In tough times, growth comes at the expense of competition. Meaning that to drive sales success, your strategy and resources need to pinpoint why clients should change where they invest their money. Tony J Hughes, Managing Director of RSVP Selling and Co-Founder and Sales Innovation Director of Sales IQ Global discusses cutting-through with proven strategies for creating new sales conversations with the right people.
The biggest issue facing businesses, leaders and their sales teams is time. Therefore it is critical to understand:
- who your customer is. You must have a detailed customer persona
- what are your customer’s most impactful needs
- will your service or product make a difference in the lives of your customers
Tony believes that salespeople are optimistic at heart. But to truly be successful, they need to affirm the organisation’s vision and know that it will deliver significant value. Sales in current times need to be based on thoughtfulness. Customers expect more from those seeking to gain their business. With the ease of the internet and development in technology, there are no excuses for not being well informed. It’s key to acutely understand clients’ expectations and anticipate their needs. Having a strong relationship with your customer/s is how you mitigate against becoming a commodity and strategically drive sales success.
Stephanie: Hello, and welcome to TEC Live. Stephanie: Christopher here, Chief Executive of The Executive Connection. We connect leaders with a trusted network of people who help them succeed.
Stephanie: Thank you, Leah. Christmas is over, all over, new year. Actually, we’re really in the middle of February.
Leah: Yeah, I know. How did that happen. But who have you got on the podcast today?
Stephanie: Really fun today. We have Tony Hughes as our special guest on TEC Live. Tony is a guru on sales. A lot of people will call themselves that, but Tony is recognised in our region as one of the, in fact the biggest influencer, on sales, on how to drive and build effective sales teams. Tony is an author, a lecturer, and has helped many large businesses in our region, Australia and the Pacific, and in fact globally with their sales leadership and their sales teams. Tony Hughes, welcome to TEC Live.
Tony: Steph, thank you. I am so excited about being on today.
Stephanie: Good, good. It is exciting. I love this topic. I love sales and I also know for leaders. So let’s paint a picture of a leader. They’ve made it through 2020, they’re into 2021. Things aren’t as grim as perhaps they feared, and now it’s all about growth. Growing in 2021, so that means it’s all about sales and they wake up every day and think, ‘How do I get my sales team moving? What do I have to do?’
Tony: Yeah, well the first thing I’d say is that 2021, growth will have to come at the expense of competition. So in a buoyant, growing market, a rising tide tends to float all ships.
Tony: But in tough times, which we’re in, I think Australia’s dodged a prolonged recession. The country, Australia and New Zealand, are both being managed incredibly well, both medically and economically. But the reality is business is probably down 15 to 20% overall in the economy. There’s definitely winners and losers, but we need to think about why should a client change the way they’re currently operating. And unless we have clarity about that, our sales and marketing efforts will really struggle for cut-through.
Stephanie: Okay. So as this business owner wakes up thinking about, ‘Why aren’t my sales team shutting the lights out?’ there’s a step back that they have to think about, ‘How am I going to get cut-through in my market, and indeed, who am I going after?’ Is that right?
Tony: Yeah. Let me paint a picture for you because I’ve worked with lots of entrepreneurs and scale-up businesses. And the thing that’s so common is that the person who founds the business will be passionate about a particular idea or service that they want to take to market and their passion about what they do really carries the day. So they win some early initial customers based on their own passion. And they then think, ‘I’m going to raise some capital, now it’s time to scale up.’ And they start to hire some sales and marketing people. And for many businesses, this is the inflection point where they start to burn a lot of cash and they don’t achieve that growth. And we’ll just talk about the core reasons for that. The first is, unless you’re clear about the problem that you solve in a market and unless that problem’s a serious problem, it’s going to be difficult.
And if you want to use a metaphor of tablets, we want to be the cure for COVID, rather than the vitamin pill. So we need to solve a serious problem. We need to think about product market fit. So what problem do I solve for whom? Is there a really strong business case behind this for change? Because the problem with change is it’s just a whole lot of work and risk for the person that’s trying to drive it in an organisation. The next thing that comes out of that is based on strong product market fit, we then need to think about our ideal customer profile because not everyone is a prospect. You, for example, might sell too chemist shops or pharmacies.
