don’t mean developing a buyer’s journey in a vacuum where we never actually talk to customers.

I mean, actually being really thoughtful and using all inputs like input from sales — like that last deal you closed, walk us through how that went. Where do you think that we can do things differently? And then actually talking to customers and saying like, tell us about your internal buying process.

You may get some people that love you and want to tell you everything. Others may not. But I want to talk to people that we love, that are amazing customers, maybe some mid-tier people, and maybe even those that we’ve lost so that we can start to understand how our buyer buys so we can adapt our sales and marketing to their process and not try to push them through what we want them to go through.

After that, I use what I call a buyer journey matrix where I actually put all of the info I collect for clients. I put all of the stages of the buyer journey. And then I want to litany what we have today that we can deliver on that so they get to the next level or the next stage. And that usually helps me find where there are gaps in your engagement with buyers. And they usually are clear. There’s usually a step. They’re like, “Oh, we really thought we had content or whatever around this, but we don’t.” Then we get to the tools and the tech.

So a lot of us are leading with tools and tech because there’s a nice shiny object in the room. And I say pause. Tech enables us to sell in market better. It is not sales and marketing. So after we get done with tech, then we create a digital sales playbook or a playbook for sales reps.

This is important because, back in my day, there was a very linear process. I did this and then I did this and then I did this and then hopefully close. That is not the case anymore because buyers are coming in from all over the place and sales reps today, in order to be successful, need to understand not the individual tools but how to orchestrate them together.

And then, last but not least, establishing a feedback loop from sales to marketing. Typically, I have seen marketing as a great feedback loop for sales. This is what’s working; this is what you’re doing right; this is what you’re doing wrong. But there’s usually not as robust a mechanism to get feedback from sales. And I don’t mean sales leaders, I mean actually front-line salespeople of what they need and then be able to take that in aggregate to say like, okay, here are the themes where we’re seeing from our sales reps as well as competitive intelligence. Because a lot of times I’ve had instances where you have a conversation with a customer and they tell you something like, “Oh, this starting to shift.” You get that back to marketing, we iterate, and then we can pivot in the marketplace.

So those are the kind of the eight steps that I’ve thought through and identified and helped my folks with. I think it’s a really, really clean framework because there’s a lot to do. But what I really focused on making sure that we understand who we are targeting first, we kind of really build that, that their strategy, we understand how they buy. And then you start to put on the tech and the and all the other stuff in order to able to enable that. So hopefully that was helpful.

Hannah: Thinking about these things and this transition that a lot of companies are trying to make, what are your top suggestions for teams who may be encountering some bumps along the road as they try to make this conversion?

Jeff: I always start with the conversation between sales and marketing. Where can we work together better? How can we partner with each other? What do you do? What are your challenges? I think starting there and understanding what your counterpart does and how what their work affects you is a great way to start. It increases empathy and it also helps you identify ways that you can work together better. And it may not, in the beginning, be a hundred percent right. It may be to your point, maybe it’s just reconciling your ICPs to make sure that you’re at least targeting the right people that my sales rep needs to get in front of. It could be establishing a feedback loop between sales marketing so that they know how they can pivot. It could be getting feedback from sales on the content. Is this content resonating? There are many marketing teams that create and develop content in a silo, like they just don’t get any real feedback. So I think that’s where you start.

I think you also start by trying to think about your digital presence as an organization beyond your brand.com. Right. The majority of the people are not coming to your brand.com as their first step. This is more for marketing and sales, but I think sales should be involved. Looking at your SEO strategy. Looking at your perception in the marketplace and third-party sites.

So, obviously, for SaaS software, G2 is a great place to start, right. Like a lot of people will start with search, they may go to G2 to learn about like the class of products that you sit in and then they’ll learn more about you. But if again, if you’re not in that kind of initial consideration, it’s going to be hard for you to make the shortlist.

I think those are some things you can start with. You know, you don’t have to go fundamental like we’re going by all this new tech and then we’re going to just do digital disruption. That would be nice, right. But for companies that are just starting this journey, it’s not realistic. So it’s about starting to work together better, really thinking through like, what is your digital, what is your digital footprint? And starting to elevate those eventually starting to connect all those things and really map those to the buyer’s journey. I think those are ways to start this process.

Hannah: Like looking at the big picture, what motivates you day to day? What’s the overarching goal that sort of drives you and get you out of bed on those rainy, cloudy days that I see in England every day?

Jeff: Yeah, well, in right in Chicago, it’s about the same right now. At the end of day, it’s frustration and I know it probably doesn’t sound like the answer that most people give, but I still remember as a sales rep in the car, on the road, being frustrated. And it still motivates me today. I think what has evolved is that I now feel like I have a commitment and a duty to help other sales and marketing leaders do it differently and do it better.

I fundamentally believe, and it’s happening more and more now, but back in the day, making a transition from sales into marketing was like parting the seas. They’d be like, you’re a sales rep and you want to be in marketing, well, that doesn’t work. But now that I’ve made that transition and I’ve seen the inside of both, it just really goes back to a marriage concept. If you understood the power of when you guys get each other and you work together, you can’t create these kinds of results on your own. Like you just can’t work in a vacuum or a silo and outdo a company even if they’re smaller. That really is lockstep. I would say frustration motivates me.

Tony: Well, it’s funny, frustration is certainly an issue that I think a lot of salespeople experience. I think another one is distraction, especially over the last couple of years. You know, when people are working from home it’s extremely easy to get distracted. What would you say were some tips that you would give to retain customer interest? I missed all the distractions that are out there right now. There are so many different things out there. So how do you retain employee or customer attention at this point?

Jeff: Consistency always wins. I have seen over the years so many people start campaigns and then, you know, you don’t hear from the can. You can put out okay content. But if you put out that content ecosystem basis and customers start to see you as a good source of information and you’re educating them on a consistent basis and they know they can trust it, you’re going to be there. You will win over somebody that does an amazing, splashy campaign and then goes away.

Hannah: If we think about these things that people these myths and these really weird misconceptions that do exist in B2B sales, what are some of the main ones that you’ve heard or seen in the sales industry that you wish you could put to rest for good?

Jeff: I would say that B2B sales is easy, like anybody off the street can do it. What you’re starting to see is that B2B sales, specifically tech, has become extremely complex. And so, you know, my buddy over Northern Illinois University, Dr. Robert Peterson, is an example of this curriculum starting to pop up that is just focused on professional selling, which did not exist a decade ago.

I would say another one that I used to think was true is that you have to be an extrovert to be good at selling. At the end of the day, selling is really about educating your customers, providing value, and in some instances, depending on who you’re calling on. If you’re super extroverted, it can actually be a detriment. The other one, there always be closing. Did you close the deal? Close, close, close, close, close.

Especially in B2B, there’s a longer sales cycle, and people need to understand that. I would say we shift that mindset to are we getting closer, closer to closing. The question really is, are we providing value? Are we building trust? Those things and those metrics matter more than did I close the sale because that no one’s buying anymore. It just doesn’t work.

Sales podcast rapid fire quesitons

Tony: Jeff, this has been just amazing, probably one of the best podcasts we’ve done, but you’re not done yet. So we’re going to hit you with some rapid-fire questions. First thing that comes to mind, just throw some answers out there and I’ll let Hannah kick it off.

Hannah: All right. So what is your sales philosophy in just three words?

Jeff: Always provide value.

Hannah: And what would you say has been the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career so far?

Jeff: Shut up and listen.

Tony: I’ve heard that so many times, but it wasn’t around sales. But that’s okay. What is your top productivity hack?

Jeff: Focus on the things that provide the highest ROI.

Tony: What’s your top prediction for the sales industry this year?

Jeff: I would say one around sales tech. We’ll see a lot of a lot more consolidation of tools, like these unified platforms. I think that’s probably one that’s top of mind.

Hannah: And if you can share just one piece of advice to all sales professionals, what would it be?

Jeff: Strive to become a trusted advisor in your industry. And, you know, a lot of people have a feeling about that. What I mean is that really know your industry and be able to provide value outside of your product. That I think will make you successful and your target customers will view you as a partner more so than a sales rep.

Tony: Where do you go to get your industry news?

Jeff: I’m always on LinkedIn and I have a couple of newsletters that are just pushing to me, so I’m a little bit all over the place.

Tony: What are the top three apps you could not live without?

Jeff: Okay, so Notion, I have to have. I’m a big music guy, so I would say YouTube and I have the unlimited version so I can listen to it when I work out. The third one, I would say, is probably LinkedIn.

Hannah: Are leaders made or born?

Jeff: Oh, you guys aren’t playing around today.

I would say the same way that people say, “Salespeople are either made or born.” I believe they can be made. I think that, if anybody is coachable enough and open enough to self-improvement, you can transform yourself into whatever you want to be.

Hannah: And last but not least, what books inspired you the most in your career?

Jeff: You know, so this can sound really crazy. What’s a book by Dr. Seuss? “Ah, the Places You’ll Go.” I got this book as a graduation present from a teacher of mine. And you would not imagine the emotional connection I had to that when I actually read it as a high school student. I really read it as going off to college and starting my journey and it just resonated in a very different way, which was to this day, to be honest with you, is surprising. And as I get older, it just means something very different. So that is probably not the answer you’re looking for.

Hannah: I don’t want this to end. I want part two. When are we getting part two on this? I’m learning a lot.

Jeff: Whatever you want part two is when it will happen.

Tony: I mean, how many podcasts have NASA engineers and Dr. Seuss all built into one. I mean, you can’t you can’t beat that. Jeff, thank you so much. This has been an amazing experience for us. We do hope to have you back but thank you again and all the best to you. And go get his book right away.

Hannah: Yeah, definitely.

Jeff: Absolutely. Tony, Hannah, thank you so much. Createtogethernessbook.com and I encourage people to reach out to me on LinkedIn. I love having these conversations and let’s start, let’s make it happen, sales and marketing alignment all the way.

What did we learn?

Tony: So Hannah, I know you’re an elaborate content creator and it’s no secret that we’re living in an attention economy today. So with all the different things that you’re doing, what are some marketing tactics or maybe even sales techniques that draw you in and keep your attention for longer?

Hannah: It’s really simple. It’s people or companies that are keeping it very real. And they strip back the corporate jargon and they talk to humans because, hey, guess what, we’re all humans and we have normal conversations and normal interactions with one another. So I love to see companies start to develop their personality. I think retail brands just get it right, or some of the restaurant brands and they’re on Twitter and that their social media team and at teasing each other like this is this has drawn me and this has captured my attention. And if I think in the sales context, LinkedIn’s my playground, I love it. I, you know, I interact and engage and create a lot of content for LinkedIn. But I love when I come across people who are sharing content around things that are it’s like, this is a new perspective. This is a new way of thinking about a problem that we’re trying to solve and we’re trying to kind of brainstorm rather than the attention-grabbing headlines. So yeah, I’m just like, keep it real and share some new perspectives.

Tony: Well, even though my kids have probably accused me of not being human all the time, I think being human is the most important thing. Right. You really want to be able to be empathetic to someone. You need to establish that rapport and relationship. And especially since there haven’t been that many human interactions that are at least live over the last two years. You have to find a way to really get that connection right. I have problems, I have goals. I have things that I want to do. But, you know, if I can align them to things that are important to the person on the other end of the phone or on the other end of the camera, then that’s going to help me establish a rapport that will differentiate me from someone else I know. You know, over my career, I’ve had tons of customers that I’ve worked with at multiple companies because when you establish that relationship, it doesn’t just go away. When you leave a company or you leave a job, that relationship stays forever.

Hannah: Yeah, I that relationship piece and that connection piece. And for me, it’s also about how people and businesses are just trying to start conversations. Accepting that we don’t know everything and saying let’s have a conversation. How about we start that? I think I  maybe have about 11,000 connections or followers on LinkedIn now and the ones that stand out to me are the people who will trigger conversations with me around something I posted or will share stuff with me and say, “Hey, I know that you were talking about this a few weeks ago. I saw this perspective from this other person. What do you think about that?” And we go back and forth. I love those conversation starters because now I remember that particular person, that guy. And if I think of something, I’m going to go to him first.

Tony: When it comes to sales and marketing alignment, it’s not enough to ensure both teams are on board if you hope to make them stick. The changes need to come from a top-down approach involving members of the senior leadership team.

Hannah: Completely agree. And this is where this concept really comes in. The word helped to illustrate the interconnected approach sales execs should be taking in this fast-paced digital-first world.

Tony: Exactly. They really have to, because, you know, it’s become more important than ever that we all bring a greater sense of empathy to the table, regardless of our role or department. If we can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes will be quicker to respond to the needs of others and see the business from a holistic bird’s-eye perspective.

Hannah: But Tony, another key takeaway from our conversation with Jeff involves making the shift to a true customer-centric approach rather than just paying lip service to the idea.

Tony: Absolutely. And you know, in today’s market, Hannah, buyers are craving a fast, easy and frictionless experience. It’s up to a sales team to deliver that turnkey experience if they hope to accelerate growth and retain customers in the future.

How Tech Can Help You Streamline Your Business Processes with Jacki Leahy

If sales people hope to stay competitive in the industry, they need to stay on top of the latest and greatest tech tools in the game. In the latest episode of the Mindtickle podcast, Ready, Set, Sell, Hannah and Tony sit down with Jacki Leahy, the Head of Revenue Operations at Winning by Design. Specializing in solving startup growth challenges and streamlining business practices to uncover insights and drive growth, Jacki has plenty of sales wisdom to impart with listeners. During this episode, Jacki shares more about her career background (hint: it’s an unexpected one), offers her tips for adopting new tech tools that can help you hit your targets, and lets us in on all her best-kept sales secrets. She also provides some advice for sales executives hoping to find their niche and play to their strengths to optimize performance.

Tony: You know how the world of tech continues to evolve at a rapid pace. And salespeople need to keep up with the changes if they hope to stay competitive in the industry.

Hannah: But it’s not always easy to stay on top of the latest and greatest tech tools in the game. That’s why people like our guest today are so valuable in today’s ever-evolving landscape.

Who is Jacki Leahy?

Tony: Jacki Leahy is the head of tech experience at Winning by Design. She specializes in solving startup growth challenges in streamlining business practices to uncover insights and drive growth.

Hannah: In other words, she’s tapped into all the most cutting-edge tools, platforms, and technologies that make it easier to do what we do best: sell.

Tony: And she’s here today to share more about her career background. And I’ll give you a hint, it’s an interesting one, and offer her tips for adopting new sales tools that can help you hit your target.

Hannah: Thanks for joining us today. Welcome to the show, Jacki.

Jacki: Thank you, Hannah. Hi, Tony. Hello.

Hannah: What I’d love to do is start off by understanding a bit more about your career so far. And, more specifically, that moment in time when you realized that you’d become a scrappy chaos wrangler.

Jacki: I switched over to tech at the tender age of 33 so I’d lived a full life before coming over to the tech world. I started out as a kindergarten teacher, and you cannot run a classroom without embracing that there will be chaos. And it’s your job to herd the cats and get them going in the direction that you need. No doubt, you will not be set up for success… but you need to make the day successful.

Hannah: I love that you said you lived a full life before the age of 33. What made you make the transition to tech?

Jacki: I was doing real estate. I did it for a few years in Manhattan. So exciting. And then I moved back to Boston, and I had the best quarter of my whole career selling condos. And I realized I could do whatever I wanted to do. I had figured it out. And realized I don’t want to do that anymore,

Tony: It seems like you’ve had a lot of different roles across a lot of different industries. And I think my favorite actually might be, per your Twitter account, an over-caffeinated Salesforce magician. I have a two-part question for you. First, how are you able to stay so versatile and flexible? And would you consider yourself someone who’s willing to try new things?

Jacki: I think people are either specialists or generalists. I know I’m a dabbler. I like to know just enough of a language to make friends and order a drink. And then on to the next. Other people really want to take a deep dive and know CPQ [configure, price, quote] or something very specific. I would much rather know about the parts and how they best compose. And then, more importantly, know who to ask. Yes, I love to try new things.

Hannah: Tell me how you landed your role at Winning by Design. What drew you to that company specifically?

Jacki: I’ve been a huge fan of Jacco van der Kooij for years. I saw him speak at the Outreach Conference in 2018. What’s so compelling is that it’s a mathematical model for how to do a recurring revenue business. As for me, give me the what or give me the why and I will figure out the how.

It is beyond exciting to be at a place where everyone else is figuring out the what. Then I just get to bring in the how, like how do we make that come alive for the end user? And how do we make that appealing for the frontline manager? What will they need to see, touch, feel, and do, and will we be able to make this scientific approach a reality?

Hannah: How do you stay motivated? And how do you stay positive? It’s been rough the last few years, let’s be honest. Tell me a bit more about that.

Jacki: For me, it’s a very conscious decision to choose joy, to choose connection, and prioritize that. It is so seductive to go into a complain-y loop but that has a cost. Don’t get me wrong, I can complain with the best of them. But what are we doing? What are we focusing on? Would you consciously wake up and decide, “Today, I’m going to sprinkle poopoo everywhere I go.”

Tony: It’s a lot easier to be negative, but it’s so much better if you can find that positive connection. That’s really what’s going to advance the ball. So I totally agree with what you’re saying there. I think there’s a lot of validity to that to that point. Can you say there has been any running theme or common lessons that you’ve seen across the different spaces you’ve been in that can really apply to someone’s career path?

Jacki: Really getting clear on who you are and what your talents are is important. For me, a big thing was taking the DISC assessment, and even bigger was the CliftonStrengths. I think it costs $100. Most of you listening to this have professional development budgets but even if not just take it. It’s a pretty long multiple-choice test and at the end, it spits out this essay on who you are, how you operate, what’s important to you, and who you are in the world. When mine came out the first line was “When do we start?” And I thought, “Yes, oh my gosh, my number one talent is as an activator so let’s put me in situations where an activator is necessary.”

Tony: You bring up a point that I’ve advocated over the years: investing in yourself. If you can’t invest 100 bucks in yourself, then what are you really doing with your career and with your path? That is such a simple, small thing that you can do but look at what it’s it’s done for you. It’s got you to where you are right now. You can really understand where you can go and the easiest way to get there with the most joy. There’s so much that can be done.

