By now, hopefully, everyone knows the importance and power of Buyer Personas. Understanding who our buyers are, what drives them, how they are measured, the key issues they face, and all sorts of other things enables us to connect and engage them more effectively.
We can focus our content and our discussions in ways that are most impactful and meaningful to them. We can talk to them about the things they are most likely to be interested in in their “language.” We can create and communicate value in terms that directly impact their success.
Personas have shifted the way we develop much of our content. Our playbooks teach us about each of these roles, and guide us to engaging them in high impact conversations.
But too often, our conversations break down. We know what they care about, we know how we should be talking to them, but we fall short in our abilities to actually have the right conversation.
As an example, a few months ago, a SDR called to discuss sales performance management. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart, it’s what we speak about with all of our clients. a core theme of Sales Manager Survival Guide is sales performance management.
The call started well, she introduced herself, the company, and wanted to talk about issues I had with sales performance in my company. I responded, “Actually, I don’t have issues. The team is doing very well, we’re ahead of plan……”
She asked, “How do you measure and track performance?”
I responded, “There are two key sets of metrics that provide the leading indicators, and naturally we look at revenue attainment as a trailing indicator.”
She replied, “You may not be tracking enough things, you should probably be doing more. Often customers struggle because they don’t have the right tools to make it easy to track performance…”
Curious, I asked, “Why do you think we aren’t tracking enough things? We’ve studied they key drivers to our business, and the two that we track seem to be really good for us?”
She then started to talk about a whole bunch of metrics, number of calls per day, call duration, and more.
I responded, “We’ve looked at those metrics, and they really aren’t meaningful for our business. Here’s why we’ve chosen what we’ve done….”
At this point, the call was going downhill very fast. To the sales person’s credit, she understood. She was trying to get out of the call, suggesting a follow up call from an account manager or a demo—I have to give her credit, she went for the demo.
She clearly recognized she was way over her head. She wasn’t able to support her end of the conversation.
She’s a BDR, focused on outbound prospecting calls. She’s been doing this for a little over 12 months, it’s her first major sales job.
She had a playbook, she had a script—all of which she was executing pretty well, but she wasn’t able to engage me on a conversation that I was interested in being engaged.
And it’s unfair to expect her or most other BDR/SDRs to engage senior sales leaders in a meaningful conversation about sales performance management. Particularly, if the engagement strategy is to bring insight and help the customer learn.
It’s not arrogance on my part, I want to learn from anyone I can. It’s the things that keep me up at night (and those that fit my category of persona) require some experience base in business or sales management. Experience that a playbook is not likely to give.
She simply didn’t have the experience base. She could read her script, but as I started to ask questions, as I wanted to deepen the conversation, she wasn’t able to do this. And it wasn’t her fault.
I wonder how many opportunities BDR/SDRs miss simply because they can’t hold up their end of the conversation?
I wonder if we might be more effective in our prospecting if we started thinking about the Seller Personas, aligning the right sales people with the buyers?
What if this company had assigned a more experienced sales person–perhaps one being developed to be a front line sales manager? The quality and level of engagement in that conversation would have been much deeper, it probably would have provoked me to ask for more.
We already know the power of this in other types of sales specialization roles. As our products and solutions become more complex, it’s impossible for the sales person to have deep enough knowledge on all the products. For decades (perhaps even millenia), we’ve had specialists. A person who knows the application area, the solution very well. For example, I often hired people who had been manufacturing managers to sell manufacturing control systems. Or engineering designers to sell product design solutions.
We know that if we are going to engage the customer in deep conversations about their business or function, we have to be able to hold up our end of the conversation.
Yet in the very first call, we throw people who are ill equipped—experientially and knowledge-wise–to hold up their end of the conversation.
We try to engage with insights yet when the customer says, “tell me more,” or “what about,” or “why should I be thinking about that,” or “I don’t agree,” we can’t continue the conversation other than to suggest we arrange a follow on meeting. We have the opportunity to engage the customer in the very conversations we want to have, but we fail in the very first conversation.
Why should the customer continue?
What if we started rethinking our outbound strategies? What if we started thinking about sales personas? What if we started aligning the right sales personas with the right buyer personas?