But not every chemist shop is an ideal prospect and you’ll have things like, where are they located? How big are they? What other suppliers do they currently work with? Is there particular technologies they have in place? So what we need to do is to define that ideal customer profile so that we’ve got clarity about who we’re targeting. It’s so easy for the leaders of a business, and I’ve been the CEO running the Asia-Pacific region for companies, and I know myself, I’d often look at marketing and sales and feel like, what’s wrong with these people? Why aren’t they getting it? Are they lazy? Why aren’t the results happening. But often, the best diagnostic tool for the leader is a mirror. And if we look ourselves in the eye and the answer the question honestly, are we lining our people up for success by having clarity about where they should focus.
Stephanie: I think you’ve made such a powerful point there about who is the ideal customer, because I imagine some leaders would say ‘Yes, but number one, I’ll take anyone who’ll walk in the door. And number two, well, if I narrow it down and say the ideal customer is this kind of pharmacy in this location that specialises in this sort of business,’ what about all the others? What about if I say I want to specialise in the ones that don’t sell gifts, I’m really riffing on my pharmacy knowledge, if I want to specialise in those ones. But what about if all the ones who do sell gifts, then I’m letting all those prospective customers go. How hard is that for salespeople to even make that decision, let alone their leaders?
Tony: Well salespeople are wired to be optimistic and that can often work against them because the truth is the finite resource that all of us are battling with every day is not finding prospects in the market. There’s lots of potential people to buy from us. The limiting resource dealing with is time and we have to get very good at filtering down and just investing our time where there’s the highest propensity to buy and with people where we can make the biggest difference. And my view on selling, I know selling can often get a bad rap, but my view is selling should be about making a positive difference in the lives of others, both personally and professionally for the person in the role and their business. And if we’re not making a big, positive difference, why are we talking to them? So that’s where we need to focus.
And it really goes to the heart of something else that’s so important in business, and that’s belief. If your sellers aren’t true believers about the difference that they can make in the life of the customer, they’ll struggle because we deal with buyers today that are pretty sophisticated and they don’t want another professional visitor in their life or another sales person that wants to friend them and have coffee and check in.
Tony: They’re all busy and stressed.’ So they’re thinking, ‘What can you do for me and why should I care?’ So we’ve got to be truly customer-centric.
Stephanie: I have seen in past lives, salespeople who really believe in the offering and have been successful in past roles, sales roles, but can’t get going in a new organisation. As a leader, and you know I speak to a lot of leaders of smaller mid-sized businesses who would say that, I’ve worked with this person or I brought them, but they’re not getting going here, where would you start to try and diagnose what’s going on there?
Tony: The first thing is, do we have clarity in where we’re wanting them to focus? That’s the ideal customer profile thing. The next piece is for those organisations we’re selling to, do we understand the buyer personas that we’re going to have the conversations with?
Stephanie: Tell me what that means.
Tony: So if you’re selling, for argument’s sake, to a pharmacy, you think, well, the pharmacist is typically the business owner, but not always. So you’ll have the buyer persona of the owner of the pharmacy, of the pharmacist, maybe the CFO who often maybe tends to be the partner of the person in their normal life. And each one of those personas wants something different out of change. They’ll have reasons why they’d resist change. So a one size fits all conversation framework doesn’t work. And the big mistake that most sellers make is they talk about what they’re comfortable talking about, but what is nevertheless, the very thing the customer’s not interested in.
So when we spring from the bushes to have this surprise conversation with a new prospect and say, ‘Hey, I’m Tony from TEC, and we’re the biggest market leader in, and we do this and we do that,’ that’s not what the person wants. I’ve just started to build an e-learning platform and we sold a head of sales. And I just learned, don’t talk about an e-learning platform or a sales methodology, or a course. No one wants that. What they do want is more of their reps hitting quota. That’s what they want. So you say, ‘Hey, I work with sales leaders like you to help them to get more of their reps hitting quota,’ and in a way where you can get more predictability into the forecast that you’re giving your CEO. And they want that, they think, ‘How do you do that?’ Now they’re ready to hear. So we need to train salespeople, help salespeople have the right conversations with people, conversations that are customer-centric.