Hannah: I’m trying to piece together a little pattern here. I’m thinking chaos wrangler to activator and then we come to solving problems for startups and growth companies. How do you bring all of that into those spaces? This is a podcast where the majority of the audience is going to be people in sales or people who are thinking about sales. And these startups need to sell. How do you come in and bring all of that jazz and that joy and get them moving?

Jacki: Well sometimes it’s not welcome. I’m specifically thinking about when I first entered tech sales.

I think a sales career is like a cheat code. You don’t have to be a superstar. You don’t have to do the big whales, but hit your number, consistently. Don’t be a jerk. And even if you don’t see yourself as an AE — that’s an account executive — that’s okay. Find a spot in sales where you can just crush it.

For me, I love outbound business development. I will cold call, I will interrupt people’s days all day and find it fun. So find your spot in the Model T Ford factory of sales that’s what you can do, even if it’s making sure that they’re using the product and they renew next year. And you can think of it as a side hustle if you don’t see yourself as a rep for your whole career. You don’t have to know what it is you do want to do — just put yourself in situations where you are. Just keep your eyes open, keep your ears open. Talk to people across the company — talk to engineering, talk to product, etc. — and you’ll pick up on patterns.

Hannah: Tell me more about what you love about your job. You go into a startup company… and it’s obviously at a point where they’ve said they need help.

Jacki: They admit they need help from the outside and they trust you. And nine out of 10 times they’re going to tell you what’s actually happening because you’re the outsider and you’re the confidante. It starts out as a Salesforce problem but it’s never Salesforce.

Tony: As you’ve been working with these different companies, what would you say is your overall strategy for helping them streamline their business processes so they can really focus on customer impact and important things like that.

Jacki: Listen to what’s going on. If you’re so inclined, do a data analysis. Think about what will make the biggest impact and where the biggest friction point is.

Hannah: What kind of top tips, tools, platforms could you recommend or what do you usually talk about when it comes to removing unnecessary friction?

Jacki: Well, if you are the person in I.T., or business operations, or even revenue operations, make sure that you have end user buy-in and not just a check-the-box buy-in. They’ll know whether or not you really attempted to solve their issue. I think that goes a long way. It’s like if your server never really checked if there was blue cheese dressing — I’m okay with ranch, but did you ask?

Tony: Jacki, just coming on the podcast today shows how much you want to connect with others in the community, really saying, “I’m a part of this and we’re all in this together.” What would you say are some of the top benefits of engaging with others and what things have you learned or helped to teach other people?

Jacki: Oh, my gosh, my career is only a reality because of the friends I’ve made along the way. A few years back, I didn’t know what revenue operations were, but you make friends and they introduce you to other friends and you don’t have to pay a million dollars to do a Salesforce course, you just learn it. And you join some Slack communities, join the Salesforce Trailblazer community, and when you’ve got questions, people want to help. I do feel this sense of a karmic responsibility to then pay it forward because I would not be where I am if not for the people who really invested in me being here by doing things like jumping on a Zoom call to explain what Process Builder is when I didn’t know. Yes, I wouldn’t be where I am if not for the amazing people — and the more you put into a community, it’s wild how much you can get back. I joined Pavilion about a year ago, based on a friend’s recommendation. Put yourself in situations where there’s a spirit of excellence. Just get yourself around those people and ask them what’s up.

Tony: I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn and there’s a great community there. When I first joined LinkedIn, many years ago, I just thought it was some way to put my resume out there but now the more that I get engaged with it, the more addictive it becomes. When I hear the ding signifying that someone’s reached out to me, I immediately jump on it to see what questions someone has or find out how I can add to a conversation. I’ve even helped people find jobs — and it becomes, like you said, a karmic thing, a pay-it-forward sort of scenario. There are great things we can do together, if we all give a little bit of our time.

Jacki: Exactly. But don’t do it at your job’s detriment. If you want to be helping people or mentoring people, set aside a reasonable amount of time — because you’re a lot less helpful unemployed.

Hannah: Keeping up with the ever-evolving technology that makes up the landscape, specifically in the sales space, is expensive, and there’s a lot of duplication. What tech gets you excited? And how do you make sure you’re always on the cutting edge? Where do you go to make sure you’re in front of it?

Jacki: Well, to the average person, please don’t feel the pressure to have to stay on top of it all. I do this because I love it. You don’t need to be in the know. If you really need to evaluate tools, there are people who can help you. I have a problem with the phrase ”tech agnostic.” I will recommend the right tech for you without a kickback or anything but I am passionate about tech.

Staying ready for change

Tony: Things are changing all the time. How do you stay focused and make sure you’re staying on the things that are going to build the most value for an organization?

Jacki: If you’re an operator at a business, please look at your revenue engine map. It’s so tempting to think, if you love outbound, for example, what if we had a chat bot? But you might not have a problem with lead generation or conversions. Meanwhile, you don’t have anyone to hand things off to or that sort of thing.

Really look at all of the spots in your journey, look at the conversion rates, where are things falling down? And look for benchmarking, like free Google. If you’ve got the budget, hire a consultant to look at your turn ratios and benchmark that.

If you’re an operator of a business, please be responsible and don’t just do what you’re already good at. Look for the weakest links.

Hannah: That seems so simple, but it’s not. I’d love to hear about some of the common misconceptions or the crazy myths that you encounter in sales.

Jacki: Like Salesforce doesn’t know what you need? It’s not conspiring against you. I remember being a BDR and wondering, “Why aren’t my IRA meetings showing up on the chart?” Well, it’s basically just filtering and showing you records that meet the criteria. Try not to take it personally and get to the bottom of what it is picking up and spitting out. It’s just a query.

Tony: What advice would you give to other sales professionals who are really trying to hone in on their strengths and find a similar path to what you’ve done? What would you say to somebody who’s struggling and looking to find their career.

Jacki: No matter what age they might be, I’d say “get yourself to a Tony Robbins event, unleash the power of the UPW [Unleash the Power Within] weekend, just be in the presence of possibility. I also loved the Landmark Forum. I just got so much out of that. And I’m doing a new thing called the Atlas Project that’s coming up this weekend. I’m very excited. If you’re in sales, like join, um, Corporate Bro. It’s like sales savages. It’s like Reddit, but for salespeople. If you’re very curious and you’re hearing this, LinkedIn message me, I think I have some invites. It’s awesome, right? If you’re in ops, join Wizards of Ops — it’s a community. If you’re in tech, join Civilian — there’re courses going on all the time. There’s a channel for every topic, right? Get in there, ask your questions, meet people. And networking events are coming back. I went to a Chili Piper– hosted dinner last night and got to meet all these salespeople from Boston.

Hannah: What are you excited about when it comes to sales? Tech, just everything in our space? Or what can you already see unfolding?

Jacki: I love that end users no longer have to do anything to get data captured. Data capture just happens, where you happen to be and with so much more contextual guidance. I don’t want to have to open up a wiki to figure out how to best ask this question. When I’m on a call, I want contextual guidance.

Hannah: I’m loving that in the B2B space, we’re finally stealing everything from B2C. It’s taken a couple of decades, but we’re getting there. It’s almost becoming the norm.

Jacki: We’re getting there. It’s possible. Anything’s possible.

Tony: You said you’ve got Atlas coming up, but what else is next for you? And for Winning by Design?

Jacki: I was brought into Winning by Design to do what I was just talking about. They have all these incredible playbooks and methodology and strategy. What I’m going to be doing is baking it into a whole process. With the tools inside your Salesforce, you’ve got the right things to measure and the things to measure them with. So, yes, I’ll be baking that all in.

Sales podcast rapid fire quesitons

Tony: We’ve learned a lot here today… but we’re not done yet. We have our rapid-fire questions to go. Hannah’s going to start and we’ll go through these really fast.

Hannah: Okay, Jackie, tell me your sales philosophy in three words.

Jacki: Interrupt their day.

Hannah:What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your entire career?

Jacki: Sometimes there’s nothing for you to do.

Tony: What is your top productivity hack?

Jacki: Zero inbox.

Tony: What is your top prediction for the sales industry in 2022?

Jacki: Automatic capture.

Hannah: What’s one thing you believe is revolutionizing the sales world today?

Jacki: Enablement.

Hannah: You spend a lot of time inside the sales organization. Please share one piece of advice.

Jacki: Figure out what works and blur out the rest.

Tony: What would you say are the top two tech platforms (aside from Salesforce) that you couldn’t live without?

Jacki: Google Calendar. Slack.

Hannah: Are leaders made or born?

Jacki: I think it takes both. You might be born with the personality and characteristics or the trauma that makes you take fearsome responsibility and ownership. But I think if you really do take that seriously, then you develop that as well. You can’t just rest on the laurels of your leadership.

Tony: Jackie, thank you so much for your time here today. This was a pleasure. It was fantastic hearing your stories and about your evolution as a professional here.

Jacki: Thank you so much. This was a great way to start my day.

What have we learned?

Tony: I don’t know about you, but I absolutely feel more positive and optimistic just from this brief talk we had with Jacki.

Hannah: I was definitely bouncing in my seat. And I think I smiled and giggled throughout the whole episode, to be honest. Jacki has some really great tips and insights for any listeners out there who are hoping to simplify their day-to-day roles and streamline business practices overall.

Tony: Exactly. I’m Italian, so I can verify that Rome wasn’t built in a day. So why should a business be any different? Jacki’s advice of taking a slow and methodical approach to streamlining business practices made a lot of sense. And I think it really helps to drive home the importance of making data-driven decisions.

Hannah: I’m all about data always. And I know you are too, Tony, but you have to identify the pain points in your business first, so you can set your team up for success and simplify the customer experience overall.

Tony: Exactly. You need to find the friction points. That’s where you’ll find the biggest opportunities to create an impact in your business, and zero in on ways to maximize your outcomes.

Hannah: Jacki also reminded us to always keep the end user in mind, which is great advice for anyone, no matter which area of the business you’re operating in.

People as Your Best Sales Enablement Tool with Christine Rogers

Our fifth episode of Ready, Set, Sell recently aired featuring Christine Rogers, President & COO of Aspireship, a reskilling and job placement platform that helps people pivot their careers into SaaS sales. In case you weren’t able to tune in, don’t worry. We’ve got a recap of the podcast below, covering major themes such as:

  • Helping people make the transition into selling
  • The role of sales enablement
  • How sales leaders can evolve their own skillset
  • Building a winning sales culture

Who is Christine Rogers?

Hannah: Christine Rogers is the president and COO of Aspireship, a platform that helps people reskill and pivot into the world of sales.

Tony: Christine is here today to offer her tips for helping your team learn new skills, stay curious, and unlock new talents every day.

Hannah: Christine, I’d love to start right from the beginning and understand a bit more about your career so far — and, more specifically, the moment that really kickstarted everything else for you.

Christine: It’s been all over the place. I did some insurance. I owned my own business for a while, a retail store. I then moved into selling software, and that’s been the past 10 years or so. I’ve been selling since I could sell lemonade, right? But I will tell you: when I got into technology and software sales, that’s when I really felt this is for me.

Helping people make the transition into selling

Tony: Is there any one specific thing that said, yeah, sales is for me?

Christine: Well, I think it was really important that my prior life had been in that entrepreneurial small business. So, when I found a software that supported small businesses, I felt like, “Oh, this makes so much sense. I can bring my understanding and my experiences from being on the other side of that to this experience in this field.” I found that I was actually able to relate in such a way that it could be very successful.

I don’t believe there’s any specific experience that you have to have to be in sales. I think you have to use what you uniquely bring to the table, the lens that you’ve had your entire life. Bring that to the table and be competent in what you do. That’s the entire idea around Aspireship: we built this organization in order to help people make the transition into selling based on a true meritocracy. Can you do this work? That’s what I want to know. I don’t care about your background. I don’t care about your fancy résumé. I don’t care about your schooling. I don’t care about the initials after your name. What I care about is: do you have the character that it takes to do this and the competency that it takes to do this?

Hannah: I love it because the work you’re doing at Aspireship is the mission of getting people to transition into what is what can be a really successful, lucrative career path. It’s similar to some of the work that we do at Sistas in Sales, which I know you’re familiar with.

But in terms of people who come from backgrounds that are not always considered to be something that’s going to naturally allow you to get into a sales career, I’d love to ask you a question about hiring managers. What kind of conversations are you having or do you need to have with these recruitment people to say those candidates could still do it?

Christine: So I sell. I sell to companies because my candidates come through our platform. It’s free for them to do. They take the assessment. They have to be able to pass that and then if they do, we will introduce them to companies that are hiring. So my role and the role of the person who helps me is selling to companies the notion that we believe that our people can do this work. It’s fascinating because it’s a two-pronged sale for sure. Actually, sales leaders most often understand because I’m a sales leader. It takes me five minutes to have a little chat with a sales leader and say, you and I both know, you can’t predict whether they can do it based on the résumé.

We’ve seen enough people with the most beautiful résumés and they just crash and burn. And then you’ve seen a candidate with zero. You gave a shot to the best top performer that you have. Now, with talent acquisition, people sometimes have an established way of thinking. So that is sometimes where I have more of a rep because they’re like, “What do you mean? They’re not going to have this? They’re not going to have this? They’re going to have this?” We are actually challenging that way of thinking, proving over the last two years that it works. But that’s a little uncomfortable.

Tony: Yeah, it’s pretty evident hearing you talk that you’ve got a lot of passion for this. I’m just wondering: why are you so passionate about helping salespeople succeed? Is there anything in particular in your background that gives you that passion?

Christine: People are fascinating to me. I generally don’t care about all the bells and whistles and all these other things. I want to know your story. One of the first placements we did, she had been a stay-at-home mom for eight years and had been doing fitness instructing on the side. She tried to find a job for three years and nobody would hire her in sales. And she was so frustrated by that. And then I look at her and she’s still with the company that we placed her with and they’re saying, “Find me 10 of her.” She’s incredible. Man, I love an underdog story.

There are so many of us in sales that maybe didn’t go to college, didn’t get great grades, just had the gift of gab. One of my kids is like that: he negotiated with me at three years old. And I look at him and think to myself that they can not only have a good job but a phenomenal career that will help them establish well and that they can actually do some pretty powerful things in the world. That gets me super pumped.

The role of sales enablement

Hannah: Enablement is huge. One thing that people look for now, when they’re going into an interview, is what training, coaching, or support is offered? What kind of everboarding stuff do they do? But the new thing that’s come up even more in the last few years is what can salespeople be doing to help themselves? I’d love to get your opinion on that.

Christine: I have a lot of opinions about enablement. So when I was at the company where I was an individual contributor and I was there for about almost five years, doing different roles, enablement was kind of a hot topic, right? We didn’t even have it. We were a pretty high-growth company and nobody was doing training. In fact, there wasn’t even a structured hiring process. It was like a “can you sell me this” kind of a situation. And this was a Series B Round funded company at this point. But investing in these things has thankfully become more important to companies.

Now, here are some things that I think are really important, as a sales leader, whether you’re a manager, whether you are the sales leader, the CRO, the VP of sales: it is your job to make sure that your team is enabled and trained. It is not enablement’s job. It is not up to RevOps to make sure that they have everything. This is one mistake that I hear constantly.

Having the training team or L&D do this: wrong. You need to do that. You – as the leader – you have to hold your team accountable. And training is silly if you’re not actually going to implement what you need.

Great enablement functions, I believe, are in lockstep with the team. When I create an enablement team, they sit on the floor with my reps. You want to know what they’re doing? They listen to calls, they get in it because otherwise it’s just stupid. What you bring to the table, what you start training them on and how you’re relating to them makes zero sense if you’re not in it. And so I think those organizations that make them be together.

I owned both organizations, which meant if I said, “You’re going to this training.” Guess what? They went to the training. And if I said, “I want the training on this before you do the training on handling objections, I need you all in the training. I need you to listen to 30 calls each and tell me what is the actual problem. Then come to me with what the training is going to be about.”

I don’t want to waste time… you take good sellers off the phone for an hour and that’s an expensive meeting. But I better get the ROI on. And if I don’t, I’m looking to my training team and saying, “You’re expensive. That’s not OK.” So I think it’s really about having high accountability, workability, and everybody really understanding whose job is what. Enablement is not to be in servitude of the sales team and the sales team always saying every five minutes at the same time, they are there to support.

How sales leaders can evolve their own skillset

Tony: A lot of organizations that I’ve talked to over the last couple of years almost see training as almost onboarding only. And a lot of companies fall short because they don’t think beyond that. I’m curious to get an understanding of what you think about ongoing training and continuous learning. How do you think that really fits in today’s landscape? And why do you think that might be an essential component for someone to succeed?

Christine: I think there are a couple parts to this. Number one, it is absolutely critical for us to continue learning. So as a seller, as an individual contributor — I don’t care what — you need to take your learning on your own. You owe it to yourself to continue learning whether or not your employer keeps you updated or fails to give you more training. You own your own learning, first of all.

Companies should be absolutely doing what they can to enable and continuously train their team, as different competitors come out, as different things in the market change.

But oftentimes it becomes a question of whose responsibility that is. My success is my responsibility. I’ve had people be scrappy about this… and this is when I absolutely get frustrated with sellers. I’ll tell them to get on G2 and look up the last 10 reviews for their top competitor to figure out where they’ve got the gaps. How about do that every other week? Like, be smart about what you’re doing. Own this experience.

And also, if I am a sales leader who is trying to enable my team, make sure that what we’re training them on is relevant. What are you hearing that is problematic? What are we seeing that’s problematic? Where are we losing deals and how do we figure out what those conversations are? You know, maybe it’s your terrible proposal process. Where are the areas that we can tighten up and really slick the wheels of the sales team? But keep in mind that absolutely this needs to be happening regularly. We’re learning from each other. We’re learning from the market. We’re learning from our competitors. This is all really important.

Hannah: I feel like a lot of companies try to make continuous learning and training so complicated. I’m a big believer in making sure that you’ve at least covered the basics. I created a video the other day that said something like: just do some research before you jump on a finer prospect. That’s some basic stuff.

And then I had a sales call later on that day as I was trying to buy some technology and they did no research. And this is a senior IE, a very well-known company. So it seems basic, but it’s not being done. It really isn’t being done. I’m thinking about building out the basics, but what are some of the learning techniques and tools that you use to help sales professionals really learn new skills and ultimately succeed?

