This is a guest post from Eric Saber one of the sales people at my one of my clients. I’ve been working with this client for quite some time and Eric is leaving for a new gig. He sent me a “Thank You” note thanking me for the impact I had on his growth while at Patron. It was his note that prompted this blog post.
Eric had been with the company for over 7 years and when I was brought in, needless to say, it wasn’t the easiest of transitions. Eric is being nice in his rendition of our engagement. It was tough at times and I knew it. There were times I think the team just flat out hated me. I pissed them off. I pushed them till it hurt. I challenged many of the tenants they held sacred and they didn’t like it. But what came out the other side is nothing but magic and Eric’s story so illustrates the benefits of getting through the pain of change. It deserved to be shared with this community.
Eric has grown tremendously has a sales person, I’m extremely proud of him and all that he has accomplished. He deserves all the credit for his growth, he did the hard work to get there. His post is a great message to all sales people trying to get better.
When I met Keenan in March 2014, I had been working for one of his clients for almost 7 years and had been in sales for the company for almost as long. We were a good team, but our CEO felt that we could be better. The whole team and I were apprehensive about an “outsider” coming in, to say the least. Many of us thought, “Who is this guy being brought into our business to shore us up? Who does he think he is?” Well, a year and a half later, I can confidently say that we were wrong. No matter how good you think you are, you can always get better.
Our first step towards understanding the value of coaching was when our CEO had us read The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. This should be required reading for any and every member of a sales organization. The three tenets of this book are “teach,” “tailor,” and “take control,” and what became quickly apparent to all of us after reading it was that we were not exerting control over our sales at all.
Our product, (a mature and well-developed CRM solution for arts and nonprofit organizations) in many ways sold itself, but we were not positioning our unique strengths as salespeople to help leverage the inherently strong feature set of our product. What we were doing was old school and ultimately ineffective in terms of deal strategy. We would get on the phone with a prospect, “demo” them (often showing the same generic, feature-driven demo to pretty much every organization), and then we would essentially hope for the best. It turns out this is not an effective way to sell. Without understanding the critical ways in which our system could be relevant in solving our prospective clients’ business problems, we had no control over the sales process, and we had no way to truly differentiate our product from any other product out there.
That’s where Keenan’s keen (forgive the pun) insight and guidance became invaluable to us. He explicitly and concisely made it clear that without knowing a prospect’s key business problems, there is no way that you can capably sell; you’re essentially throwing mud at the wall and hoping enough of it sticks to make quota. Putting yourself in the prospect’s shoes is important for every part of the sales process. One of the first things that we did when he came onboard to mentor us was change the way that we categorize the opportunity stages of our prospects. Whereas before we were identifying stages based on how far along we were in the sales process (Demo Scheduled, Demo Given, Contract Sent, etc.), he immediately told us that we had it all backwards. Instead, we needed to be thinking about where the prospect was (Engaged, Evaluation, Proposal, etc.), because that’s all that matters. Then, we began identifying all of our prospects’ critical business problems and specifically tying each issue to a solution we offer. Most importantly, we were identifying how our system’s specific features can be utilized to help grow their business financially. This is compelling for a number of reasons, but chiefly because it builds an effective case for why a customer should choose you over the competition. It also has the nice side effect of reinforcing what’s actually important if feature gap happens to come up during the conversation.
The best (and really, the only) way to use this approach is to schedule a discovery call with the prospect before you demo. This way, you can plan out the demo accordingly to ensure that it will be tailored and worth everyone’s valuable time. No one wants to sit in on a call where they are being shown highly irrelevant features, just because said features look impressive on paper. This was a key philosophical shift for our team and it wasn’t an easy pill to swallow for a long time. But slowly and surely, things began to click for us and eventually we knew exactly how to show our product in the best and most relevant light for prospects of all sizes and shapes. The transition to this method of sales also allowed our business to grow and win clients in less time.
So, readers, don’t be resistant to change. Be open to coaching and better ways of doing your job. Read up on your specific industry and on general best practices in sales, because in addition to taking the consultative sales approach, those are also the things that are going to increase your expertise, connect better with your prospective clients, and ultimately help you close more deals.
Eric Saber, a true badass.
Eric, I wish you the best of luck in your new gig. You’re going to kill it. You’ve earned everything you’re about to accomplish. Keep on learning my man, keep on learning.