Stephanie: And if you’re very explicit about first of all, who the ideal customer is, and secondly, what their persona is, then it’s easier to train your salespeople or they’re going to be more likely to hit the mark on the right conversation than if they’re just talking to anyone about anything and they’re just not necessarily really honing their pitch. Is that right?
Tony: Yeah, that’s exactly true. And it also helps marketing. So what’s in a buyer persona is psychographic and demographic information about the typical person in the role. And then you think about how are they measured in their role? What are their typical stresses? What are they trying to achieve? Then you create three little narratives. Why change? Why now? And then why us? Now the why us is last for a very good reason. Most people lead with why us? Let me tell you about why-
Stephanie: ‘We’re the biggest,’ blah, blah, blah, blah.
Tony: Exactly. Yeah. And then the third aspect of the buyer persona is you think about common objections or pushbacks that would come up and words and phrases that resonate well. And then the last piece of buyer personas, which is so powerful, is the notion of trigger events. What are the things that happen in the world of the buyer that creates awareness of need, and for us as a seller, provides us with some context for conversation? There’s a reason why we’re reaching out to them. And monitoring for trigger events is incredibly powerful.
Stephanie: How would you monitor for trigger events?
Tony: If you’re in business, the business selling the most powerful trigger event is role-based. And you can monitor for that in LinkedIn Sales Navigator. And for example, if you’re selling B2B into big organisations and you’ve got a real fan of your product and company in that organisation, and you notice they leave and they go somewhere else to another company, well there’s a domino effect here for three trigger events. The first thing is we should congratulate that person on their career move and simply say, ‘Hey, I’d love to understand what you’re trying to achieve in the new role, and if there’s any way that we can help.’ And it’s amazing how often they say ‘Actually, do you know what? They’ve hired me to do the same things I was doing in the previous company.’
Stephanie: I need you now.
Tony: ‘Let’s get together.’ Yeah. I get so much feedback that that happens. So you monitor for that trigger event and you’ve got an opportunity. And time matters because if you wait too long, next thing, your competitor that’s incumbent in the organisation they’ve gone to will build a relationship.
There’s a domino effect. Their role gets back filled in your existing customer, and that’s both the risk and opportunity. You don’t want a competitor to following a new person in. Whoever gets either promoted internally or comes in, you contact them and say, ‘Hey, congratulations on the role. Been doing some great things with your predecessor. I’ve got some ideas for you on some quick wins in the role. When can we get together?’ And you use this to elevate the relationship and the value that you’re providing. And as you build that relationship and earn the right, you say, ‘Hey, with the organisation you came from, would it make sense for us to talk to them?’ So there’s two opportunities and an account risk and upsell opportunity that you’ve identified with at any hardcore selling, you’re just operating intelligently and you’ve got really good context for the outreach.
Stephanie: So you’ve created a picture for me of a thoughtful salesperson, well-equipped by the organisation, by the leadership or marketing or marketing and sales together. So they know who they’re going after. But then in those three prospects that are now, from the universe, some in the funnel and some not, it’s very different from ‘Hi, can I buy you a coffee?’
Tony: Yeah. And I often say that nobody was getting to, for us in business and sales, where they don’t know us yet, we’re a stranger. There’s not one of those people on the face of the planet that’s lonely and bored and looking for another friend.
Tony: They’re just not know. So they’re thinking, ‘What is it you can do for me?’ And leaders have three expectations of us, which might seem unreasonable, but I’ll explain after I go through them why it’s not unreasonable. They expect us, before we’ve ever had the chance to ask even one question, they expect us to already know them, their industry, their company, their customers, all the markets they serve and them in their roles. They expect us to know them. The second thing is based on that, they expect us to tailor and personalise what it is we want to talk about to contextualise well. And the third thing is they expect us to be mind readers, anticipate of the seven things you do, what’s the one thing that would really matter to me? And the reason the buyer thinks that’s reasonable is all that information is on the internet.
Tony: So they expect sellers to research. What I see though, is so many sellers try and boil the ocean with their research.
Tony: A lot of us, because they treat the phone like it’s covered in spiders and they fear rejection and they bought this social selling schlock that’s being pushed in the world in the last few years around no one answers the phone, just groom your LinkedIn profile and do things in social and leads will come. And they confuse personal branding and marketing with selling. Selling is about positively interrupting the day of somebody and doing it really well and providing some value in the conversation.