Christine: It always goes back to the fact that there are just a few steps in the sales process. There are things that we need to know, and almost always when things go sideways, we missed it. We didn’t ask the right questions. I get the same thing. I am a seasoned seller, and if I don’t have my sheet, my notes, my cheat sheet, my discovery cheat sheet, I forget to ask, “Wait, what was your revenue last year?” I heard the buying signals. I got excited. I knew we were moving forward. We all do it. And it is in the practice of listening to our calls, understanding and, I mean, this is as basic as it gets.

Some of the best organizations really do just a few things that make sense. They listen to calls together, they coach each other. You have you have different things that are happening there. They’re sharing their learning regularly and they are grading each other on how they’re doing with the questions, with the discovery.

Tony: Seems like a lot of organizations are kind of using outdated techniques for their hiring processes, which is ultimately leading to failures or not being as successful as they potentially could be. How would you say people could really look at things differently in order to bring themselves into the current timeframes?

Christine: Now is something like we’ve never seen before. So I want to definitely couch the market being as hot as it is now in a candidate market… so different from even a year or a year and a half ago. Where we are today, a couple of things are archaic in the thinking. I worked at a company where we were getting 60, 70 applicants a week for a sales role.

So we created a gauntlet. We made it very difficult to get in the door because we were weeding out. Now we’re in an environment where we need to be selling this opportunity, selling the company and they are selling us. But we are we are having a selling conversation on both sides, right?

The other idea of,“I want to see 10 people and then I’m going to pick the three,” does not work. What you have to know is what are the characteristics you’re measuring for? What are the attributes that you’re seeing? What are the things that we’re testing for through the process?

And I want to be able to and need to be able to make a decision on an applicant’s stand-alone. She hit it here. This is where she’s at and it’s like a scorecard mentality: she had 89 percent. If you can’t move somebody through an entry-level sales position a week, max two weeks, and get them through the hiring process and you’re in a tight spot and you’re going to lose all your hot people.

I think it’s important to really be able to create a seamless, frictionless process that makes sense to candidates. “Why am I doing this assignment?” Well, because that’s what the role is. You want them to be able to self-select out, emulate the role as best as possible if they have to go cold on a LinkedIn contract, have them do that. Pick somebody that we would go cold on. Go write me what you would say in a LinkedIn DM, then call me and give me a voicemail. Here’s the voicemail number. You call this and leave a voicemail. I want it done by three o’clock tomorrow afternoon. See if they can do it.

Hannah: I love the example you gave. Once somebody just sat me down, probably one of the most senior roles I went for, and they just said, tell me how you would go out, find someone cold, and sell them this solution. What would you need to go through all the steps? And the manager cut me off halfway through my answer and said, “You get it, OK.” That’s that part. Let’s go into looking at the role: when, how, and what we’re doing here. And that was easy.

I mentioned all of that because I love the fact that you’re talking about more practical approaches to hiring. So let’s just continue on the theme of people and losing your hot people in the hiring process. What more can sales organizations be doing to kind of prioritize people and culture? And what kinds of things should we be putting into practice more often?

Christine: So many times, I’ll hear from hiring leaders, “Hiring is my number one.” And I say, “OK, if hiring is your number one, then I need you to open up your calendar for me. You either open up the calendar or you give us times that are allotted for these things so we can get people in and out quickly through this process.” Because what we’re going to do is set expectations upfront. This is a three-step process. We will have boom, boom, boom and by doing these things and then every single step along the way, we are meeting expectations by telling candidates everything they need to know about that company. If a company is saying they’re prioritizing getting great people into the org, does that actually work in practice or do the actions support the words?

Tony: I’ve worked with a lot of different sales folks over the years, and I think a lot of people who have had success have come from unique backgrounds. I know people that have been teachers. I know people that have been actors. I know people that have come from real estate. I think you can actually learn a lot in just about any sort of role. And if you have the right will, you can apply it to sales and have a lot of success.

Hannah: I love the fact that people from untraditional backgrounds are coming into sales. I actually interviewed someone who is an opera singer. And it’s interesting because that person spent a lot of their time organizing things and also maintained a side hustle, which was being an EA to senior execs. So when you literally know how to communicate with senior execs you’re going to be good at sales. You bring your experiences and people buy from people. As long as you have been engaging with people for your adult life, I think you’re right to start the transition into sales.

I also had somebody who has been a musician for 20 years, and they just aced every interview because they had stories from traveling around the world for that time. That’s much more interesting than me just talking about being in sales for the last 15 years. I’ll probably lose that one: I was up against someone who’s been traveling the world for 20 years. Just the best stories.

Tony: Absolutely. I mean, I actually was a musician in the earlier part of my career, and even now I’m in the film industry in my spare time. So I like to bring unique stories to every sales engagement that I have, because it really lets you personalize yourself. It shows that you’re a human being and you’re not just some sales robot that’s trying to win someone over. You’re a human being that has a unique perspective, and you bring that to the sales situation, and it makes it a lot easier to work with people.

Hannah: Tony, I feel like you’re indirectly saying that you’re just more interesting than me. Is that what is that what you’re saying right now?

Tony: Never, never. We haven’t really figured out exactly who Hannah is yet. We’re going to get there, but it’s just a matter of time. I really love Christine’s philosophy of moving towards a true meritocracy instead of just relying on arbitrary titles or credentials to land a new role.

Hannah: I agree. I think that, in 2022, the workforce has evolved to accommodate a wider variety of backgrounds, skills and even educational pathways. This is a testament to how far we’ve come as a society.

Tony: I also find it inspiring to see people moving away from the traditional cookie-cutter careers and not only doing something for a notch on a résumé.

Hannah: Oh yeah, big time. But Tony, I have a 2022 motto and it’s called, “#shootyourshot” because life is too short not to go for what you want, especially now that the entire world is at your fingertips.

Tony: And since the world is at our fingertips, I have my own motto for 2022. It’s, “Where’s my cocktail?” It’s never too late or too early to learn a new skill, switch career paths or explore a new industry.

Hannah: Let’s hear some more from Christine about why a culture of continuous learning is a key building block of success.

Building a winning sales culture

Tony: Coming back to people and culture a little bit. I’ve been here at Mindtickle for about two and a half years now, and I’ve dealt with a lot of learning development groups and enablement readiness groups. And in some places, they’re very distinct organizations. They’re not really tied together in the ways that you think that they might be. So I’m curious as to how you feel about that and if learning and development really have a direct impact and can help improve sales enablement.

Christine: Yes, I think that they should work well together. I think that when I think of learning and development versus kind of sales, RevOps, enablement, all of those different types of things, I think that most organizations that I’ve seen have learning and development that supports organizational structure around how the company functions and things like that. Like if we’re trying to roll out the future of work or something like that, that’s how I’ve seen it work. I tend to see that, organizationally, if there is an enablement team for candidate experience, customer experience, different things like that, then those might have their own places. Or a business partner that rolls up into learning and development might be kind of tangential there and working kind of with those organizational leaders to make sure that they’re there.

Tony: Christine, what are some of the most valuable enablement tools that you think companies really don’t think about or they overlook at this point?

Christine: I think there is so much out there. Of course, the CRM and of course, you’re going to need marketing and technology. You need a pretty good stack there. When you think about tools and resources, it’s good to use some of the old-school ways of doing things, teaching people how to understand if they’re effective, teaching them the math of basically if you need to get to $25,000 in revenue and you only did $15,000 and you did X amount of prospecting calls, what’s the math that actually gets you to like, “Oh, I have to be doing 80 calls a day.” I find that sometimes we provide lots of tools and resources and then don’t actually show people what that means. “So I didn’t get to the number and I did 67 demos.” All right. Well, you either have to get better or do more. That’s it. There are only two options.

So we’re going to help you get better. And I’m going to help you get better by coaching, but you’ve got to do more until you’re better.

Hannah: Thinking about the skill sets and the different tasks that salespeople are doing, coming out of the most wackiest two years ever that nobody predicted: Which areas should salespeople be zero in on in terms of learning and development?

Christine: I think the most important thing is always understanding people and where we saw people going really tone-deaf and coming out weird is when they were trying to have the same conversation that we had had prior and not being sensitive to the fact that you should actually just talk to me like a regular person now. And when it’s appropriate to elevate the conversation, bring in some different language and be mindful of that language.

One of my biggest burns is that people don’t understand how important what you’re saying is and how critical the way you say something is. And in going back in, you shift a couple of different little words and it makes a meaningful difference. I think it’s really important to understand people. So really digging into what you’re hearing, what the sentiment is around things, not missing when people are complaining around certain things or are feeling a certain way: there’s psychology going on here.

The most important thing I would say right now is to get out of all of the tech and all the things that you’re really excited about, about your product and really understand the person on the other side of the sale and you will do better. I know that’s not really a new way of thinking, but I think people are very sensitive right now. If you don’t take that into account, they’re not even going to give you the time of day. They’re getting kind of mouthy, saying things like, “You know what, you’re not even being empathetic with me at all. You’re not even understanding. You’re completely tone deaf.” People are saying this now when before people would just delete the email.

Hannah: When the salesperson listens to what you’ve said and you’ve poured your heart out and they say, “Yeah, so what CRM system do you use?” I’m crying inside.

Christine: I literally told you and poured out my heart. So when were you looking to make a change?

Tony: Christine, earlier you touched upon the hiring market. If you were to give some advice to someone that’s looking to make a move, a sales professional, what do you think your best advice would be? And conversely, as an organization trying to attract top talent, what would you recommend there?

Christine: Be open to different backgrounds. I mean, I can’t tell you, the companies are really doing well right now. They’re bringing all different types of personality types.

They’re bringing different experiences, different ages of people. There are amazing individuals that are been given no opportunity because they’re too young, too old, or whatever. I love that we’re bringing this unique perspective.

This is what I would say to somebody wanting to transition, and this is what I do say all the time to our grads. Stop trying to go for the most sexy logo, the biggest names, all of these things because some of the best companies out there that we hire for, that we do work with, with strong leaders that are people are making great money and everybody is learning, are you might never have heard of. You might not be super passionate about construction estimation software. You might not like it. You know, your heart beats from a fleet management software or from analytics software. But you can learn a lot.

Care less about title. Care more about like opportunity. Who’s going to develop me? How am I going to do it? The number one question I ask people is when you pick a job, think about, “What do I want to learn now?” Think about a long day and your long opportunity. “The thing I want to learn next is this and this one is actually going to provide me that in the best way”: I like that as far as qualifications for making decisions.

Hannah: I just say to salespeople: go to where you can make money. But it’s not easy. If people in the business are making money and you can look backward and forwards and you can see that they could still be making money, then that’s where you need to be, not at the big logos. I’m completely with you, Christine. I know Tony was going to jump in and ask you this later, but I want to understand what’s exciting you about the things happening in sales right now?

Christine: Even two years ago when this idea came up. people said it sounds good, but I don’t think anybody would give anybody that didn’t have fast experience a shot. I remember thinking, yes, they will, if we can prove that they can be successful. I see the way that we’ve always done things, with everybody having a similar look and age and all of those things. And I see that we’re now bringing in different perspectives, fresh eyes. I’m learning every day from the companies that I’m talking to where they’re telling me, “This individual came in and came up with this great idea. We have totally shifted our product. We never even thought about that before because she came from a completely different industry and was like, why don’t we do it like this?”

And I’m seeing sales influence product like I’ve not seen before. Because we’re not just in these little, very defined lanes, and we’re bringing in some people that can really communicate well rather than sales being like the high school football team. Now we have the art club, the drama club, all these other things.

But the sales team is like the lifeblood of the organization. We’re now having an influence differently on different parts of the organization, which I think is great, rather than just being kind of the troublemakers that make all the money and are like wildly crazy and get in trouble at the President’s Club. We’re now coming to the table, changing a bit of that whole stigma and bringing a really different approach. And I’m excited by that… like when I hear one of our grads is now a rep for Square. He was a college history professor. You can imagine what a different perspective and the ideas and innovation that come from that. I’m excited that salespeople are having that kind of chance rather than just selling this stuff and being integrated into a whole company experience, which I’m super pumped about.

Tony: What’s next for you and Aspireship? We’d love to hear a little bit more about what the future holds for you.

Christine: We’ve had some amazing groups of individuals that we’ve been able to help make the transition to sale. So last year, I’m sure you saw just tons of hospitality workers that were laid off a lot of them came to sales because — think about it — those individuals are perfectly well suited for sales. All they’re doing is thinking about “How do I make someone happy next?” We were just in the Wall Street Journal last weekend in an article about all of the teachers who are now shifting over to selling. Teaching, what a beautiful environment to bring to the selling market. And, because what we offer candidates is free, they can see if it’s for them.

We have a lot of people who start to take our coursework and say, “Not for me. I do not like doing that role-play.” And you know what? Good. Self-select out because this isn’t for you, at least you know. But other people are confidently going into roles that they know that they can nail. I like that we can be a part of this experience, a part of this journey for individuals. Just the other day, we got a whole bunch of signups and it was through a nursing cohort: a group of nurses who were saying, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to shift out.” I love that we can help these individuals and let them see if this is for them and then make a transition and do very, very well in the roles that we’re hiring with them. So it’s very exciting.

Tony: Oh, it’s great. Christine, we’ve learned a lot, but we’re not done with you just yet. We’re going to go through our rapid-fire questions. We have 30 seconds. Just kidding. But Hannah is going to kick us off.

Sales podcast rapid fire quesitons

Hannah: All right. What is your sales philosophy in just three words?

Christine: Understand your buyer.

Hannah: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

Christine: To say yes.

Tony: What is your top productivity hack?

Christine: Turn off notifications when I’m doing work, I turn everything off, including on my app.

Tony: What is your top prediction for the sales industry this year?

Christine: I think that it is going to continue to be gangbusters. But through this year I think we’ll see the pendulum swing back a little bit because I think what happened is it got atrophied. It’s going to boom and then it’s going to right itself a little bit.

Hannah: If you could share just one piece of advice to all sales professionals, what would it be?

Christine: Have more fun.

Tony: Love it. There are a lot of voices out there right now. Where do you go to get your industry news?

Christine: I’m on LinkedIn a lot. I look at the news. I look at industry leaders there. Also HPR is one of my favorites. I always look in on what they’re publishing, what they’re talking about. Those are probably my two best sources for keeping up to date on all different types of things that matter.

Tony: That’s cool. Would you say sales leaders are made or born?

Christine: I think that we all are born with some tendencies, but when I think about growth and development, the fact that you want to be a great sales leader is the reason you are.

Hannah: What book has inspired you the most in your career?

Christine: This is not a business book, but it’s called Language and the Pursuit of Happiness. And it’s by this gentleman named Chalmers Brothers. And it’s all about how everything we say is impacting and generating and creating and how our lens is impacting everything as well.

Tony: All right, so our last question here. You’re with Michael J. Fox, you’re going back to the future and you see your younger self. What would be the advice that you would give to yourself just starting out in the industry?

Christine: I’m a people pleaser, so it would definitely be: you’re not for everyone. Just knowing that early on would have helped quite a bit.

Tony: Well, you were definitely for us, Christine. You did a great job here today. We really enjoyed getting to know you today and thank you so much for your time.

Christine: You guys, have been great. Thank you for that. I know I got a little passionate. It was really fun. Thrilled to join you guys today.

Hannah: Tony, I know I shout about the coaching thing a lot and you follow me on LinkedIn and we have quite a few offline chats but in the beginning and early on in my career, I wasn’t great at the ongoing learning. I’ll be honest, I had some fantastic opportunities very early on in my career. I’m having very regular training and I used to read sales books and newsletters, but I didn’t really implement or apply that learning.

And as I moved up in my career and got into more senior roles, I found that nobody was willing to teach or coach or support anymore. It was very much left to me. You have a mindset that you, as a salesperson, are there to serve your customers; you are there to help, to help diagnose. You can only do that by staying on top of your game. You can only do that by being a tiny bit ahead of them or anticipating the problems that are over the horizon that maybe customers aren’t really thinking about. And when you put yourself in a position of strength by constantly learning, constantly going out there to try to find new answers to these problems, then you put yourself in a much better position to actually to help and serve your customers. And I think once I started to recognize that in the early to mid-stage part of my career, I realized how that started to help me perform better.

Tony: Wow, that’s really interesting. Well, first, I want to clarify something, I’m not following you on LinkedIn, I’m stalking you on LinkedIn, so I want to make that clarification. But no, I think it’s funny to have a little bit different take on that because, in my first sales position, I was thrown into it and given no training whatsoever. I had to learn everything on my own and it wasn’t easy. It was a challenge: it was, “Here’s your laptop… go learn the software and then go present however you think it should be done.” It took me a lot of time and effort to do that. But as the company started growing, I realized that if we are really going to get to the point where we want to be as an organization, we have to have some way of teaching people and coaching them on the way to do things right. So without any provocation, I started training people on how to do things, and the company actually grew very quickly. It had a great success story there.

So, you know, I learned early on in my career that these are the things that you really have to do in order to succeed as an organization. And then a software platform started doing it. Just like Mindtickle. Did I say Mindtickle? I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve been so happy where I’ve landed because they’re doing the things that 20-odd years ago I saw were important. And now it’s all put onto a platform that really drives value and sets people up for success.

Hannah: Tony, I‘m sure you’ve hired many people over your career. Me too. And you notice the difference between people who have been invested in when it comes to ongoing training and development. When you do get into a conversation with someone who has, it’s like, “Wow, you don’t know how rare you are. You’re a rare breed because I can just tell that you, you’re listening. You’re curious. You’re asking good questions. You haven’t just gone on to Google and typed, “What to ask in a sales interview.”

I’ve worked alongside some really strong sales individuals, and as I started to move around companies, I realized this isn’t the norm. A lot of people have had no training. A lot of people kind of just stuck in the space, and they don’t know how to move left or right or forward because they’re thinking “this is my skill set,” which is really unfortunate. But I think when you invest in yourself, you really can accelerate your career way beyond your wildest dreams.

Tony: When I think about all the people that I’m looking at when I’m hiring, I don’t really need that cookie-cutter sort of background where they’ve worked at the big sales organizations or they’ve taken all of the huge sales training processes. I’m more interested in someone that has their own hunger. They have that curiosity. They really want to be part of something and are willing to put in the time and the effort to do it, right. Learning new things is not the easiest thing to do so any time I can find someone that really has that spark, that is what I find most important. Christine’s fresh take on the working world today has really inspired me to broaden my perspective.

Hannah: Times are changing, that’s for sure. And Christine has her finger on the pulse of the sales industry today.