What would that do to our conversion rates?
In our own company, we’ve had that strategy for years. There are certain personas that I’m less effective with than other members of our team. There are certain industries or markets that I’m less effective with than other members of our team. As we look at our outbound prospecting conversations, we align who we are calling — persona, industry, market, solution—with the best people in our own organizations. Our “connection rates” are very high, the people we reach feel we can offer real insight and value, consequently are excited to have a conversation. Not all of those convert–at least immediately–but we’ve had a high impact conversation and established the start of a relationship we can nurture over time.
Our first conversations lay the groundwork for any future conversations. Our first conversations create lasting first impressions about our companies, our solutions, and our potential to create value.
Doesn’t it make sense to align the right selling personas with the right buying personas?
If we sell IT development tools, to development managers, how much more effective would we be if our people had at least watched an IT development team doing a project? Or had participated in some way themselves?
If we sell manufacturing control systems, how much more effective would we be if our people had spent a little bit of time in a manufacturing facility or had a manufacturing background?
If we sell sales and marketing automation systems to executives in those functions, how much more effective would we be if we had people who had managed or lead a team before?
Perhaps as we look at the people we put into SDR/BDR roles, as we look at maximizing the results we want to produce, we need to rethink who we put into those roles, better aligning them with the customer personas we expect them to engage.
Here are some of the things on my mind this week:
Team of Teams, New Rules of Engagement For A Complex World, McChrystal, Collins, Silverman, Fussell: I believe managing/dealing with complexity is one of the most profound issues facing leaders of all types in today’s world. Team of Teams provides and outstanding starting point looking at why complexity is so important, why our current methods and models for dealing with complicated fail in looking at complexity. I expected the book to have simply a “Special Forces” take on nimbleness, adaptability, and so forth, instead it takes a far broader view looking at examples far beyond Special Forces.
Excellence, Can We Be Equal And Excellent Too? John Gardner: This has to be about the 20th time I’ve reread this classic book. I first discovered it in 1982 and have literally worn out several copies. John Gardner was a cabinet secretary and founder of Common Cause. I’ve read virtually all of his books, he’s able to take some of the most fundamental issues, discussing them in deep and profound manner. One sentence in the introduction, “Is excellence possible, even in a democracy,” is particularly interesting given the current presidential campaign in the US. It’s becoming more difficult to get copies of this book, but it’s probably one of the most impactful books you can read and reread.
Lean Communication For Sales, Jack Malcolm. Words count. How we engage our customers in understanding what they value, how we articulate the value in the most impactful manner possible is critical to our success in sales. Jack’s one of the best people I’ve met in helping us understand how to engage our customers. His new eBook is a tightly written, as you would expect, guidebook to improving your own effectiveness and impact with your customers. It’s a fast, actionable read.
The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, Anthony Iannarino. I’ve been waiting, for some time, for Anthony’s first book. I think we first started talking about a book about 6 years ago. I know he has been writing and rewriting and rewriting for some time. On October 11, it finally hits the streets. I just completed an early release, it’s been worth the wait. It’s titled The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, actually that’s a little ambitious. But it’s the first book on professional selling that anyone should ever read. The material in the book provides the foundation for any career in selling. It starts with what it takes to be excellent in selling, then continues with the how. There are many other great books on selling, but with this as the foundation, the others take on new meaning. For those of us who have been selling for years, there are undoubtedly many bad habits we have to unlearn, there are things we have to rebuild from the ground up. Anthony’s book provides an outstanding framework for this. The link enables you to pre-order the book, as well as get some “extras.”
When I launched Sales Manager Survival Guide, I committed 100% of the profits in May, and 25% of the profits for June-August to Charity Water. I’m proud to say, through the great popularity of the book, we’ve raised several thousand dollars. There’s about another week in this campaign. If you haven’t gotten the book, order one this week. If you have it, make sure you recommend it to your friends and colleagues. Make sure your manager and your manager’s manager have copies of the book—it will make your life better and help you achieve more.
Earlier this week, I was speaking to a VP of Product Management. He’s been a long time friend. He commented, “Dave, I know the book was supposed to be for sales professionals, but many of the lessons in the book are things I need to be applying within my own organization.”