Stephanie: And it’s all about that value, isn’t it?
Tony: It is.
Stephanie: Because as a business leader, you don’t want interruptions unless it’s something that’s going to really add value.
Stephanie: The interruptions that I want as a business leader, is my team with something that they need help with or where I can add value to elevate a conversation. But outside interruptions that are just checking in, how’s your day, I don’t know. I haven’t even thought how my day is. I’ll get back to that when I get home.
Stephanie: Yep. I think that you have given some immediate tactics, very powerful tactics for how salespeople kind of approach building their network, building their pipeline, really.
Tony: Yeah, and it’s really key, it’s really key. So have clarity about where you’ll get the highest return for your time, with the customer profile, understand the people you’re going to engage with and what matters to them. And then the last thing in all of this is build the right narrative, build the right conversation narrative.
Stephanie: What does that mean?
Tony: Well most people try and friend at the person and do all this fake rapport building upfront. And it just paints them as a seller and causes the person to turn off. The next thing that they think they need to do is to earn the right to ask questions, they need to establish their credibility. So I’ll tell them all about us and what we do and why we’re a leader. That also doesn’t work. If you’re listening to this and you get price questions or comparison with competition early in the sales process, it’s almost always because you’re talking about yourself and your product, and it causes people to delegate you down to people who evaluate those things.
And they ask how much and compare you. What we need to do is build a conversation about the prospects, opportunity to drive improved results in their role. We’re at a wonderful podcasting studio here, I’ve been also meeting the team today. But if they had a salesperson that rang me and said, ‘Hey Tony, we’re Sydney’s premier podcasting studio,’ and they start to tell me about it, my first thought is ‘I don’t have time to produce a podcast, send me an email.’ And all it is, is a fub off.
Tony: But if they contacted me said, ‘Hey Tony, I can see you’re publishing this new book, Tech-Powered Sales, in June-
Stephanie: Well done Tony. Nice slip in.
Tony: Thank you. But if they even said, ‘Hey, I’ve got some ideas on how you could make it a number one bestseller on the New York Times, and in a way where you start to get a lot of leads for speaking gigs, have you got just three minutes now?’ I’m in, because although I don’t want a podcast, I do want my book to be a bestseller. I do want more small speaking gigs. So they’re talking about what I want. And that’s the framework, right?
So you contextualise, ‘Hey Mary, I noticed you talk about a trigger event or this person’s suggested that I call. Hey, the reason for the call is I’ve got some ideas on how you could,’ then you lay out a benefit for them. And in a way another benefit, ‘Hey, do you mind if I ask?’ and then you ask an open question that gets the person thinking about the value of change. And what you’re trying to do is co-create the business case for change, trying to establish whether this is a good fit rather than let me push my value proposition on to you, let me tell you about us and why we’re so great.
Stephanie: Really good. I’m processing that as I’m thinking of something, going back to where you were. What if you get an incoming opportunity and someone says to you, ‘Well I’m comparing you and Acme’?
Stephanie: Whatever Acme sells. How do you respond to that? So I’m comparing you and Acme. So I’d like to know your price and whatever. What do you do?
Tony: That’s such a great question, Steph.
Stephanie: Thank you.
Tony: And we’re recording this in North Sydney.
Tony: My very first sales job a long time ago was here. And I’ve seen a lot of those questions and I learned my first big lesson in selling after about three months. When a lead comes to us, the buyer is in the mode of evaluation.
Tony: They’ve got their 99 questions they’re asking. We never want to appear uncooperative or trying to be smart.
Tony: We would need to be cooperative. But we need to reframe the conversation. So there’s three magic questions that I’ve discovered in selling to reframe the conversation for an inbound lead. The first is, ‘Hey Steph, absolutely I’ll provide you with all of that information. But do you mind if I ask what’s happened inside TEC that’s caused you to want to look at this now?’