Tony: She really does. And one thing that we talked about was the idea that anyone can switch industries or learn a new skill, no matter their age, background, or career experience so far.

Hannah: Well, it’s really about keeping a growth mindset. Look how much things have changed in the last few years, Tony.

Tony: For those in search of a new role in 2022 or 2023 or whenever it might be, Christine reminded us all to avoid placing too much emphasis on the bright and shiny things like big brand names or logos. Sometimes finding a position that’s right for you just takes a little extra digging.

Hannah: Overall, Tony, this episode with Christine has served us some powerful reminders of the value of continuous learning. I really hope everyone listening takes away some insights from the discussion today. Thank you for listening to this episode of Ready Set Sell.

Tony: We hope you took away some valuable lessons and insights that inspire you to reevaluate your approach to sales readiness.

Hannah: Don’t forget to subscribe, rate and review the show when you get a minute.

Tony: And stay tuned for the next episode of Ready Set Sell.

Hitting Targets Through Marketing and Sales Alignment with Chris Lynch

For a business to be effective, all teams need to work synergistically together and avoid operating in silos, especially sales and marketing. Optimizing outcomes for both teams means they need to prioritize constant communication and strong alignment on their end goals.

In this episode, Hannah and Tony chat with Chris Lynch, the CMO of Mindtickle. During the episode, they discuss how sales and marketing teams can come together in pursuit of a company’s mission and vision to work more effectively, how to tell your brand story, the importance of being truthful as marketers and salespeople, and finding success through remaining adaptable to change.

Tony: for a business to be effective. All teams need to work synergistically together and avoid operating in silos.

Hannah: But there are two specific teams that need to work together now more than ever. Sales and marketing? Absolutely.

Tony: And I think to optimize outcomes and meet or exceed sales targets, sales and marketing teams need to be in constant communication and strongly aligned on their end goals.

Hannah: Aligning on desired outcomes, strategies and tactics is key to success in today’s constantly shifting landscape.

Who is Chris Lynch?

Tony: Today’s guest has an intimate awareness of the need for alignment between sales and marketing teams. Chris, welcome to the show.

Hannah: Chris Lynch is the CMO of Mindtickle, and he’s here today to discuss how sales and marketing teams can come together to reach targets and optimize outcomes. We want to start by understanding a bit more about your career background and, more specifically, the things that have happened in your career that really helped you level up and were catalysts for change.

Chris: I’ve been a CMO for about six years now, and I still like to call myself a product marketer in a CMO’s shoes. But that was really never part of the plan. I wanted to be a journalist way before I got into sales and marketing, so if you had asked me back when I was 22 if this is what I’d be doing, I’m not sure I would have said, “Oh, you’re going to be an executive of a high-growth tech company.” I got my start in journalism and was working for a company called IDG (International Data Group). It was a really great experience because I started covering tech companies and asking lots of questions from, at the time, a kid who had never really worked in business. A lot of what I was doing was just sort of learning by observation. IDG let me move out to San Francisco because at the time there were novel companies coming out there — like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn — and I ended up sort of falling into business through happenstance.

Actually, I remember that I wanted to do PR and I was really sure I wanted to work at Google. I interviewed with eight people there and I found out that seven out of the eight liked me and one was a hard no. But it ended up being this really serendipitous moment because I was driving around in the valley that day and I met up with a guy named Ross Mayfield and he said, “Hey, I think you’d really have a bright future here.” And what was cool about it wasn’t necessarily great for the company, but it was great for me. Socialtext was one of those cautionary tales of being super early to a market. Your funding is kind of starting to draw down as everyone else is sort of ramping up, even though you had the idea a few years earlier. But for a kid who was then 24, it was an incredible opportunity because I got to work in sort of all facets of marketing. We were a lean team where you had to do a lot.

Most important, and what set the pace for my career moving forward, was that there were two groups that I really enjoyed sitting in the middle of. The cube I was sitting at was right next to the bullpen for sales. I was listening to them pitch companies every single day and some of them would loop pretty much the same narrative as their cold calling and doing outreach. And I could tell, even without being able to hear other people on the other side of the phone, what was going to be successful and what wasn’t.

So I talked a lot with them, and then I also spent this other part of my day with the product designers and engineers, and I applied my journalism skills at it, saying, “Hey, explain to me what you’re working on, what are you doing?” And then I would put that into plain English in our marketing materials. And lo and behold, that got my career off on a track of product marketing that ended up being in the marketing function.

Hannah: I love the fact that you had so many conversations that you could start to tell what was actually happening.

Tony: Can you tell us a little bit more about what brought you here?

Chris: There are two answers to that. The more pragmatic one is I was probably just going to go broke living in San Francisco as a journalist. I still ended up having a ton of fun during that time, but then life becomes complicated for different reasons.

But it really was about looking at sales and marketing as another opportunity for storytelling but doing so in a way where the challenge of persuading people is even harder because they know you’re trying to sell them something.

There was an inherent challenge in the idea of walking into a room and convincing someone that I could fundamentally shift their business and push them into a different stratosphere.

Moreover, working on a product you believe in and seeing that come to fruition is a really cool sensation —especially having that early on in my career. I also thought it was great being at that cross-section where you have the product and engineering on one side and then you have all the external go-to-market functions on the other, getting that context to understand both audiences and help triangulate some of the different types of considerations that people have in a growing business. That was really fun for me. I started to enjoy it. So, I think originally it started out of some basic Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And then, as I started climbing up the pyramid a little bit, some of the work just became more intellectually interesting to me.

Hannah: I’d love you to go into some detail about how you landed the role at Mindtickle. And I’m wondering what drew you to the company. And did you have a giggle when you first heard the name?

Chris: I didn’t have a giggle when I first heard the name because, at this point with tech companies, I feel like I’ve seen everything. My progression to Mindtickle started back when I was at Oracle. I ran global product marketing for the cloud business unit. They were pulling in all these different players in the marketing space. There my job was really to be the chief storyteller. It was figuring out being able to integrate all those products together into one offering. How do you at least make it sound like a cohesive thing?

So I did that, and then I became CMO of a company called Cision, which is in the PR software market. Similar deal They had been acquiring companies like PR Newswire, a slew of different software providers that focus on PR professionals. And again, it was, “How do you pull all of these things together into a cohesive story?” With Mindtickle, there were really two things that drew me.

One was that we have a very comprehensive product that spans a number of different submarkets in the tech space. But really, what drew me to the company was that I’ve lived the problems before that Mindtickle is trying to solve,

Tony: You obviously have a very diverse background and you’ve said some great things about the companies that you’ve worked at. What would you say, though, are some of the qualities that you have that have really contributed to bringing you to where you are right now. I think I have some ideas but it’s always interesting to hear how someone thinks about themselves.

Chris: That’s always a tough one. But if I were to sum it up, I think it would be in a few key areas. One is that I’m honest and direct. I think marketers spend too much time using their positioning and messaging skills internally. And what I would say is that save that for when you’re out in the market competing, leave it all out in the field when you’re in the market, and do the best job you can to position effectively.

I think that, particularly when you’re dealing with sales, it’s really important to be honest and direct. Be truthful about where you are with your performance, where you’re still gapped, and where you’re seeing challenges.

Another key quality for me is that, although I consider myself a humble person, I do feel like I’m on top of my game. I’m probably peaking at my ability to tell great stories and make compelling messaging. I feel like, if you gave me any of our competitor products, I could probably, in a very short period of time, build a really compelling pitch from it. Even more effective than what they might be doing. And that’s with all respect to my competitors — some of them have skills I could never dream of having. But I think that I’m very good at that.

The third thing I’d say is I’m always in it for the team and the company, and I feel like that’s a little bit unusual in this data-driven modern world. For me, the biggest satisfaction is just seeing the company be successful.

Hannah: Going back to when you were talking about your core skillset and your superpowers, you were talking a little bit about positioning and working on the brand. What things do you have in the pipeline from a marketing perspective? And what overarching goals are these things helping to drive towards?

Chris: There are a few things that we have going right now. I’m really thinking through what the next version of our digital experience looks like for our prospects and making that as compelling as possible. Tony’s probably heard me mention this internally at one of the town halls, but like I feel like selling went through this phase of the relationship sale, then there was the value sell — and you can really date yourself in the sales community based on what you say. The relationship sell worked its way even through the 90s where you had the three-martini lunch things… and then the early 2000s were all about the value sell. Like how much value are you demonstrating to your customer? I feel like we’ve moved into the era of the insight sell, where it’s actually not enough to say, “Oh, I can provide value for you.”

The odds are, in a lot of these more mature markets, there are multiple companies that can provide, more or less, a similar value. I think it’s more like, can you tell a prospect something interesting or something they haven’t thought of? As I think about our marketing, for me, it comes down to can we provide experiences that help our prospect deliver more insight inside of their companies.

We’ve been really advocating for this ideal profile concept, right? All marketers have ideal customer profiles. Sales leaders should have an ideal rep profile. We’re working through a digital experience where people can come to our site, get some interesting information about their organization, and then kind of turn back at least an introductory perspective on what their ideal profile could be. So we’re really looking to make compelling content experiences that help prospects have that insight. That’s one key thing we’re really focused on right now.

The other thing is, like a lot of marketing shops in B2B right now, we’re working hard to rationalize what an ideal funnel looks like. I think the emergence of account-based marketing has really created a fervor within the B2B marketing community because, for a lot of folks, particularly those who had worked in the demand side of the house for a while, it ended up being this interesting change of the goalpost. If you had been working in the demand realm and found the grind of just generating leads to be a bear. It’s nice to just flip the script and change the narrative and say, “Oh, well, actually there’s an addressable market of accounts here that we should go after.”

For me, intent models and some of that stuff that the ABM providers have are very interesting and they’re nice guidelines as to where you want to go in market. But I also think that staying very true to the persona you’re trying to reach and through market understanding have people come to your site who you can really solve a problem for. And I want to make sure that our system is flexible enough to accommodate those different people as they funnel through. When I worked at Oracle, I would use the term adaptive. I want our marketing to be very adaptive. I want it to be able to cater to different types of people in the revenue function and make sure they’re getting the experience that they want.

Hannah: Tony, the world of sales and marketing actually have a lot more in common than you might think.

Tony: Yes. As Chris mentioned, both sales and marketing rely on excellent storytelling skills, but even more so in sales because you’re really trying to convince someone to invest in something when they know it’s your job to do so.

Hannah: I think that really underscores the importance of believing in whatever it is that you’re selling because if your passion and enthusiasm for the product isn’t genuine, people might sense that and be less inclined to go through the buyer journey with you.

Tony: Yeah. And Chris is living proof of this relationship as he’s been on both sides of the equation,

Hannah: I think it’s so interesting that he started his career as a journalist and writer. He’s put his skills to good use as a marketer, learning to really tell the story of a brand and the products or services he’s selling.

Tony: So let’s hear more of Chris’s insights from his unique CMO perspective. What are some of the current challenges that you’re facing with your team and your day-to-day role starting from being brand new in the middle of this pandemic and changing roles and a lot of it was not in person. You’re doing a lot of things remotely. So how have you really tried to work through the challenges?

Chris: I’d say the biggest challenge in a company like ours, that is probably growing at a rate that is well above industry standards, is that you have to run this parallel workstream in your day which, on one hand, is very similar to our partners in sales. It’s like, on one end, we’re being asked to hit our numbers, our pipeline goals, all the things that we need to do to contribute to the business. And then in parallel, it’s like we need to build this nice, beautiful house that we want to be our dream home for years into the future. This means things like building a new website, elevating the brand, updating some of the infrastructure, and more glossy initiatives. That itself is a massive list.

And then on top of that, you’re trying to manage the daily grind of the business. And so, for me, the biggest challenge as a CMO is, frankly, that a lot of my day is looking through the prism of should I be telling this person to focus a little bit more on the immediate thing? Or do I have them kind of focus more on this where-we-want-to-be type of project? And there are consequences in both directions. It’s like if you pull them off that, it may have a little bit of impact on some of your day-to-day metrics, but then when you don’t start building the other thing, you’re also creating debt for yourself in a different capacity. So I’d say, at a high level, that’s our biggest challenge: making sure that we’re able to balance where we want to go with meeting the daily demands of the business.

What I’ve observed with marketing so far is that, like with a lot of functions, the pandemic laid bare some things that we don’t need to do in-person — things around budgeting and even media mix planning and some other stuff that we do. It’s worked perfectly fine over Zoom.

There are two areas of my function that I think have been more constrained remotely. One is the creative aspect. There is always going to be a part of marketing that depends on the energy of being in a room with other people while you’re brainstorming a campaign and whiteboarding and putting your computers and iPads and phones down and really all giving all your attention to each other to an idea. I miss that and I’m looking forward to that coming back.

And the second part I would say is the PDR or, in some companies they call it SDR, function that rolls up through marketing. I do think that’s been a tougher function for remote work in certain cases. Not to say that it can’t be done effectively, but I think there’s a real energy to that role when you have a number of bidders sitting in proximity to each other. They’re getting a little bit of that verbal camaraderie and feedback, getting that direct kind of hands-on coaching. I think that, like every company, we’ve done our best to try to use the virtual tools available to us to make that a thing. But I think that’s another area where in-person interaction is super important, particularly if you look at the hiring profile of those types of apps, like where they are in their career — I think in-person matters a lot there.

Hannah: Chris had an interesting point about trying to balance everything that’s happening and the overarching things that you’re working towards, but also trying to meet the demands of the business and sales in a very demanding business unit. It’s an immediate need for a customer who, if you just give me this one thing, it’s going to be millions, right? So there’s always that kind of dollar value that adds to the urgency. What does that alignment look like for you? What does that sales and marketing alignment look like? What are the parameters when you go in? What are the two or three go-to things that you typically look at or try to work at fixing to create better alignment?

Chris: So, I think number one, I like to look at the full spectrum of resources that are made available to sales. So they’re sort of the all-boats-rise stuff — that would be like you’re branding just generally some of your demand programs that you’re running and things you’re doing to drive revenue — to drive pipeline for the business. I like to look at the full spectrum of those things because if I do that, it helps me deal with the case-by-case stuff in a more thoughtful way. And I think that one of the things that will probably always be the hallmark of any B2B marketing that I run is that we go heavy on product marketing investment out of the gate.

Once I joined Mindtickle, not only did we build out new messaging because we have all these innovations in the sales readiness platform, we then built out discrete messaging as well. We wanted to provide a toolset with which customers could scale up or down appropriately. But first, I looked at the whole spectrum. It’s like, OK, what have we provided? And is that getting us 80 percent of what the sellers need in a lot of their deals and pretty much just working tirelessly till we get there? Because then, relative to some of the one-off requests, it makes it a little easier because there’s more back and forth that can happen in that conversation. “Well. Have you used X, Y and Z?” “Yes, I have, and I’ve used that and I still am now at this point” or “Well, by the way, the morale on my team is a lot better.”

Once they’ve already been told that stuff they’ve worked really hard on already got utilized, and they’re still at a point where extra help is required, I manage my team to index heavily on supporting sales. And what I do in my role is I look for patterns. If there’s stuff where I feel like it’s a pattern of this really was available and you just don’t want to employ it. That’s a different problem to software than there being a meaningful gap.

Secondly, in terms of sales and marketing alignment. I feel like it’s actually having a shared sense of failure. In other words, everyone likes to say that sales and marketing alignment is like a shared success, and it’s all about closing revenue — that would be the more popular answer.

But I like seeing shared sense of failure because, in my experience, way more transformational business decisions get made between marketing and sales by looking at your losses and things that didn’t go so well.

Everywhere I’ve worked, there are win notices sent out over email or Slack. We don’t spend as much time sending out the loss notices and talking about everything that went badly. We do win-loss analyses as an example, a mindset. But that’s less of a public thing for all the different reasons, because some of the stuff you get in those interviews is very candid and you’ve got to be thoughtful about making sure you’re not accidentally dressing down someone for something they did or didn’t do. But I do think that having a shared sense of failure and looking at very reflectively across the board at what could have been done better in all aspects of the value chain between marketing and sales is super important.

And in the third place, I would say it’s important that stakeholders manage their teams toward walking a mile in the other person’s shoes. I don’t feel like that happens enough. I think it’s important for marketing to empathize with sales that it is the ultimate what have you done for me lately? And there’s an incredible pressure to deliver, particularly in an environment like we’re in, which is a high-growth business. And I think, you know, marketers get prickly with everyone… it’s a marketer syndrome.

I always joke that like everyone thinks they’re good at marketing. You know, you always hear these different ideas around like, “Oh, if you just did this” or another big one for marketers is all the competitor stuff like, “Well, so-and-so did this.” It’s super important to realize that you know what the other person is going through and that really can be just an automatic compass going into any kind of interaction that you have.

I think sales needs to remember that marketing usually has some spectrum of resources it’s working with, and it’s doing its best to deliver with that resource. And I think marketing also needs to remember that sales is dealing with the cold, hard, brutal realities of the market, which are always going to have some slight misalignment.

Then there’s the academic work that people like me do on addressable market exercises and personas and all of this stuff, and I think marketers, in particular, don’t want to hear it sometimes, but I think that’s just like the way they get irritated with people saying they know all about what should be good marketing. I think they need to be careful about not presupposing that they know exactly always what great selling looks like. Sometimes it’s unnerving for them to know that I feel that way, but that is how I feel.

Tony: You know, being someone on the sales side, it’s refreshing to hear that right, especially the alignment parts. If you really do want to have a well-oiled machine, you do have to have that alignment between sales and marketing. What do you think really are the key responsibilities for marketing in the sales process versus what sales might think they might need to do?

Chris: I think the primary responsibility of marketing is to identify the addressable market, have a really cohesive strategy from a targeting perspective, from a content perspective, from an experience perspective of how to go and reach that target in market. And frankly, place some bets on what you think the majority of those people are missing in their current roles and actually need to see addressed in what they’re doing. I think that’s very much in marketing’s purview. There’s all the classical stuff that has been written about to death, which is all true, right? That more of the buying decision happens before anyone ever talks to a salesperson. I think that’s all true.

But I also feel that it’s important for marketing to bring some point of view to those interactions. It’s not just enough to say, “Well, we think this target will be interested in sales coaching, so we’ll develop a white paper and a webinar around sales coaching and generate keywords and get the machines to notice us in some way.”

