A few months ago, I had dinner with Roger Travis, who ran sales for me at Pilot Software back in the mid-‘90s. When I hired Roger, I introduced him to the board by saying, “Roger has been selling for longer than I’ve been alive,” which was true. He’s still going at it, helping tech companies build their sales teams. To this day, a lot of my thinking and talk track to my team stems from things I learned from Roger.
Roger is the best kind of enterprise salesperson, because he is a master at building relationships. Even though digital technology has changed the way sales professionals work today, people still buy from people, so relationships matter.
Unfortunately, I think that in too many organizations, technology has become a crutch that salespeople are falling back on instead of doing the work they need to do to build real relationships. Instead, we’re using it to turn ourselves into the worst cliché in sales: The used car salesman. What we should be doing is using technology to enhance our ability to build relationships, turning ourselves into digitally enabled versions of Roger—Roger 2.0s, if you will.
A trunk full of print
When Roger talks about his early days at NCR he talks about making appointments over the phone or showing up to people’s offices to get a meeting. He would drive around with a trunk full of printed material and knock on doors.
He had to understand the basic profile of who was buying his solutions and what their “pain chain” was. His approach to doing that was conversational. He had to talk to a lot of people and ask a lot of questions to understand the problem before he could show how his solution would solve it. Then, he would try to find more people with the same pain.
You really couldn’t do this at scale, so companies typically had more sales people, with smaller territories, who were constantly out making sales calls and talking to people. Maybe on a good day you could talk to 10 people. That meant you needed to extremely thoughtful and strategic in your approach.
I remember going with Roger on a sales call to Sarasota, Florida. The guy that we were calling on was a big golfer. Roger of course knew that from previous conversations. He also knew where the guy’s kid was going to college. So he followed the college golf team, so they could chat about the team’s progress.
That might sound trivial, but it’s not. When you demonstrate that you can remember that kind of personal detail and understand what it means to your prospect, they realize that you probably also remember all the previous things they talked about that are important to them. That creates an emotional connection.
In sales, the only thing that trumps an emotional connection is a stronger emotional connection. Roger worked on this deal for 18 months through many plane trips, dinners and sporting events. He built a relationship, and when you do that people let their guard down. They welcome you into their world, and it becomes less of a business relationship and more of a friendship. You become a trusted advisor. That’s one of the secrets to selling.
How did Roger do it? He listened. He observed. Not just, what was their business problem, but what was in their office? Sports memorabilia? A particular photograph, or a piece of artwork? He looked for ways to make personal connections. He took notes, and you better believe he used them to nurture the relationship.
The new nurture
Now technology can make that kind of relationship building more scalable, but what I think has happened instead is that it is stunting people’s ability to build those relationships. Not only that, the way it’s used most often is turning people off.
Salespeople sit in their office and send mass emails directly to people with a certain title and wait for the leads to come in. They use “funnel math” to increase their odds. The thought process seems to be, if I send out 1000 emails I’ll get 10 responses, so I’ll send out 5,000 and get 50, because it takes only marginally more effort. Nurturing a relationship now means sending an automated email sequence.
I probably get 15 to 20 cold or “nurture” emails a week, the vast majority of them completely generic. We all do—you know the type. They’re the digital equivalent of the used car sales person, demonstrating no knowledge or interest whatsoever in my business or my pain. They’re just hoping to pull someone into their web for a quick sale of whatever they have in stock. That has never worked for enterprise sales before, and it doesn’t work now.
The emotional response these emails create is not a positive one. Annoyance. Disgust. Anger, even. That’s what happens when you insert technology without a lot of context or due diligence behind it.
A better way to play the numbers
It doesn’t need to be that way. Even though sales is a game of numbers, if you improve your close rate, you don’t need to send out as many of these emails or make as many cold calls. The key is using technology to be more thoughtful in your approach.
Tools like LinkedIn, Mattermark, Crunchbase or other research solutions can help you understand the people that you’re selling to. You can see their background, and see where their company is in its growth cycle, and start to guess at their pain points and possible motivations. You can learn personal details and see what you might have in common, so when you have that first conversation or you ask for an introduction or send an email, you’ve already done a bunch of research and you have an idea who you’re talking to. You’ve already invested in the relationship using digital resources.
Always add value
One of the cardinal rules in sales is that you need to be adding value with every interaction that you have, whether that’s a Tweet or a LinkedIn post, an email or an in-person meeting. People have a finite amount of time and you need to make it worth their while to interact with you instead of doing some other task or activity. If you add value in small ways, it conveys the value they’re going to get over the course of their relationship with you.
Instead of driving from office to office giving presentations, you can use Zoom or Webex or GoToMeeting to many people at once. That’s an opportunity to build relationships, but too often all we get is a sales pitch, a canned PowerPoint presentation. We never make it to the question segment that was promised. There’s no engagement, no interaction, and no relationship building. Those muscles are atrophying.
Part of the problem is that a lot of companies seem to have substituted technology for training. They give new sales people a pitch deck, and email list and a quota and put them to work. There’s a very short-term outlook that discourages relationship building, because that takes more time.
What’s the solution? I had a guy on my team, Brian, who is an extremely promising young salesman who wants to learn all the ins and outs of sales. Of course he’s savvy with social media and other digital tools. He’s willing to read any publication and soak up any and all feedback to make himself a great sales person. And he will be, but the reality is he’s probably on a five-year journey from where he is now to and see enough different deals and buying personalities to reach that level.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are a lot of Rogers out there who are really hidden gems. They’ve sold in every kind of market and they have networks a mile deep. The trick is getting them to adopt technology. In my experience they’ll do it, but what they won’t do is adopt technology for technology’s sake. They’ll look at their quota and try to figure out, “What’s the one deal I need to do to make that number? If I can’t do it in one deal, what are the two deals I need to do to get that number?”
All they’re trying to do is optimize for their comp plan and making that number in as few transactions as possible. That translates to everything they do–how do they use CRM or any other tools. If those tools aren’t adding value to their process, they’re not going to use them.
If we can find the Bryan’s of the world and pair them up with the Roger’s of the world in the style of a buddy cop movie, I think we could strike the right balance between technology-based selling and old-fashioned relationship building to create the perfect salesperson, Roger 2.0.Google+