Tony: And then the next question is, ‘If you were invest in change, with us or somebody else, what improved results are you expecting for TEC as an organisation, but also in your role as CEO?’ And then the third question is, ‘Hey, where do you see the risks of getting this in and running successfully?’ And if the person says, ‘Look, I’m not quite sure why you’re even asking all of that, just answer all my questions and give me a price,’ say, ‘Hey, look I’m just trying to understand what the business case is for this to help you make sure that you get the right level of funding and to get the right level of support consensus in the organisation. Because without the right level of support and funding, it’s typically not going to be a successful initiative, no matter who you select. So I know you want to understand who’s best to work with, but what we find is we work with our most successful customers in a way where we help them create their business case and get everybody on board.’
Stephanie: I think that first question you asked is absolute gold, ‘What’s happened now that’s made you make this call?’
Stephanie: Let me just ask you, why are you looking at this now? That is gold because I’ve seen really good salespeople try and deflect that, ‘Who are you? How much and why shouldn’t I go to Acme?’ is by saying, ‘Well let me ask some questions first. Tell me a little bit about you,’ or ‘Tell me a little bit about your company.’ But that’s the person’s hearing, ‘They’re deflecting me, they’re deflecting me.’ Whereas that other question is quite disarming, isn’t it?
Tony: Yeah. And intent is everything in selling and life. And the intent we’re wanting to convey is not that I want to make my sale and crush my quota. The intent we want to convey is, ‘Hey, I’m just trying to understand whether we are the right fit for you. I just want to understand whether you’ve got the right level of funding and support for this initiative.’ Because I’ve spent a lot of time in the software industry and what I commonly found was customers would go to market to buy something and we’d participate in the beauty pageant that they ran.
Tony: And then often they try and implement without enough funding, without enough executive support and the initiative wouldn’t be successful. And it wasn’t because of the software they picked, it was because they didn’t run it as a change program well. And what I found was if you can help them co-create the business case and manage their risk, provide some insights, that’s how you become the emotional favourite. But we can’t just start asking questions. So I think look, I’m not interested in educating you, I’m trying to figure out whether you’re the right person for me to invest any time with.
Stephanie: What if I’m an unsophisticated sales person in an unsophisticated business?
Tony: Yeah. So a lot of people do sell more of a commodity transactional kind of product where relationships absolutely do matter. And here’s the paradox of relationships in selling. It’s impossible for us as a business owners or as a seller to be successful without relationships or trust with our customers. So we need that. The new buyers aren’t looking for another relationship.
Tony: So we need to provide an experience. There’s been lots of research done by a Gardner, Corporate Executive Board, others. And what they’ve discovered is that more than half of why one vendor wins over the others is because of the experience that the buyer had in running their evaluation, wasn’t the features and functions and price. Surprisingly, price is less than 10%. And if you ask most salespeople, ‘Why did we lose the deal?’, the universal answer is ‘Price.’
But you go and talk to the buyers, price has less than 10% impact. A lot of buyers will see cheap as too risky. In my life, I’m done with buying cheap. So I end up buying the right thing later and I wish I had done that the first time round. So the thing that they need to do is think the way I engage the client is the thing that’ll make all the difference. And if you’re selling a commodity, it’s more transactional, you need to focus on the experience you provide. And that’s from when they touch the website, they phone your call center, they walk into your premises, all of the way through.
Stephanie: And I’m going to name a brand here because it’s a brand that would be so not associated with me ever, and that’s Jaycar. And you step inside a Jaycar shop, and I have no idea, no idea. I don’t even know anything. And straightaway, the person knows exactly what they’re talking about, they’re passionate about the product and they add value in that conversation and walk out and think what a great experience.
Tony: Yeah. We’ve all done this. I did it when I went and bought a TV. In my mind, I’m thinking I want to get the best TV at the cheapest price, but I ended up walking back into the first store I started with saying, ‘This is what I want to buy. You’re this much more expensive. If you can get close, I’d love to buy from you,’ because that person educated me about what I should really be thinking about in buying a TV.
Stephanie: I loved how you spoke about relationships, because there’s all the cycles of selling and relationship selling was the way for so long. Get your foot in the door, and I know people were saying last year, I’d hear a lot of business people saying, ‘Well we can’t sell because it’s virtual.’ And you can. You can’t take someone for a coffee, if that’s what you think is an important part of selling.