But I think that it is on marketing to also come with a unique point of view that they are seeding in the mind of the prospect. So that way, sales peoples’ goal really is to get in there and take that seed that’s been planted and start getting really prescriptive about the strategy and what would be involved in bringing that to life at a company.

For me, that’s where the division of labor is. If we’re talking about B2B, which we are, I think that one thing that is important for sales to remember that, when marketing is building these strategies, there is a point where they have to plan for the what works most of the time as our conversation here, because they’re trying to reach a more mass audience, even with all the data tools and the targeting and personalization and all this stuff. If people are being completely honest with you, there’s still some level of malleability that you have to have in some of your messaging if you want to reach some of these audiences. Then it’s really on sales to take it that level deeper. That is really going to make the value and the insight.

Hannah: So, Chris, now, I’d really love to get your perspective on some of the things that you’re excited about when it comes to technology: the things that are happening in the world that are going to drive and revolutionize marketing and sales over the next two to five years.

Chris: I think one of the greatest things that is going to revolutionize the B2B marketing industry is the revenue technology and the sales technology stack catching up and chief revenue officers, chief sales officers, whatever senior sales titles you can imagine are going to start leaning harder into a more digitally focused way of doing business.

I feel that revenue technology is in a similar space right now where you have sort of this smattering of different providers that are solving the sales productivity and performance challenge from different angles. But we’re going to see more consolidation of that functionality coming together. I also think that that’s going to be an extraordinary thing for marketing as more of the sales process comes out of the shadows and gets brought into the digital realm. I think that’s going to put more context behind the data that we’ve sorely been missing for a long time.

And the last point I want to make is about CMOs coming into the 2000s. You know, they always wanted to just hang their hat on the next brand campaign, the next tagline, that’s going to be my thing. And then they realized “ Oh, actually, I potentially have to be the most digitally first organization.” And what did we see? We saw all this spend that was going toward CEOs start to move over to CMOs. I think the same thing is happening with the chief revenue officers. I think what’s happening is they’re realizing that relying on sales ops or IT to manage all the technology is probably not good enough. I think that is going to be a massive change in leadership role and that they’re going to have to start leaning into this stuff in a way that CMOs did 10 years ago.

Tony: So, Chris, it’s been a great conversation. We learned a lot. I think what we want to do is we’re going to put your CMO superpowers to work one last time. We’re going to go through a very quick, rapid fire round of questions.

Sales podcast rapid fire quesitons

Hannah: Okay, so what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

Chris: I worked with a gentleman named Chandar Pattabhiram. He’s now CMO for Coupa Software. Before that, he was CMO of Marketo, so not exactly a lightweight. And he said, “We are always going to perceive ourselves in a slightly different way than everyone else perceives us. The best you can do is minimize the number of clicks you are away.”

Tony: What would you say is your top productivity hack?

Chris: You’ve got to wake up early. I can certainly say that, as the CMO, f you don’t utilize the hours of 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. effectively, I don’t see how you get through your day.

Tony: Top prediction for the sales industry this year?

Chris: I think more noise and more consolidation. Hmm.

Hannah: If you could share a piece of advice to all marketers, what would that be?

Chris: My advice would be make sure to remember that your ideas matter. It’s not simply enough to message value. You need to message sight.

Tony: Where do you go to get your industry news?

Chris: A little bit of everywhere? Maybe just because I’m a little bit of a sentimentalist, I still read TechCrunch quite a bit. And I also read a lot of the digital stuff on The Wall Street Journal. And then generally just sort of a smattering like I set up the feeds where I’m watching specific companies and then I’m sort of kind of plugging through and looking at the different news outlets that are covering them. So those are primary for me, and then I get all my regular news, primarily from the New York Times.

Hannah: What book has inspired you the most in your career?

Chris: Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” has still stuck with me all these years later. I’m sure there’s a lot in that book that has probably been refuted as pseudoscience in a number of different constructs. But I think through so much in my life around initial impressions and reactions to things and how much that shapes you and how much it shapes a lot of your business relationships. And, I mean, that book is probably 20 years old now, but that one has stuck with me this whole time,

Tony: I’m going to throw one last question in. We’re going to go from books to movies since you brought movies up earlier. And this is a question we had asked the previous guest on the podcast. But which term would you use? Always be closing or sell me this pen.

Chris: Sell me this pen.

Tony: That is the correct answer. Chris, thanks so much for your time here on the podcast today. It was a pleasure for Hannah and I to have you on, and we’re looking forward to seeing what you do at Mindtickle.

Chris: Thank you. Thank you both.

Tony: Oh, so had I’ve had more positions than I care to reveal over the course of my career, but I’ve worked with a number of different marketing people… some good, some not as good, but I think there have been a bunch that I’ve worked with that have done an excellent job in setting up and driving awareness. I’ve been at some companies that were very early in the beginning of their fields where you were doing a lot of evangelizing, having to go out and really make sure that people got a first understanding of what the product or solution was that we were delivering. I think the best marketers that I’ve worked with have really done a phenomenal job of getting the name out there and the brand out there and making sure that the customers had a good sense of what it is that we could do. But more importantly, the value that we could provide does that. Does that ring true to what you’ve experienced with any of the marketing teams you’ve worked with?

Hannah: Yeah, I’m with you completely. I’ve had many roles in my own career, and I have definitely been part of organizations where I haven’t known what marketing is doing. I just don’t know. I’m thinking “Are you here? Do you still work here? What are you working on?” And that has worried me, and I’ve been in situations as a salesperson where I’ve been like, “If I say something, am I going to get in trouble because I haven’t heard from marketing? I don’t know what they’re doing. I’m confused.” So I just started developing.

Tony: What they’re doing is getting nice pens and shirts and things like that.

Hannah: I’ve also been in environments in both small and large organizations where marketing are all over you. They’re like, “Here’s a campaign. This is what we’re doing. Here’s the script. Here’s a value prop presented to us. Walk us through a demonstration. Here’s what you should be talking about. Here’s the campaign that’s going out. Here’s the date we’re going to send you a list of people who have opened the email, clicked on the email. We’re going to show you all of their web activity.” So I think there are two distinctions when it comes to marketing people. I’m definitely going to lose followers talking about this, but you’re going to have some marketers who are like, “My job is to make money for the company.” That’s it. And you’re going to have other marketers who are saying, “I am here to drive bleeds,” and I think that’s just a really fine line. And when that revenue org isn’t thinking about numbers, that’s where I see things start to break down because you’re thinking of doing a great job, but there’re no numbers. So that’s my two cents.

Tony: Yeah. And the thing is, you don’t need a huge marketing team in order to have success. I’ve been at some smaller organizations that just have phenomenal people that were very crisp in their messaging and very precise and knew how to target the right people at the right time with the right information. And that’s why sales and marketing are so intertwined, right? Because the outcomes and goals that they’re looking for aren’t really that dissimilar. It’s just really a slightly different approach and what they’re looking to do.

So to me, the best people I’ve really worked with were the ones that were really smart in the way they thought about things and could execute at a higher level to really drive that retention, that information level that people are looking for. You know, I’m a movie guy, as you know, so telling a good story is always very important. But in sales, telling a good story about your brand relies on having a strong belief in the company’s overall vision and mission. I agree with Chris that to optimize sales outcomes and effectiveness, sales and marketing each need to build a team full of passionate people who can really get behind the product.

Hannah: I mean, Chris even emphasized the importance of being truthful and direct, especially when working with the sales team.

Tony: Exactly. And we all appreciate honesty when working with others. But if you really want to get in a salesperson’s good books, it’s important to be upfront about overall performance and any challenges you may be dealing with.

Hannah: Honestly, remaining adaptable and flexible to change is really essential, especially in today’s rapidly evolving world.

Tony: Exactly. Being able to help your customers solve problems as they crop up will help you build relationships founded on trust and credibility and a problem-solving attitude.

Hannah: Thank you for listening to this episode of Ready Set Sell.

Tony: We hope you took away some valuable lessons and insights that inspire you to reevaluate your approach to sales readiness.

Hannah: Don’t forget to subscribe, rate and review the show when you get a minute.

Tony: And stay tuned for the next episode of Ready Set Sell.

Achieving Excellence in Enterprise Sales with a Cross-Functional Mindset with Reid Oliver

Strong communication skills will serve you well in any industry, but they’re especially crucial in the sales world. Today companies are moving away from the traditional corporate structure of working in silos to adopt a more streamlined approach.

And establishing synergy among teams is really essential if you’re hoping to optimize sales outcomes and meet or exceed all of your sales targets.

On the most recent episode of Ready, Set, Sell, our guest Reid Oliver shared his tips on finding cross-functional alignment to achieve excellence in enterprise sales.

As the enterprise sales director at Splunk, Reid has found a few different leadership strategies that work for him and his team. He’s here today to let us in on all his secrets.

Who is Reid Oliver?

Hannah: Tony and I usually start by being a little bit nosy. What I’d love to do is get you to share a little bit about your career background so far — more specifically, the points that really made a difference in contributing to where you are today.

Reid Sure. I have been in software sales for seven years now. So, I’m certainly not a grizzled veteran and I still have plenty to learn. I’ve been at two companies. My first foray into sales was with a Series C company called Vidyard. We were doing B2B video hosting, data analytics, internal communications. I started there about as entry level as you can get, as a sales development representative, managing inbound leads. We had a phenomenal manager at the time and I also took advantage of a good growth curve, so I was able to move into a business development representative role as an account executive (AE). And then my final role there was with our enterprise team, selling into some of the biggest customers that we had at the time.

Addressing your question around getting to where I am today, I would recommend to anyone joining a startup early on in their sales career. You just get so much good exposure to wearing a lot of hats. Since then, I decided to move over to where I am right now, which is Splunk. I wanted to get to more large-enterprise complex-platform selling, with much larger deal sizes. And again, I’m really fortunate around timing and leadership and growth. I started as a commercial regional sales manager (RSM), an AE role, and today I’ve gone through a few different roles at Splunk because they are managing a strategic Canadian business. I’m now working with the largest customers and companies in Canada.

Tony: Excellent. I actually know Vidyard very well because I was a customer for a while. Sounds like you’ve done a great job climbing the ladder, but what drew you to sales in the first place?

Reid: A few factors. I think one of the biggest would be my parents and, in particular, my mom. She was always involved in our school and kind of thinking about careers and what would set us up for success. And part of that, we did some career kind of testing my brother and me, and one thing that always shone was that I always tended to score higher on EQ than IQ. So I wasn’t necessarily going to try to go for a surgeon or an investment banker. But pairing that with kind of playing a lot of sports, being competitive, maybe even just a general business interest, I thought that salesman made a ton of sense. And so that ended up where I ended up being, where I put a lot of my focus.

Hannah: Splunk is an awesome company. I’m actually working with a few people at Splunk over the last year. Yeah, I’d love to know a bit more about how you landed your role at Splunk.

Reid: Yeah. So it was, like a lot of roles these days, just networking. I was, as I mentioned, trying to figure out where my next step would be from Vidyard. I knew that cybersecurity and big data was a huge market still continues to be. And so I looked at who was a leader in that space, and Splunk was certainly top of the list (and continues to be), but at the time was really the key player. And so I ended up just looking up where I had connections and reaching out and having a cup of coffee with those individual sellers and one of the managers. And I ended up getting put into the interview process through that.

Tony: Well, it sounds like you’ve kind of been climbing the ladder. You started at Vidyard, you made your way to commercial accounts, and now enterprise. What would you say you like most about enterprise sales and what you’re doing right now?

Reid: I think the best part about enterprise sales is just the strategy behind it and the relationships that you build and the impact that you’re having on a customer account. I mean, enterprise deals are generally quite complex there. You need change agents across a company using multiple layers of champions across technical and key stakeholders. And so that’s certainly something that’s probably more absent in the more traditional kind of transactional selling model. I think it’s good to experience both, but the former certainly appeals to me from an enterprise perspective, and just getting the chance to be a part of a much larger deal cycle and impact from a revenue perspective to the company that you’re at is fun.

Tony: Yeah, the checks are always bigger, too, which helps. So that’s good.

Reid: This is true.

Hannah: When it goes right, that is.

Reid: Correct.

What is Splunk?

Hannah: Reid, I’m going to I’m going to try and remember what one of your company’s straplines are: is it data to anywhere? Is it something like that right for Splunk?

Reid: Data to everything.

Hannah: There we go. I was close! I’d love you to share an overview for those listening who don’t know what Splunk specializes in because I saw some material beneath the surface and I thought it was really cool. I’d love for you to help us understand how you help businesses grow and improve their outcomes.

Reid: Sure. In an analogy that I heard early on — and we’ve certainly grown from this — but we used to be kind of Google for IT. We were the de-facto platform to help IT professionals and security professionals dig through massive amounts of data and get to their answers quickly.

And from there, we’ve certainly developed into still being that critical query and big data ingest platform but we’re now turning also into visualizations, alerting orchestration and automation, and obviously applying layers of machine learning across these massive complex datasets. So ultimately, we’re helping security professionals ensure that their products and their companies are secure and identify when issues happen and where they are really quickly.

On the IT and DevOps side, we’re helping folks ensure that their websites are up and running and we’re ensuring that if bugs and issues are happening, they’re finding the root cause very, very quickly and, oftentimes, doing that through a predictive model rather than reactive. So it sounds like it’s a really sophisticated process there that you guys have to go through. And I’m curious about the different teams that you have to engage with on the sales side. So, you know, as you’re going through your process, what are the different teams that you typically engage with? How do you do that? And you know, how do you make sure that everything is working cohesively together?

Yeah, it’s not uncommon for our win notes on big deals to span multiple pages, and then you have to scroll through all the different teams and specialists that we have because it certainly takes a village. I would say core to our go-to-market function.

We obviously have our direct sellers. We work very closely with our sales or solution engineers. So they are the technical prowess and strategy behind a lot of the projects we’re working on that we then have specialist teams that are verticalized. We have financial services, we have oil and gas energy, we have e-commerce and we’ll often pull in those folks to get multiple layers into a conversation, to ensure that we’re helping build out a broader business case. And then I would say marketing partners are huge components that we work really closely with — Google and AWS in particular. And on the marketing side, we’re always trying to do different events and workshops and things to keep our customers engaged and successful.

Tony: Oh. You know, at this point in the pandemic, I think it’s safe to say we’re all a little bit Zoomed out.

Hannah: Well, I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I love Reid’s approach to ensuring teams are communicating effectively without booking too many unnecessary meetings and touch-bases.

Tony: Exactly. I can’t stand having too many unnecessary meetings. But I think cross-functional collaboration is all about striking the right balance between working effectively as an individual and keeping communication channels open with your entire team.

Hannah: But I also love what Reid said about celebrating small wins to stay motivated. I think celebrating together as a team is a really great way to strengthen those bonds and form authentic connections.

Tony: Absolutely. And if celebrating those wins together includes a cocktail or two, then we’ll do what we have to do. But I think finding cross-functional alignment is more important than ever today as the landscape becomes increasingly competitive. So going the extra mile is always worth it.

Achieving excellence in enterprise sales

Hannah: Agreed. Let’s hear what Reid has to say next about achieving excellence in enterprise sales.

Tony: With all that in mind, do you have a specific focus for this year or is there a specific goal that you’re targeting… or how are you thinking about the upcoming fiscal year?

Reid: I guess if my manager were listening, he’d want to hear my aim is to hit our team number for the year, which certainly is a goal. But the way that I look at it, and I’m obviously newer on leadership, I try to think about it as a bit of a framework or kind of trickle-down effect to our end goal, be hitting our number. What are some of the other kinds of leading indicator goals that we need in order to get there? A big one for me is ensuring that I understand what my team’s goals are for the year. Some of them are going to be purely numbers/financially based. Others want to get into leadership or get exposure to other teams.

Making sure that I have a full understanding of what success means to them and then building that up into how we get there as a team to hit our number, that’s probably my overarching goal for the year.

Hannah: And Reid just kind of expanding on what you were saying regarding enterprise selling: one of the key differences you mentioned is there’s the inherent strategic nature of an enterprise setting, right and also the multiple stakeholders that are typically involved. What’s bringing all that together? What are some of the recent sales wins — of course, those that you’re allowed to talk about — that you are proud of? And what do you think are some of the factors that resulted in these wins? So, think of a salesperson listening, who’s thinking: What do I need to do on my next call to be like, Reid?

Reid: That’s a good question. A good win that we had that I could share happened prior to the holiday break. We were working with another data SaaS company, actually local here in Canada. They put a significant premium on security and, in turn, uptime. It wasn’t the largest from a dollar perspective but, from a complexity standpoint, it was pretty significant. So they have contracts in the US where they require steady ramp capabilities. We had unique compliance and legal components to it.

I think one of the things I’m most proud of and what’s important on the enterprise side is it was a nine to 10-month sales cycle, but we did a really good job at the beginning, building a strong relationship with multiple stakeholders — leaders at the business, technical owners — and we tried to have some of the tough conversations early on to get those out of the way. We knew it was competitive and we were going to go to an RFQ, so we tried to get ahead of where we were strong and where we may be weaker or at least what our competitor was going to be meeting on,  what did our license model look like and what would the cost look like. That way, when we got towards the end, we had had a lot of those challenging conversations — the ones that maybe come with a little bit more back and forth — and it ended up being much smoother. There were still negotiations to be had, but we had built a lot of rapport early on so that we could have those conversations easily and ultimately partner. I think it’s a big reason we won the deal.

Tony: It sounds like you did a great job and, like you said, establishing those relationships was a big part of that. And touching back a little bit to something you said earlier about getting to understand a little bit more about your internal teams: what their goals are, what sort of things they’re looking to do. As you’ve collected all this data, have you found that there are certain challenges that are bigger ones that you want to make sure that you can work through with your team? Are there any challenges that stand out to you right now?

How to build natural urgency

Reid: I think one of the biggest challenges that we come up against is just building natural urgency. I always try to get my team away from just selling to the end of a quarter or picking our own timeline or deadline, because that’s often when I find deals slip and forecasts get impacted. I also know that, as sellers, we can’t make our own agenda. To get a deal done, we have to work with our customers and understand what’s a compelling event for them. And that’s much easier said than done.