I launched the book with the theme, Get Smart and Do Good. I’d love to crush it in the next week and add at least another $1000 to the contributions we make to Charity Water. Please order a copy of Sales Manager Survival Guide this week, have your friends, managers, colleagues get copies as well.
(If you’ve bought it and read it, I’d love your feedback and an Amazon review!
In the past few days, I’ve been embroiled in conversations about grammar and spelling. I read an discussion about “Should I hire a sales person with poor writing skills.” I was astounded by the majority of responses.
Many people had the view, “If they can sell, who cares!” The conversations about grammar ran along similar lines, “It’s all about ideas and closing business, who cares about grammar and spelling?”
Some of you, will think this post is about writing, grammar, and spelling—it isn’t.
But writing skills, grammar, spelling are critical skills for sales people–if you can’t write clearly, if you can’t use reasonably good grammar and spelling, you will never be successful in selling.
The reason isn’t really about the writing and grammar, but it’s about the clarity and quality of your thinking. Writing, grammar, spelling are important windows into understanding the quality of a person’s ability to think critically, analyze, question, develop and execute strategies to win. If you can’t think critically, if your ability to understand and help solve customer problems isn’t strong, your success in selling will be limited.
Selling is really about thinking. It’s about being able to question, probe, listen, and understand. It’s about being able to analyze the customer, the situation, your own company and solutions, you will never be successful in selling.
If you can’t clearly connect your value with what the customer is trying to achieve, you can’t sell. Making these connections requires strong cognitive and thinking skills.
If you can’t articulate how you can help the customer in terms and language that are compelling and meaningful to the customer, you can’t sell.
If all you can do is read a script, pitch a product and do that at high volume and velocity, you can’t sell and your job will disappear, being replaced by technology.
Our customers need people with strong thinking, problem solving, collaboration. They need people who can give them new ideas, challenge their thinking, help the learn/improve/grow.
Our companies need strong sales people with problem solving/critical thinking/analytic capabilities. They need sales people who can influence and change the points of view of customers, partners, and people within their own companies.
If you can’t think you can’t sell.
Your ability to write is directly connected with your ability to think critically. There are huge amounts of research connecting writing ability with thinking/problem solving capabilities. Even something as simple as note-taking, is important. Research shows huge differences in comprehension and retention between people who take notes and don’t. They’ve shown even more differences in people who hand write notes, rather than typing them.
Your ability to write is directly connected to your ability to clearly articulate and communicate ideas in compelling fashion. The ability to shape arguments, to influence people, to help them learn and understand is directly connected to your ability to write—even if you are communicating orally.
Reasonably good grammar and spelling is part of good writing because it’s part of driving clarity in your communication.
If you can’t communicate clearly, succinctly, in a compelling manner, you can’t sell!
This post is not about writing or grammar or spelling. It’s about thinking, problem solving, communicating, influencing. Because one’s writing abilities are so closely tied to the quality and clarity of their thinking, if a person has weak writing skills, they may not have the critical thinking and problem solving skills to be successful. If they can’t express their ideas well they will struggle to shift customer points of view.
Strong communication skills have always been critical to our effectiveness as sales professionals. Not just strong verbal/speaking skills, but strong communication skills. If we can’t write an effective email, text, Slack message; if we can’t communicate our ideas in our proposals and presentations, we will not be effective.
This is not about writing. We don’t need people who can create prose like Ernest Hemingway. But we need people who can think and communicate with precision and clarity.
When I was a very young sales person, I had a manager who used to charge me $5 for every spelling error she found. She’d put the money into a jar for charity. I used to get very frustrated, saying, “Isn’t it the ideas that really count?” Her response, “If you are so careless with your spelling, how do I know you aren’t as careless with your thinking and ideas?” After some time of very expensive lessons, I suddenly realized it wasn’t about my spelling, she was trying to sharpen my thinking, she was trying to eliminate sloppiness and carelessness. It took me some time to realize my spelling, my grammar, my writing were all just windows into understanding the quality of my thinking.
We aren’t hiring you because of your writing skills, we are hiring you because of your thinking, problem solving and your ability to communicate. It just happens writing is a part of that and your writing abilities are great indicators of those skills.