So I love the way you’ve talked about relationships. I think it’s very powerful what you said about the groundwork that has to be done by the organisation on ideal customer profile and the persona. Is that sales job or marketing job to do that?
Tony: It’s the leader’s job.
Tony: Salespeople normally look at marketing collateral and go, ‘Look, this doesn’t really work for me with my customers. It’s all company-centric, product-centric.’ But marketing go ‘Well, we’re not connected to the customers. We don’t really understand how they’re translating our features and functionality and service into business results.’ And what the sellers need to do is they need to make sure that anytime there’s a happy customer, they treat that as a trigger event to ask for referral and ask them to do a case study. And from a marketing point of view, in case studies focus on business impact, not on just saying nice things about our brand and that’ll help the sellers be able to go and carry those conversations.
Stephanie: Let’s go back to our business owner who’s woken up every morning and thought, ‘I’ve got to get that sales team going.’ First step is take a look in the mirror.
Stephanie: Deal with what they see, physically and whatever, figuratively.
Tony: Hey Steph, I’ve got to jump in on this. I don’t know whether you know this, but one of the bizarre unintended consequences of 2020 was plastic surgery went through the roof.
Stephanie: Because we looked at ourselves all day.
Tony: Because everybody’s seeing themselves in Zoom calls.
Stephanie: Do you know what? There was one thing and they said, ‘Turn off the camera on yourself,’ and then I missed myself. The meetings were there and I went, ‘Where’s Steph? I’m used to seeing her on the screen as well.’
So anyway, you’ve looked in the mirror. We’ve got that far through the day, and thought, ‘I am going to be very clear on who our ideal customer is for our focused product service for this quarter, year,’ whatever. They’ve done that. They’ve done some really good deep work on getting inside the head of that ideal customer, even as far as what are they watching? What are they reading? What are they thinking? When are they turning on their computer? When are they going to take a phone call?
They’ve done all that work. They’ve got their sales team to be intentional about who they’re going after and they’ve given them some strategic support on look for trigger events. And they’ve got your script of the things that you have to do in your conversation. It’s not a script, it’s a playbook, of what you have to do in your conversation with the customer. And I’m just going to get you to reiterate that. So what was it you were saying with the customer? It was about-
Tony: Is this in the script, the scripting or the framework?
Stephanie: The framework. Yeah, what was it?
Tony: Yeah. So in the framework, when you build your conversations, they expect us to show them that we know them.
Stephanie: Yeah, that’s right.
Tony: So it’s ‘Hi Steph,’ and then you open ideally with a referral. ‘Hi Steph, Mary suggested I give you a call.’
Tony: You can’t always get a referral. If it’s not that, then you mention a trigger event, ‘Hey, I notice you’ve just announced three new groups that TEC is running, or you’ve expanded into this market. The reason for the call,’ is so you show them that you know them. Warm the call up that way rather than friending.
Tony: And then you just say, ‘Hey look, I’ve got some ideas on how I think you could, how you could increase membership, and in a way that gives some time back to the people that are leading the groups.’
Tony: Something that’s important. And then you ask a question. You actually asked a question that create some focus on the value. You don’t try to manipulate people. And it’s the degree to which the person’s sharing information and access to others that determines whether they’re really a qualified prospect for us.
Stephanie: Yeah. Fantastic. I suggest anyone who is listening to this podcast, finish it, say how wonderful it was and go back and listen to it again, because there are absolute gold nuggets in what you’ve said, Tony. And usually when I’m chatting with someone, it’s easy for me to think, ‘Okay, this is how we’d wrap it up.’ We’ve talked about what’s important. We’ve talked about what the business leader needs to do, looking in that mirror in the morning. And then I think, make sure you’ve got a notepad and go back to the beginning of this and have another listen and talk about it with someone because Tony, I think this has been a fantastic conversation and a wonderful tool for any business leader, and in fact, any sales person to have now in their armory. Tony Hughes, thank you very much.
Tony: Steph, thank you. And can I finish with one last tip? If you are selling a commodity product and you want to get marketing working well, think about this, what do customers look for online before they’d ever know to look for us?
Stephanie: Yeah, nice.
Tony: And that’s the content you need to create. Thanks for having me on.
Stephanie: Beautiful. Thank you so much. Discover more about TEC.