Sometimes you have to do it around product launches or sprints, and the engineering team is running around dealing with other major projects that don’t even affect you, but they open up resources for your project. I try to get my team to do a far better job of just leaning in and identifying upfront, “Hey, we want to work with your team’s timelines, but we want to pick a date and work backward from it.” That inherently is a challenge, but it’s also something we’re trying to get better at because if we can build natural urgency, then we ultimately have a time and a date that we’re working towards. And we also have a bit more leverage when it comes to getting into final contract negotiations.

How to be easy to work with

Hannah: You were speaking briefly about the challenges that you’re working on for your team. And urgency in deals… it’s a hot topic, right? It always has been. But I’m just thinking about the wider ecosystem that you work in at Splunk. You’ve been there a few years now. You went from an RSM to it to a sales director. What were some of the key differences you noticed as you made that transition? What are some of the things that stand out with how you’ve had to work with the team as an RSM compared to how you need to work with the wider ecosystem as a sales director?

Reid: As an RSM, one of your biggest focus areas needs to be ensuring that you’re working collaboratively with your sales engineer or solution engineer. Especially with a complex sale like Splunk, they’re so critical. And I think that, just like sellers, you get a wide range of personalities when it comes to sales engineers.

And so, as I always tell my team, when I was an RSM, I was going out of my way to make their lives easier. So I didn’t expect them to do meetings, follow-ups. I didn’t. If I needed a technical document that I could Google just as easily as they could, I’d go out of my way to do some of those tasks so that when I really needed to lean on them — if we needed to go after hours and really close in on a project — they were willing to do that. I find that if a rep takes the easy way out or goes lazy, they’ll get the same in return from their SE. I made a very conscious effort to make working with me as easy and enjoyable as possible. And I now try to ensure my team is doing that so that when we need help, folks are willing and open to come and work with us.

Tony: Digging into that a little bit, how do you align with your teams? Do you see it as, “Hey, this is just something I need to do one time?” Or is this part of you? It sounds like it’s part of your overall methodology with your teams but tell us a little bit more about that.

Reid: Alignment is certainly always fluid and continuous, and it changes depending on the project and customer that we’re working with. But I always try to have consistent communication and alignment across all of our cross-functional teams.

I am cautious of having too many meetings. I try not to have just meetings for the sake of them. I try to be as efficient as possible, but I count on my team to be ensuring we have that active alignment and that folks understand their roles and responsibilities from the early stages.

So, when we’re doing our first-half kickoffs, for instance, or our quarterly business reviews, if we have accountability early on around, those folks know that they’re going to be counted on, and that generally breeds a good, healthy level of alignment and responsibility.

Hannah: I’m a big believer in motivation and positive thinking and affirmations and things like that. And I think you need a lot of that in sales, right? This is the step: that one moment where something needs to help, right? Or the universal powers. But what is motivation like for you? How do you connect with and motivate the people around you, particularly the people in your team?

Reid: Yeah, that’s a good point, Hannah. One thing I learned early on and I actually was not great at was managing the highs and lows in sales. A mentor of mine talked about just not getting too high and not getting too low either. And that was a learning curve for me. I was always more of an emotional seller and I think you’re right. You need you need to have positivity in the good times and the bad. With my team, we always try to celebrate the wins, even if they’re smaller wins. So maybe we haven’t yet closed the deal but we got through a huge milestone. Or maybe we broke into just booking meetings with an account that we know is a high priority but haven’t had much work with before.

As part of our team meetings, I try to get my team to share and open up about what’s working for them. While selling can be an individual sport, at times we try to make it like an overall open landscape where people can celebrate and also where people can identify, “Hey, I’m having challenges here. Have you folks tried to do something different?”

Also, sales folks are generally pretty competitive. So if you are the top performer on your team is continuously sharing wins, it tends to bubble up to other folks.

Hannah: It really does.

Tony: Well you said, you were a hockey player earlier, so I think you got to share the wins, right? That’s all part of the team mentality with hockey. So.

Reid: Exactly.

Tony: So it’s funny. We were talking about hockey offline before, but everybody consistently says about hockey players that they go above and beyond, right? They’re not like the guys who go down with the fake injury like in other sports. So how do you how would you relate that to sales?

Reid: Yeah, I’d say there are two components of that that I’ve noticed. Number one is just if you’re willing to put in the work and work harder than the other 90 percent, you’re going to be largely successful in sales. It’s not the only telltale sign but I have found that, for the most part, if you really are hungry, you’re passionate about what you’re selling and you’re interested in what your customer’s goals are, that’s a way to stand out in itself.

One of the big things I see is just the level of preparation. So with top sellers, there’s this framework.

It’s like the principle agent framework where you want more and more of your team to think like an owner. I think the best reps treat their territories as they own that territory, right. They’re the GM or the CEO or whatever you want to call it, of that territory. And that means slowing down. Every single action is value add and putting themselves in the framework of their customers for the largest strategic deals, thinking like they’re a part of that team. Where does our solution have to fit? What challenges does it have to meet? That’s the top sellers that I see. They’re willing to go out of their way and above and beyond and to really think like an owner, and I think that’s a huge component of being successful in sales.

Hannah: So Reid, you’ve mentioned quite a few things about what you can do to improve your ability to deliver sales outcomes for your business and your customers. You mentioned things about collaborating well internally. You mentioned acting like an owner and finding positivity during the highs and lows. But what about some of the recommendations that you’d make to somebody who’s getting started in their sales career? You’ve already mentioned working at a startup, so you can’t say that one again!

Reid: Yeah, sure. That is a big one. I will say I was going to default back to that, but I’ll follow your guidance. I think finding a space that you’re passionate about is important. I think you really have to care about what you’re selling. You’re going to be doing it every single day and it can be a grind, so if you don’t necessarily believe in the space or you’re not genuinely interested in it, I think that would show on long calls, right? And in today’s world, you have to be much more of an advocate and customers just have so many different options. If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to care about what you’re going into. And then also just picking strong, strong products in markets with lots of upside. I’ve always loved that the reason I went to Splunk was I looked at the size of the data market, data monitoring, and cyber, and I just felt that there’s so much growth opportunity. So finding markets with plenty of upside and tailwinds is important.

Hannah: I think people often overlook that. It’s a really good point. Thanks for that.

Tony: I’m sure Splunk is changing quickly. How do you go about refining your skillset right and making sure that you’re where you need to be, not only for your personal growth, but for the organization?

Reid: One of the first things I do is try to identify people who are smarter than me or have been more successful than I have, and I just ask them for guidance and to spend time. I try to be as respectful as I can about it and I come prepared, but I don’t really shy away from it.

At Splunk, one of the first things I did and I continue to do is have mentors who I try to keep up with, learning, taking their brain, kind of being a sponge, if you will, to pick up different tactics that they’re using and make them my own.

So that’s a huge component of it. And then I also am fairly active. I use tools like Twitter and a number of different blogs from other sales leaders and go-to-market groups and just try to make sure that I’m staying up to date and relevant on a lot of the trends because I find that, once something is reaching kind of LinkedIn blog velocity, it’s already being used by a lot of sellers. Trying to remain consistent and sharp on new ways and strategies folks are using has typically yielded good results so far.

Tony: Well, you’ve kind of defined my whole career: being smart enough to know I’m not the smartest person in the room. I think that we’re very much on the same page with that.

Hannah: It takes a while to be comfortable with that and realize the benefits of that actually. I know this is definitely a valid point. We’ve spoken quite a bit, indirectly, about communication when it comes to working with internal teams and when it comes to working with your sales team. What are some of the tips you have for ensuring smooth and effective communication? Because there’s a lot of ways to communicate now, like informal, formal, etc. Tell me more about some of the tips that you would recommend when it comes to comms.

Reid: Yeah, there is no shortage of communication channels these days. I really like the concept of radical candor: the idea of being openly transparent and also very direct. I find that that’s the feedback that I always hope to get and I try to embody that in my communication with my team. I find that it’s best to be very, very open and honest about performance. And if that’s to the negative side, obviously, it’s coming with constructive ways to improve on what we’re doing. And if it’s to the positive, we need to ensure we can replicate that and make it more of a playbook going forward. I guess to your point around channels, Hannah, I find that still just picking up the phone and calling is one of the best ways to really have a conversation, particularly if it’s more of a difficult one. I think Slack and email messages can sometimes be misconstrued, but there’s a time and a place for them. I also found that shift has been really different, moving from when I was in a full office. In a setting that’s been fully virtual the last two years, it’s been even more challenging at times to really connect with folks. I find there’s always a little bit of that barrier on Zoom calls and such. And so, again, meet for a coffee or get in person if you can, but if not, phone calls generally the best.

Hannah: Yeah, but Reid, emoji or no emoji?

Reid: I’m not much of an emoji guy. I’m a I “Iike” guy.

Tony: Actually, thinking about the challenges you were just mentioning. Can you think of a time when there was a communication breakdown that had a direct impact on something you were doing? Can you think of anything and how did you solve it?

Reid: I mean, there are communication breakdowns — they happen all the time. I’m even thinking how we work with customers. Sometimes emails can be misconstrued or just missed in general. And so the best way, in my view, to solve it is, if we feel like we’re going down a path or maybe there’s a disconnect, it’s just kind of hitting pause, with me putting my own hand up and saying, “Look, I think I’m missing the point or maybe I was I was unclear. Can we do like a hard reset on this and just kind of try to figure out if there is a better path forward?” And I think identifying that early, early on and not trying to pretend like we know everything or go down a path that’s not the right one. It’s probably best to nip it in the bud when you when you have risk of a miscommunication.

Hannah: I’m just thinking about something you mentioned earlier. You said you’re relatively new to leadership. I think I was doing a little bit nosing around on your LinkedIn. It’s about a year, right, since you transitioned into a sales director?

Reid: Yes. Yeah, I’m starting. We just kicked out at this level at the end of January. So this is the start of my second year.

Hannah: What are you hoping to improve? You’ve had a year of learning and probably some shocks along the way, but how are you hoping to up level your leadership skills for 2022?

Reid: There’s a long list. I’m actively trying to find ways to get better, and I’m pretty open with my team about that too. I’m in a unique situation where I joke that some of my team members have been selling since I was in high school. So they’re all far more senior than me. One thing I try to do is just take the approach of not knowing everything and being very open about, “Hey, here’s where I can help, and here’s where I where I want to get feedback.” Something I think I can do more of is press for more critical feedback. I find sometimes asking for feedback can be really difficult, and sometimes folks, particularly if you have a friendly relationship, will take the easy way out. They’ll say, “You’re doing a great job, thanks so much.” But that’s rarely the case. There are always going to be areas that I can improve on a one-on-one basis, but I also want feedback about how I manage teams. And I’m not going to let them off the hook when I do ask for feedback because it’s really the only way I’ll improve. So that’s the main focus of mine, among others.

Tony: You said you’re about two weeks into your new fiscal, right? What’s next for you and for Splunk over the next year?

Reid: So Splunk’s going through a pretty big transformation. I think we’re one of the largest companies, aside from Adobe and Autodesk, to move from a more traditional on-prem software to being fully cloud native and SaaS. And so that’s come with some growing pains over the past two years, but it’s also been really unique to be a part of. What’s next for us is just really ensuring that we’re laser tight on just what being a SaaS company means. What are the critical metrics I mentioned that touched on whether we have organic growth? How do we land new deals? How do we ensure we have retention and renewal? So that’s a huge focus area: best practices around being SaaS company now. And for my team, it’s a matter of ensuring that we are educating our customers about those changes and ensuring that they’re aware of all the different things that Splunk can do. We’ve always said it’s a blessing and a curse, where we are very good at a lot of different areas, but we often will get stuck in one segment. So jumping over to other buying centers, whether you’re in security or moving into IT, can be challenging because the folks that own Splunk tend to hug it and keep it very close. Having the opportunity to build and grow and expand teams can be tricky, but it’s needed if we’re going to kind of continue growing at the rate we are.

Tony: Oh, that’s great. Well, Reid, this has been fantastic, but we’re not done with you yet. We have just a couple more questions that we’re going to do in our rapid-fire round. Hannah’s going to kick it off. Give really quick answers: the first thing that comes to mind.

Sales podcast rapid fire quesitons

Hannah: All right. Let’s get into it. So, OK, what is your sales philosophy in just three words?

Reid: Always be interested.

Hannah: I like it. What’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career so far?

Reid: Find good mentors.

Tony: I like that one. Your top productivity hack?

Reid: Own your calendar. I’m a huge fan of blocking anything and everything I need to get done throughout my days.

Tony: Very smart. Top prediction for the sales industry in the upcoming year?

Reid: Product-led growth is going to continue to flourish so reps need to find ways to be effective and change their models in some cases.

Hannah: What’s one thing that you believe is revolutionizing the sales industry?

Reid: It’s probably the amount of tools and resources and, in some cases, cutting through the noise of what are effective tools and how to help reps work as efficiently as possible. I think the efficiency and productivity metric is just going to become more and more important, particularly for teams, when they’re justifying raising new rounds or where they’re allocating dollars for headcount. It’s a huge component and probably will be more and more.

Hannah: I think I’m with you on that one. But on rep productivity, if you could share just one piece of advice to salespeople, what would it be?

Reid: Always be authentic and transparent.  Be as open as you possibly can and then try to be somebody that a buyer likes to do business with. There are so many tools and options out there. People still like doing business with folks who they find enjoyable and whom they see they get value from.

Tony: There are a lot of voices out there nowadays with blogs and posts and everything. So where do you go to for your best sales industry news?

Reid: I’m a huge Twitter fan. I try to use Twitter and be selective of my followers, but also make sure that I’m staying up to speed. I like a few different podcasts, and then I also try to read more books. There are a lot of good books out there.

Hannah: OK, so are leaders made or born?

Reid: Both. I don’t know. I don’t think one versus the other.

Hannah: You’re allowed.

Tony: You can. You can.

Hannah: You’re allowed.

Tony: Well, this is our last question. I’m actually a big movie fan myself, so we’re going to tie this to movie quotes. But would you go with always be closing or sell me this pen?

Reid: Always be closing.

Tony: I knew you were going to say that because you gave us a couple of these already, so I had a good feeling that you are going to go that direction. But, Reid, this was a fantastic time today. We really appreciate you joining us on Ready Set Sell and we wish you the best of luck at Splunk. Thanks again for your time.

Reid: Awesome. Thank you so much, Hannah and Tony. I really appreciate it.

What we learned

Tony: You know, I thought it was really interesting with all of the different roles that Reid has had over the years, because that’s pretty consistent with what I’ve seen from a number of top sales leaders: they’ve done different things and they have unique perspectives because they’ve really been able to see things from different lenses within the sales verticals. I think that gives him a great way of being able to really visualize from a different perspective.

Hannah: I definitely agree with that. I think it even goes beyond having experience at various levels in sales. I think the sales leaders that really exceed expectations are the ones who have actually had the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of sales experience. So they’ve had incredible years but maybe they’ve had a quarter where they haven’t done so great. And the reason I mention that is that they are able to really think about, you know, how will my team be feeling right now when they’re doing great? Or how will my team be feeling when right in this instance when they haven’t hit a target? And I think when you’ve got leaders who have gone through various different roles in sales, full stop, they they’re much more relatable when they can relate to the different situations that salespeople find themselves in.

Tony: Yeah, I think it really gives you a lot of credibility as you start rising the chain. I mean, I look at my background. My first job out of college, I was selling sneakers. You know, I was the top sneaker salesman in northern New Jersey, which brought me to where I am today, I suppose. But it really gives you an idea of how to think about things differently, because even though I was selling sneakers, I learned a lot about how to deal with people and different dynamics with the people I was working with. I think every job that you go through or every stop on your way really helps define who you’re going to be and how you’re going to work with colleagues within different structures.

Hannah: Yeah, I love the sneakers. This is great. When you think about the roles that all of us had and you think about the importance of coaching now, as a sales leader, how can you coach if you haven’t done the job yourself? Or how can you really effectively coach if you just haven’t been in the trenches, the multiple roles that you play and the experience that you gather from that? I just think it sets you up to be a much stronger coach, which, in my opinion, is a key part of being in sales leadership.

Tony: Yeah, absolutely. I think that all adds to credibility, right? And we’ve all had managers over the years that, you know, get put into positions of leadership and have not done the job that they’re asking you to do. And they don’t really get the credibility because they haven’t done it and they’re asking you to do things that either they don’t know how to do or just haven’t had any experience doing. I totally agree. I think it’s very important to have someone in that role that can not only talk the talk but walk the walk. Reid’s clear and articulate understanding of his role in the team really impressed me.

Hannah: I know, right? Like, it became quite clear early on in the interview why he’s moved up the ladder to a leadership position.

Tony: I know he really had some great suggestions to share about finding cross-functional alignment internally, managing teams effectively and really going above and beyond to achieve excellence in sales.

Hannah: I think one point he made that really stood out to me was the value of finding someone who’s more successful or experienced than you and learning as much as you can from them.

Tony: You know what they say? It’s funny. I use this too. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. I think Reid also emphasized the importance of following your passion in sales. You know, I couldn’t agree more with this point because if you’re not passionate about what you’re selling, people will be able to sense that and you’ll see it reflected in your results.

Hannah: It’s true. And finally, Reid’s comments about accountability and responsibility were so on point. Getting clear on everyone’s roles and responsibilities from the very beginning will help set everyone up for success and lead to stronger alignment overall.

Tony: You know, absolutely. I think, all in all, I learned a lot from today’s episode, and we hope that you did, too. Thanks again to our guest Reid for joining us today.

Hannah: Thank you for listening to this episode of Ready Set Sell.

Tony: We hope you took away some valuable lessons and insights that inspire you to reevaluate your approach to sales readiness.

Hannah: Don’t forget to subscribe, rate and review the show when you get a minute.

Tony: And stay tuned for the next episode of Ready Set Sell.

Lessons in Sales Leadership with Alice Heiman

Our second episode of Ready, Set, Sell, recently aired featuring Alice Heiman, Founder & Chief Sales Energizer of Sales Strategies for CEOs with Alice Heiman. In case you weren’t able to tune in, not to worry. We’ve got a recap of the podcast below, covering major themes such as:

  • On starting her own business
  • Re-framing sales for modern customers
  • What makes a world-class sales organization
  • How CEOs can affect change from the top down
  • How sales leaders can level up their teams (Hint: coaching is key)
  • How sales leaders can evolve their own skillset
  • What’s a winning sales strategy?

Who is Alice Heiman?