Writing is important to selling because thinking is critical to selling.
If you can’t write, you can’t sell.
I’m somewhat amazed, but pleasantly so, about the sudden discovery of “Account Based Selling,” or as the great folks at TOPO refer to it, Account Based Everything. It’s important for reasons beyond the “account based” focus, but at the same time, I have to chuckle at the apparent novelty of the concept.
My very first sales job, I was part of a team that sold to a single account–that was in the late 70’s. There were 5 of us on the team, I was the most Junior. We were responsible for driving over $30M a year in the account (And that was when $1M was big money.)
Everything we did was focused on the account. Our offices were actually located at the Ops Center for the bank. We were about 100 feet from the operations, systems, and development managers. We had to run up the stairs to see the CIO. Everyday, I ate in the employee cafeteria.
Our jobs were to know more about the account than the customers themselves; what their goals and strategies were, what was happening in their markets and competition, where there were problems and opportunities. Our knowledge was so deep because we had so many relationships in the account, that managers and key executives sought us out to understand what was happening.
We had to do this, we had no where else to go but our account, we had to make our numbers from our work with that account.
My teammates handled the major data centers and check processing. As the very junior sales person, my job was prospecting within the account. I’d wander every floor of New York Plaza, Chase Plaza, all the remote operations and the international subsidiaries.
Everything we talked about was tailored to them and their business. Whether it was funds transfer, foreign exchange, retail/consumer products/POS, trust, corporate banking, factoring, investments. I didn’t sell payroll systems or solutions. I didn’t sell a payroll system for bankers. I helped Sandy Piazza develop a payroll/lockbox solution they could sell to their customers. Likewise, Mike LaVecchia and I talked about factoring operations productivity. Dick Shriver and I worked on developing the long term IT and information management strategy to support the bank growth strategies.
Prospecting in the bank wasn’t a matter of papering them with data sheets and information, building our mailing lists. It was very focused, going after each department, understanding what they did, exploring opportunities to help them achieve their goals. We kept scorecards and loads of organization charts, mapping who we knew, who we needed to know, where our competition was, how we could grow our relationship with the account.
Our success was driven by another factor, we were important to the customers in the account, we were important to the top executives in the account. They weren’t naive, they knew we were trying to sell them more systems and grow them as a customer. But they knew we brought them ideas specific to them, help them solve problems, help them grow their business.
Ironically, we so identified with the account, we started looking at the other account teams as our rivals, we wanted to beat them and their accounts.
All of this starting to sound familiar with the Account Based Everything movement?
It really isn’t new, we’ve worked with 1000’s of major account manager, global account managers, corporate account managers, strategic account managers. Each of these teams is trying to achieve the same thing. Each team has the mentality that it’s their God-given right to 100% share of account, but they have to work and earn it with their customers.
Somehow, though, in the past 5 or so years many sales and marketing teams seem to have drifted away from this. Instead of building deep relationships and growing them within the accounts, they are driven by quantity and volume. It’s hard to be focused on a customer needs when you are driven by quantity and volume. You can’t connect with Sandy, Mike, Dick and others in the same way, with the same impact.
We see this in the numbers. Customers aren’t responding, they are shutting down. They care about what they care about, not generic–even industry focused messages. They demand and deserve personalization–to their company, to their function, to their jobs, to them as individuals.
As a consequence, Account Based Everything has been “invented.”
It’s about time we really focus on the customer–and that’s what Account Based Everything is about, we’ve drifted so far from this.
But the principles of Account Based Everything aren’t just about accounts. It’s about customer focus, personalization, relevance.
Our accounts are a great place to start. They already do business with us, expanding our relationships, growing our footprint by finding every person in the account that we can help is just common sense. Afterall, we have to have the mentality that it’s our God-given right to 100% share of account.
But we shouldn’t limit ourselves to our accounts, the same principles apply to our territories. Yes, too many organizations have forgotten the concept of territory management. It’s our God-given right to 100% share of territory as well. And we do this, by knowing which customers in our territory are in our sweet spot, and going after them in the very same way we go after accounts.
After all, conceptually there is little difference between and account and a territory.