Hannah: I’d love to just start from a place where you can share a little bit about your career background so far, but more specifically the things that have happened that have been like the biggest catalysts over the last few years.

Alice: It’s surprising to some people to find out that my career started as an elementary school teacher. They’re like, “Wow, from kindergarten to CEOs, right?” That was a long, long time ago because I have had my own company since 1997. So working with small children was wonderful. I loved it. As you can imagine, it was engaging and fun. There are a lot of great things about it, but I have this Dad who owned a company called Miller Heiman, and he was always asking me to do projects for him. And so even though I was teaching, I was learning about his business and doing projects for him and learning about sales,  sales training, the complexities of strategic selling, and all of those things. Eventually, he talked me into coming to work for him because I never, ever dreamed in a million years that I would be in sales or be a salesperson. This career path never even occurred to me. So I sort of got catapulted into the world of sales from elementary school as a special ed teacher and a reading specialist. I had a master’s degree in education but got catapulted into the world of business through Miller Heiman, and I love it.

Tony: So, Alice, that’s that’s a great background. Obviously, the connection with Miller Heiman is huge. Having that diverse background, what really drew you to the world of sales specifically?

Alice: I think that I had an epiphany. I’m not sure exactly where it was because at first I was not really thinking of it as, “Oh, I’m going into a career in sales.” I went into the business to help grow the business. And actually, my Dad hired me to work on the curriculum, which is something I knew because I was a teacher, right? So I wasn’t really thinking of myself in sales still. And I probably had the same idea about salespeople as most people who don’t understand sales do – they’re pushy, manipulative, they try to trick you, they guilt you. You know, all the things we hate about sales, right?

Tony: We’ve never heard that before.

Alice Never, never. So I think that when I started to understand that the Miller Heiman processes are so customer-focused, there’s so much about helping, I was like, “Wow, this is just like teaching.” To me, sales is a helping profession, and that is what drives me every day. I wake up and I get to help my customers solve complex problems. So my brain is busy all the time and I get to do something different every day. I feel like I’m making a difference and you know, when companies do well because their sales are good, everybody benefits from that. All the people internally in the organization benefit, the customers benefit, the whole economy around them benefits. So I feel like I’m making a huge impact.

Compare that to teaching little kids, I love both, but I love this more and I’ve stayed in it a lot longer. I was teaching for 13 years and now I’m not going to tell you how many years I’ve been in sales, but 20 plus years, right? Doing what I do now, I wake up every day and I cannot wait because selling is helping, guiding, and solving – and those are things that I love to do.

On starting her own business

Hannah: That just led me to think about your consulting business. You’re taking what you love and you’ve now transformed that into an incredible consulting business. Your website speaks directly to CEOs saying, maybe you’re stopping sales. I love it. So just share a bit more about why you decided to take that leap and start your own business.

Alice: The reason I took the leap is because I found out my father wanted to sell the company. He and Bob Miller started the company, my Dad bought Bob Miller out and it eventually got to a point where it was a bigger company than he wanted to run so he decided he wanted to sell. I helped them get the company ready to sell and then I went off on my own.

Now, when I first left Miller Heiman, I still had a lot of my big clients; Fidelity Investments, Dow Chemical, Hewlett Packard, AT&T, some real giants. But a funny thing happened––the dot-coms. Remember those? If you’re old enough, you remember the dot-coms. We now call them the dot bombs. People were just throwing money at these dot-coms and the people from companies like Fidelity, GE Capital, and my other clients, the Senior Executives were leaving and going to those companies – and they were some of the founders of those companies! Then, they would call me to help and I’d say, “Miller Heiman doesn’t do that. We do sales training for Fortune 500 companies,” and they’d respond by saying, “Can you help us start up a sales team from scratch?”

So we did. I started working with CEOs and the senior leaders who had led these big, big companies to set up their sales from scratch. I’ve always really focused on the CEO, but I had positioned myself in the market more as a sales generalist because I think I didn’t understand, I was growing and learning, and that’s what I did. I did do some other things back then that I don’t do now, but it became clearer and clearer to me that sales is changing so much and the buyer has shifted. Our brain still works the same way when we make a decision, but the way we’re buying things has changed so much because of the internet. We’re digital beings.

It’s more than just sales and the sales leaders, it’s more than just customer success, it’s more than just the marketing, the operations. Each of them in their own silos is not giving the customer an exceptional experience.

Only the CEO can orchestrate all departments so that they are focused on the customer, the way the customer wants to buy, and that exceptional customer experience.

So I decided to turn away everything but my focus on the CEO and helping them understand their role in sales and how they can support sales. But when I say sales, I don’t just mean sellers, right? I mean the way the customer wants to buy from you and that includes a much larger group of people than just our sellers and a larger group of processes because we have to put things out there on the internet to draw the customer in and engage them that have nothing to do with sellers. So it’s so much bigger, and that’s why I focus on the CEO.

Re-framing sales for modern customers

Tony: You’ve worked with so many diverse companies. Is there an overarching mission or aim that you really focus on when you’re talking with folks? Is there anything you really like to focus on from an overall perspective?

Alice: I think that my main focus is, What are you doing to help your customer buy? Let’s look at things differently. One of the things that people hear me say often is, “What have you done today to make it easier to be your customer and harder to be your competitor?” If you stop, pause and ask yourself that question, some interesting things are going to come up. And if you walk out of your company and look back from the buyer’s point of view, from every point of contact, did you make it easy or did you make it hard? And so I want to focus on the customer experience and have the CEO understand what that is. So here’s a really good example. So how often do you take a cold call?

Hannah: Maybe twice a week.

Alice: OK, and you picked it up by accident or you intended to do that?

Hannah: It’s always an accident.

Alice: Gotcha. Tony, how often do you take a cold call from someone who wants to set an appointment with you for their ae?

Tony: I think the last time I took a cold call was in 1997.

Alice: You and me both. And so when I asked CEOs that question, they say, I never take your call unless it’s by accident. Right? So why do you, the CEO, have people dialing the CEO or any senior executive’s phone numbers? You don’t answer those calls, so why would they?

Think about the wasted time, effort, and money they could have spent doing something that would actually intrigue and engage the proper people to want to have a conversation with someone at your company? It might not even be a salesperson that they want to have a conversation with. Could be a sales engineer, could be customer success, could be somebody else. But what we’re doing is saying, OK, we’re going to go out and sell the way we don’t want to buy. What? I’m confused.

How many emails come into your box every day trying to sell you something and how many of them do you delete? Most of them, right? So here we go filling up the internet with, thousands and thousands of emails being sent out that are being deleted. So if we regroup and think, what does the customer want? Well, they certainly don’t want another spam email and they don’t want your cold call. So what are we going to do? The CEOs have to have to get their mind wrapped around it first so it can trickle down through the entire organization. It’s great if it bubbles up from the bottom too, but salespeople are going to do what you tell them to do for the most part. And so if you’re telling them to send more emails or make more calls – that’s what they’re going to do.

Give them something better to do, have marketing start creating demand, and allow the buyers to buy the way they want to buy by meeting them where they are – which is on the internet. They’re Googling you, they’re on your LinkedIn or they’re on your website trying to find out what you actually do, which is why most websites suck. They’re terrible. You cannot figure out what a company actually does. So if you think about some of the things that we do and make it so difficult for people to buy, it’s unbelievable.

So really, I just want to get everybody’s mind wrapped around, what does your buyer do? And that may be different for everyone. I’m just a human being trying to do my job the best I can every day. And I’m trying to buy something from you and it happens to be 10 o’clock at night because now my day is over, I’ve put my kids to bed and I can go look at your product and have some time to think about it but if I can’t even find how it works, I’m off to the competitor. Sorry, you’re done. I need to go where I can get the information I need. You don’t even have a chat that works and your website doesn’t have a good explainer video or a demo. It has nothing for me. I have the only choices. Book a demo. I get why you want me to book a demo because you want to talk to me. Got it! But that’s not the way I buy anymore.

What makes a world-class sales organization

Hannah: So you’ve mentioned a lot about making it easier for your customer to buy from you. You mentioned a couple of examples about explainer videos, chatbots, and the need to do research at 10pm. Can you highlight a few things that really make a world-class sales organization today?

Alice: We have to flip our mindset to think sales equals the way the customer wants to buy. Sales is not just about the sellers. It’s much, much bigger and when we’re trying to sell something to somebody, it encompasses a lot of things, right? Marketing! Marketing is from hello to I’m your loyal customer. Marketing should be threaded through the entire lifecycle of a customer.  I’ve had some companies that I work with that start with customer success, not with sales because they’re a find/try/buy model because they’re a software of some type. So they find try, buy, and then customers success is who converts it, not a salesperson because they’re more concerned about the user adoption.

So you have to map that customer journey to be able to understand how to build a world-class organization because a world-class organization meets the customer where they are. They use sales, marketing, customer success, and whatever else they need to do that.

They make sure that their sellers can sell in any situation; at a trade show, at a one-to-one, in a large group, via camera, on the phone – whatever it may be. Your salespeople have to be prepared to sell in any situation. And so that’s the kind of thing that you want to ask yourself, “Are we world-class?”

How CEOs can affect change from the top down

Tony: You’ve mentioned CEOS several times throughout the conversation so far. I think a lot of people in sales aren’t really thinking about the CEO specifically. They think more about director or VP level. So was there anything specific that made you really focus in particular on the CEO role?

Alice: In a lot of organizations I would see what I call blaming and shaming. “What are they doing over there in sales? All they ever do is golf and go to dinners.” What we hear is a lot of kind of sales bashing and what I realized is sales can’t do it without the support of the rest of the organization. And when you really start to look and diagnose where the buck stops, it’s the CEO. And so I guess that’s why I’m so focused on them. There’s no other single person in an organization who can orchestrate the whole thing. So if sales aren’t going well and you go ahead and say to the sales leader, “Do this and this and this,” but no one else in the organization is helping them, they can’t do it. Sales needs support from the entire organization, and that’s the CEO’s responsibility. The role changes as the company matures, and the CEO has to understand that role and take that role and make it work.

Tony: As the sales world has evolved over the years, Alice really made a smart decision to carve out a niche for herself by focusing specifically on the role of CEO in her consultancy.

Hannah: Yeah, I really like the focus on the CEO because essentially they have the power to bring each of the departments together and create an exceptional customer experience as Alice does.

Tony: Yeah, I think that was really smart by asking the tough questions like, what have you done today to make it easier to be your customer and harder to be your competitor? I think Alice really creates opportunities for those at the CEO level to take an honest look at their methodologies, what sort of things they’re doing, and really zero in on what it takes to make them stand out from the crowd.

Hannah: It’s completely true. You know, creating an exceptional customer experience is essential for sales organizations today, where we know the buyer’s journey has changed immensely over the past few years. So sales leaders need to up their game if they hope to stay competitive.

How sales leaders can level up their teams (Hint: coaching is key)

Tony: Next up, Alice shared more tips for sales leaders and CEOs looking to up their game in 2022. For sales leaders beyond just the CEO, what do you think that they could be doing a little bit more often? Or maybe even more importantly, what are the things that they should be doing a little less often?

Alice: A couple of things and some of these are not necessarily very easy. But sales leaders, I want you to think about your CEO as your customer. And what do customers need today? They need insight. There’s so much going on out there, but you as the sales leader, are in it every day seeing the customer. You know what the customer saying, what they need and want, what’s working, and what isn’t. You need to bring those insights to your CEO. Not just say, we need more this or that. Bring them insights on what’s happening in the market, what’s happening with the customer. Bring them specific examples of success that’s happening with your customers and their failures as well. So if you, as a senior leader, are regularly reviewing your wins and your losses with your team, I think it’s much more important to analyze your wins than it is your losses because we learn so much from our wins. Why did they buy from us? We need to know that right? We did it. Well, let’s be able to do it again.

Focus on the wins and then be able to bring those insights to the CEO so that you can paint a picture for them. Because as humans, we learn from stories and pictures. Paint that picture. Tell that story to the CEO so they understand the context for the asks that you have of them.

We need a tool. We need more people. We need a different type of structure. Whatever it is. That way, your CEO can really understand, and they can take it to investors to get money to do the things that you want to do. So senior leaders need to really learn how to tell a good story. Pull the information together, tell the story that brings insight to the CEO and that will help tremendously. Now in day to day, a senior sales leader should be really focused on making it easy for the customer to buy. So I would like them to ask that question to their peers and to their teams. What have we done today to make it easier to be our customer and harder to be our competitor? And answer it. Every once in a while, ask yourself that, and then when you do it, applaud it. Right? We did it. We made it easier. Fantastic. So I think that that’s something that you can do.

And then coaching is so crucial today. I wish the word “manager” would go away. Yes, people have to be managed, but when we coach them and help them change their behavior, then we don’t have to nag and micromanage them.

So what we want to do is look at the behaviors we want our salespeople to have and figure out what is the best way to get them to have those behaviors and deploy that.

And if it doesn’t work, get rid of them. Just get rid of them. We hang on to salespeople who are not a good fit for way too long. They’re not bad salespeople. They’re not a fit for your organization and they need to go. So stop looking at it as something bad. Set them free to their next adventure. They’ll be successful somewhere else. But you still have to give them a chance.

You have to make sure that you have defined clearly what it is you want them [sellers] to do. You’ve trained them to do it. You’ve repeated that training. You’ve encouraged, you’ve rewarded and you’ve guided, right? And then your job is much easier.

The biggest thing I come into in the organizations I work with is a total lack of accountability. Nobody is held to anything. We tell them, go to your salesforce. But when they don’t do it, we don’t do anything about it. We don’t dock their pay, no tax or commission. We don’t say, “Hey, go home for two days and think about it and come back.” Either update your Salesforce, or you’re gone. Why keep asking them to do something they’re not going to do? It’s crazy behavior and we drive ourselves crazy. And then we hear things like, Oh, that salesperson drives me crazy. Why would you let someone drive you crazy? We make it so hard because we love people and we want to give them lots of chances, and I get that.

If you would coach your people to change to the behavior that works best for the customer and the organization, everybody’s happier and the salesperson is wildly more successful.

How sales leaders can evolve their own skillset

Hannah: I love that you pivoted to coaching. It’s huge, and there’s so much talk around the enablement of sales leaders, that to be better sellers, sales leaders are trying to transition to coaching. What more could they be doing to improve their own ability?

Alice: So that’s probably the most important thing, right? Look, we’re not very good at hiring salespeople most of the time. We really don’t hire people that are the best fit for our company, and that’s one of the biggest problems. So I would say, learn how to hire salespeople that are a good fit. How do you do that? Well, there’s all kinds of research out there. There are books you can read. One of my favorites is “You’re Not The Person I Hired” by Barry Deutsch. It’s my go-to guide for everything hiring. But there are plenty of others specific to hiring salespeople. Do something to help yourself learn how to hire great salespeople. What we tend to do is hire people like ourselves, that we like or that talk a good game. But we don’t interview them hard enough to really know whether they can do what they say they can do. So I think that sales leaders should learn how to hire and then get the resources and tell their CEO why they need specific resources. Bring the story in and tell that story and then be able to do a better job hiring. So you’ve got to go find that information. Train yourself to do it. One of my favorite books for sales leaders is “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness” by Kevin Davis. It lays out specifically the things that a sales leader can do to help their salespeople be successful. And that’s what every sales leader should be thinking. How do I get a team that all hits quota? You know.

What’s a winning sales strategy?

Tony: So you talked about peak performers. I think that’s a great segue to talk a little bit about sales strategy. So when you think about peak performers and that sort of that top-down approach where you’re hiring the right people, you’re getting the people in place. What do you think are the pillars for instilling a very successful sales strategy within those teams once you’ve got the right people?

Alice: Once again, I go back to the CEO. A CEO with a clear vision and who has done the proper planning with their senior team and knows their vision, their mission, their values, their purpose – they know what they believe, right? When you have that, it’s really easy for the sales team to move forward. I mostly find these teams are struggling because there is no clear strategy. At the top level, some companies go years without doing a strategic plan of any kind or even just having a few values and sticking to them, such as, “We don’t do business with people who treat our people poorly,” and “We don’t do these kinds of things,” you know, like just some basic values, right? But I see companies go four years where I’m like, Well, do you guys have a vision? So that doesn’t work. It’s hard for sales to do their job because they’re just out there selling with no strategy. So it comes back to the top. Leadership has to have a strategy for the growth of the entire company. What does that look like overall? And then we can tuck our whole go-to-market strategy into that.

Salespeople do need to be strategists but at an account level, at a level where they’re positioning themselves to close a deal. Right in the complex sale, they’ve got to get positioned to close that deal and there is some strategy involved there.

If they have a territory, whether that’s verticals, geography, or whatever it may be, they need to have a little bit of strategy around how they’re going to work that territory. But most salespeople don’t need to be highly strategic. They definitely need to be a bit more tactical. So the strategy has to be from the top and then we have to drive the demand based on the strategy. So that demand gen is based on that bigger strategy, and then the salespeople are working their territories based on that strategy so that we are bringing in the types of customers that are ideal for us. We serve them well, which serves us well because we grow. When we just bring in accounts to be closing deals and get new logos – some of those logos won’t stay and some of those logos are a pain, so we don’t want them. But we were so pressured to close business, we took business that wasn’t good business. Now we can’t retain them. So we really have to be careful what we wish for, and we definitely need to have that strategy start at the top and trickle down.

Sales podcast rapid fire quesitons

Hannah: So I wanted to segue into our quick-fire rounds. So this is going to be a little bit of fun. We have a timer. No, I’m joking. We have no timer, but we do want to ask you a few questions. And just like without thinking, just give us your answers, right? So the first question is, what is your sales philosophy in just three words?

Alice: Serve the customer.

Hannah: And what is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

Alice: Listen.

Tony: What would you say is your top productivity hack?

Alice: I don’t have any productivity hacks. Oh, let’s see.., coffee for sure. I would just say block time, that’s the only way I get big projects. Just block time on my calendar.

Tony: What would you say is your top prediction for the sales industry in 2022?

Alice: I think that we’re going to become more human or get back to being human in our approach. I think people are finally hearing that buyers don’t want to be spammed, buyers don’t want robotic messages. They just want a human being to talk to them about their problems and see if they can help. So I predict we are hearing that message and we’re going to be more human.

Hannah: The best bit of career advice you got was “listen” right? So if you need to turn that around, what would be the best career advice you could give to salespeople today?

Alice: Invest in yourself. Don’t sit around waiting for anyone else to give you the training you need, give yourself the coaching you need, the mentoring you need. Go get it.

Tony: There are so many sources of information out there right now, and I’m sure that the Ready, Set, Sell podcast will quickly be climbing that list of sources. But if you could get where do you typically go to get your sales industry news?

Alice: Well, Gartner and Forrester both put out a lot of really great industry news. Corporate Visions is excellent.

Tony: What would you say is your favorite industry conference?

Alice: I love Sales 3.0, but of course, I’m on the EMC, so I should love it, right?

Hannah: What skill or which set of skills should a salesperson be focused on over 2022?

Alice: I think they need a different skill set than they’ve been training for in the past. And people talk about soft skills and hard skills – look, you’ve got to learn how to do these things in order to be a good seller. The skill I think is needed most now is the skill of orchestration. Back to the sales leaders and one of the ways they can have peak performance is to help their salespeople understand how to orchestrate and how to understand a day in the life of the person that they’re selling to.

What we learned

Alice really had some excellent insights to share about the role of the CEO in the sales organization, about staying accountable, and strategizing for success. CEOs have a unique role to play within a sales organization. Not only are they the only key leader with the ability to view the organization as a whole, but they are also the final decision maker when it comes to the overall customer journey. Everyone within a company is a part of the sales team. As Alice noted, sales is about much more than just the sellers. It really encompasses everyone under the company umbrella. But she has reminded us, analyzing your successes and failures will ultimately help to drive your business forward. While it’s essential to take both wins and losses into account, she did stress the importance of gleaning insights from your wins so you can continue replicating your success in the future.

Learn more and subscribe here.

​​Creating a Culture of Continuous Coaching in Sales with Bob Apollo

Mindtickle is on the airwaves! We recently launched a new podcast called Ready, Set, Sell, where we’ll regularly sit down with industry thought leaders to provide listeners with smart insights, tangible advice, and actionable tips they can apply to the work they do in their own roles. It’s co-hosted by Hannah Ajikawo, Practice Lead at Skaled Consulting, and Tony Germinario, Director of Sales at Mindtickle, and in our first episode, they sat down with Bob Apollo, Founder and Chief Outcomes Officer of Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners.

In case you missed it, not to worry. We’ve got a recap of the podcast below, covering major themes such as:

  • Tips, tricks, and selling secrets for outcome-centric selling
  • Creating unique selling propositions
  • How to build trust, and why it matters
  • Becoming a future-focused seller
  • What sales leaders should prioritize
  • Rapid-fire questions

Who is Bob: Apollo?

Bob Apollo

Tony: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Bob: I’m working with a bunch of very interesting scale-up and entrepreneurial units of larger organizations, helping them put a new slant on their business-to-business selling, with particular emphasis on the complex sales process. I’ve been involved in B2B sales of technology-related products and services. And that career has spanned start-ups, scale-ups, and corporates. My sweet spot is really in scaling up start-ups and turning them into a sort of reliable growing revenue generation machine.

Tony: So what really drew you to the world of sales initially?

Bob: One of the things about selling is, unlike many other careers, you have a very, very clear measure of whether you’ve succeeded or failed. So that’s part of it and certainly, in the world of complex selling, it’s a world of interaction with people. The challenge and the joy of interacting with prospective and existing customers is a big part of the motivation.

Let’s talk about the future of sales.

Sales futurist really positions the commentary as not looking backward, but anticipating where the world of selling is going and helping salespeople who have a desire to improve themselves and learn new ways of thinking.

Hannah: You’ve got a wealth of experience and I love the fact that you’ve noticed your sweet spot really being in that start-up/scale-up space. If you think about the big picture, what is the impact you want to make on the sales community overall?

Bob: I think it’s very simple. It’s to help others achieve their potential. Whether it’s at an individual level or at an organizational level.

Hannah: I love that. There are so many individuals now that have named themselves sales experts, but you really are based on your experience. I’m quite keen to transition into the term sales futurist and what that actually means to you. And more specifically, Bob: why should more salespeople adopt this type of approach?

Bob: Top Sales World created the label sales futurist really to position the commentary as not looking backward but anticipating where the world of selling is going and helping salespeople who have a desire to improve themselves and learn new ways of thinking. So I’m not talking about, you know, the world of selling is going to be immediately overrun by artificial intelligence. I’m still thinking about the role of well-informed, skillful individuals helping to shape sales as a positive profession.

Tony: I think sales futurist has meant more than ever over the last two years, no one could have ever anticipated what we’ve been through and what salespeople, in general, have had to deal with going through the pandemic. So from what you’ve seen, how has the customer experience really evolved over the last six months or so? What are some of the factors that might be making it more complex than what has been in the past?

Bob: The pandemic has accelerated things that were probably in play already. We already observed more stakeholders and decision-makers being involved in complex buying journeys. We observed a desire to consume information in the most practical and effective form, not just relying on the salesperson, not just relying on the internet, but wanting to be able to make sense of the overwhelming amount of information that’s out there. And in fact, I think it’s interesting to note that one of Gartner’s main themes about the evolving world of selling is this concept of the salesperson, the sense maker, to help the customer make sense of the world that they’re in to try and strip out some of the complexity. And I think if I observe one thing, it’s really shown who within the sales community is really adaptable and has a personal desire for continuous development.

Tony: I think you’re absolutely right about the evolving world of selling. It really has evolved from product to solution, and now it seems like there’s a lot more around outcome-centric selling. At least the people that are really getting ahead of the game at this point. So why do you think that shift is really imperative for modern sales organizations?

Bob: I think that shift is really important because if the customer is making a significant buying decision, they’re doing it because they want to achieve a better business outcome rather than because they want to buy your solution. Your solution is just a tool to enable them to achieve a better outcome.

So we need to really think as salespeople about a buying journey that only ends when the customer’s outcomes have been achieved, rather than a sale that appears to be complete when an order is taken.

Hannah: I love what Bob said about your strongest competitor being the status quo.

Tony: I think it’s human nature to stick to what’s comfortable. People tend to believe it’s easier to deal with challenges you’re already familiar with rather than launch headfirst into something new.

Hannah: I completely agree. It’s the role of the salesperson to build confidence in the customer and help them to see the value in making a change. This will ultimately require proving to the customer that they can trust you to add value to their day-to-day life.

Tips, tricks, and selling secrets for outcome-centric selling

Tony: Like any other personal or professional relationship, success really comes down to building a strong foundation of trust. Given his expertise and lengthy experience, I think Bob: really has an intimate awareness of this concept.

Hannah: I loved that point about the experience not ending when your sales process ends and more about being really focused on the customer’s received outcome. What would you say are some of the main principles of that approach of an outcome-centric selling approach?

 What happens if the customer doesn’t know what outcome they’re trying to achieve?

Bob: You have to work backward from what the customer is trying to achieve. I actually did a broadcast last week where the question was asked, “What happens if the customer doesn’t know what outcome they’re trying to achieve”? If a prospective customer cannot articulate the business outcome they are trying to accomplish, they’re much less likely to get the project approved. I think there’s a sort of correlation that says more junior buyers tend to think in terms of features and functions and it’s the more senior executives, the ones that have to actually sign off any significant purchase who think in terms of this is an investment in achieving an outcome. So if you can’t have a conversation about outcomes, I think it’s sometimes an indication you’re actually not very well placed in the decision-making process because if this is a significant purchase, then your apparent champion is going to have to defend and justify that purchase internally to the approval group. So it’s not really if you can your solution approved, it’s to do with getting the project approved. If you’re the salesperson that has an outcome-oriented conversation and everybody else is talking about features, functions, and so-called solutions, you’re in a lot better place.

Hannah: You gave an example of a salesperson possibly not being high enough in a decision-making tree, right? So you’ve got a prospective buyer and they’re saying, “I need a customer data platform.” The junior salesperson starts to go through the process and then things start to go quiet. What kind of things can salespeople do, particularly in this day and age, to help move higher in that food chain when it comes to decision making so they can start to piece together what a real outcome is, a tangible outcome for a business?

Bob: Somebody very smart long ago told me that you end up talking to the person you sound like. So if your sales conversation is about features and functions and so on, you’re going to end up talking to somebody who’s interested in features and functions. And if you do turn out to accidentally be talking to somebody senior and you have a dialogue with them around features and functions, that dialogue is not going to last long, right? You’re going to get delegated down or thrown out.

What any salesperson can do is understand the business issues that companies come to your organization wanting to solve. Understand the outcomes that you were able to help other similar organizations achieve so that you can become more confident in having a value story with the customer.

Hannah: I completely agree with you. When speaking and working with salespeople I’m always surprised at the lack of interaction that they have with the customer success team. There’s never been an introduction, there’s never been a meeting just to find out what are those value stories. So to make your job much easier, I really love that piece of advice.

Bob: I think any organization delivering solutions as a service has realized the critical importance of customer success teams. But I’d say even then, there’s a wide range of perspectives about the role of customer success. It’s about making sure that you fix any issues that the customer’s having, that you respond quickly and you make sure their uptime is high and their usage is high. However, I think the best customer success teams also in addition to operational excellence, seek to understand and reinforce the value that the organization is achieving through the use of your solutions. The first time you have that value conversation is when you’re asking them to renew and it’s way harder than if you’ve been having a dialogue about business value delivered throughout the relationship.

Creating unique selling propositions

Tony: I feel that should be part of the entire process, it starts from the salesperson because they need to establish that upfront, and then the customer success team just really follow through with that. So you’re absolutely right. Just to pivot slightly, I read something that you had posted recently, I’ve been doing sales longer than I care to admit, and I’ve run into many salespeople over the years that tend to use that same process, no matter what type of organization or type of company that they’re working with. You recently wrote a blog about unique selling propositions and how they can be enough maybe to close a sale in a B2C type business, but it’s is not really the same for a B2B business. Why do you see that? And what more can B2B businesses be doing to close the sale? Or what can you be doing in those sorts of scenarios?

Bob: I think the classic unique value proposition or however you label it can work in relatively simple, straightforward sales where there’s little variation in the buying environment from one customer to another. But if you’re trying to sell change to an organization, that story has to be tailored to the reason why that organization needs to change.

  • Why should they change rather than carry on their current path?
  • Why should they choose you rather than any of the other options?
  • Why should they act now rather than later?
  • Who is going to benefit from implementing your approach and how?

Those things can’t be cookie cutter. You have to tailor them to the conversations you’ve been having with the customer, this will help you discover the unique answers to those four questions. It’s as much about justifying change as it is justifying your particular approach to that change. But if you are the salesperson that most influences that value journey, that specific buying justification, you have put yourself in a far better place than salespeople who only think about why the customer should buy their solution.

How to build trust, and why it matters

Tony: And I think one of the ways that you really help justify is by establishing that level of trust with the client. So what would you say about the role of trust in the sales process? And do you think it’s more crucial today in the environment that we’re in than it’s ever been before?

Bob: I think that trust operates at a number of levels. It’s trust in the individuals I’m interacting with because they represent the likely interactions I’m going to have with their colleagues. It’s trust in the solution that is going to deliver, the results of the outcomes that I’m expecting. It’s trust in the organization I’m about to do business with, in their viability, and in their approach to partnering with customers. So trust isn’t just at one level. I think it’s established. Another part of Gartner’s recent research suggested that one of the reasons that prevented business buying decisions was a lack of decision confidence.

And again, I think that decision confidence is intimately connected with trust. Do I trust the salesperson? Do I trust the solution being proposed will work as it’s defined? Do I trust the company I’m about to do business with? Do I trust the collective experiences of all of the other customers this organization has dealt with can be applied to my benefit so that I can be confident that I’m making the right decision?

Because I think the default is where decision confidence isn’t established that the customer decides to stick with the status quo. And in many ways in a complex discretionary purchase, your strongest competitor is almost always the status quo.

Becoming a future-focused seller

Hannah: What kind of things should salespeople be thinking about to become more future-focused? What sort of skills should they should be trying to improve and work on?

Bob: It starts with a mindset, some of the advice I give to the clients is if they’re recruiting, they need to recruit people who come into their organization with the mindset that says, “I need to be in a mode of continuous learning.” So a lot of that curiosity and humility. What’s going through their minds? How could I, as a sales professional, help them make the case to achieve what they’re looking for?

Hannah: I love that, just the two words “curiosity” and “humility.” You don’t often hear people refer to humility where it’s OK not to know everything. In fact, that’s great because it forces you to go out and develop some ideas about what you actually need to find out. I feel like the last two years have almost forced salespeople to switch their mindsets because everybody didn’t know what to do. There were definitely a few months where everybody was just improvising. Just do what you can, think outside of the box, and try to make things work in a scenario of extreme uncertainty. So a lot of people have been doing things that they haven’t had to do before because they didn’t have the support of their company. Do you think that these last two years have really helped to start to shift the mindset of salespeople who may have been relying on “my company will get me there?”

Bob: I think it’s been almost Darwinian – survival of the fittest or the survival of the most adaptable. I think the last two years have actually permanently damaged the careers of salespeople who had gotten away with not having to be creative, curious, or humble.

One thing that distinguishes really effective sales organizations is the ones that can gather up the learnings that the smartest salespeople have accumulated and recycle that learning in a way that’s applicable to the other members of the sales organization. That way you have an internal of understanding what works and reinforcing it.

Hannah: That moves perfectly into something we try to live and breathe at Skaled. We have this philosophy, when we work with organizations, don’t be a professional visitor. So you don’t just turn up, say lots of fancy things, and leave. You really have to create change. You have to help them to move the needle. Just on your experience of working with smaller companies and large global organizations, what have you noticed about the way in which smaller companies tend to approach sales in comparison to the larger ones?

Bob: That’s a really interesting question because I have seen larger organizations, particularly the entrepreneurial divisions of larger organizations, be effective in this regard. But I do think many of the scale-ups need to work out where growth is going to come from, what you need to do to adapt, et cetera.

It comes down to a management philosophy of not just thinking about the quantity of action that their salespeople are undertaking, but the quality of the action. Instead of saying, “You have to make 100 calls a day,” instead say, “You need to be able to advance X number of opportunities in a meaningful way. Now, with the help of your manager and your colleagues, let’s work together to see how we cannot maximize the inputs or the activities but maximize the output.”

Tony: I think we’ve seen a lot of that, especially over the last two years here, where management is trying to set a certain path and it’s trickling down through the sales organization. As much as people have tried to pivot, there is still seem to be, in some cases, these underlying themes that are still out there or that are a little bit older school. In that regard, are there any common myths or misconceptions that we need to get beyond? What would you say those things are?

Bob: There’s one, in particular, I’ve hammered on. It’s the statement, that the average buyer is 57 percent of the way through the buying process before they want or need to talk to a salesperson. As an average and without any context, it might have been accurate, but the truth of the matter is if I’m a buyer who knows what they want to buy, why would I want to talk to a salesperson? They might find it far more convenient to have an entirely web-based buying experience. But if I’m an inexperienced buyer, this is the first time I’ve tried to solve this sort of problem.

I think there are profound reasons why if the salesperson is positioned as somebody who can educate rather than pitch, they’d want to learn from that. If you think about desirable and undesirable behaviors, I want to persuade them to engage me way before 57 percent of their buying journey. I want them to think that if they do choose to speak to me, they’ll learn something of value and that they’ll emerge from the conversation feeling smarter.

Tony: And that’s where that trust level comes in as well, right? Because if someone can be educated in a conversation, that’s where your trust really is built upon – you’re getting that foundation.

Bob: If the potential buyer emerges from that interaction thinking that was time well spent, they learned something valuable rather than they couldn’t wait to get off the call.

What sales leaders should prioritize

Hannah: I think everybody can relate to that. And that’s an important part of what you’re talking about when you’re saying, how can salespeople be educators rather than just trying to sell their solution. So this is really an important part of your whole discussion around salespeople being educators rather than trying to force their solutions onto these poor buyers. What other things would you say that sales leaders should be prioritizing to make sure that their sales team is actually ready when they’re in front of prospective buyers?

Bob: The very short answer to that is to equip salespeople to think like a customer, to understand what’s going through the customer’s mind more broadly. I think it’s sort of developing a commercial empathy and an ability to talk in those commercially empathetic terms with buyers. You know, a significant part of their training needs to be not teaching the salespeople the features and functions of the latest release of the latest product but to identify the business issues this particular offering was designed to address and how to have a dialogue with a potential customer around those issues. So what would happen if you didn’t do anything about this? That question is always struck me as being one of the most important things.

Hannah: And you’ll also find some customers who will say something like, “hmm, haven’t really thought about that yet.” How do you position the follow-up?

Bob: You need to recognize that this is a substantial decision requiring a significant investment of money, time, etc. It’s almost always going to be competing against other projects that the customer might also be thinking about committing to at the time.

Sales podcast rapid fire quesitons

Tony: What is your sales philosophy in just three words?

Bob: Always create value.

Tony: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

Bob: Take responsibility.

Hannah: What’s your top productivity hack?

Bob: Focus. Prioritize. Execute.

Hannah: Looking into 2022, what’s your top prediction for the sales industry this year?

Bob: That smart sales organizations will continue to drive towards thinking about outcomes rather than so-called solutions.

Tony: What’s one thing or perhaps one person that you believe has really been revolutionizing the sales industry?

Bob: I don’t think it’s any one person. There are a bunch of people that I’m inspired by, and I hope to continue to be inspired by. The thing that’s revolutionizing complex B2B sales is this emergence of hybrid selling because of the mixture of face-to-face and virtual, the use of automated information sources, and blending them all together.

Hannah: If you could share just one piece of advice to all salespeople, something that they could do on their next call or in their next meeting, what would that be?

Bob: Don’t make excuses. Hold yourself accountable for your actions. Say things that the customer needs to hear rather than what you think they’d like to hear.

What we learned

We learned the importance of building a strong foundation of trust with customers by considering the entire customer journey and final business outcomes. This is what outcome-centric selling is really all about: creating a culture of continuous learning within sales organizations – curiosity, humility and self-awareness will take you far in the sales industry. At the end of the day, sales is mostly having a willingness to stay open and adaptable to change. We hope you took away some valuable lessons and insights that inspire you to reevaluate your approach to sales readiness. Don’t forget to subscribe, rate, and review the show when you get a minute, and stay tuned for the next episode of Ready Set Sell.

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