Strong Opinions @marksbirch

Random thoughts from a NYC entrepreneur and investor about start-ups, technology and the people that make it all happen. Also find time for good tunes and good food.
Recent Tweets @
Posts I Like
Posts tagged "Sales"
Don’t hire a sales person before your product ships. It’s really important to have someone in the building who knows what customers want so you can nail that final 10% of your product and often founders think a sales person can help them do that. But it never works. Sales people can only sell.

Building an Enterprise Sales Team by Doug Leone

Founders that bring in salespeople to do anything other than sell almost always end up with subpar sales results.  While I am a big believer of the many hatted startup founder, you are better off letting salespeople sell. 

Outside calls or cold calls will come with a “conversation request,” where the caller pitches the receiver on why he or she should answer and invest their time.

Why Voice is the Next Big Wave" via GigaOM 

Great article that talks about how and why voice is here to stay - and will become a primary way of interacting with technology in the next phase of wearable computing.

(via micflash)\

For those of us in sales, voice never went away and will continue to be the predominant vehicle for connecting to customers and getting work done.

Do not evaluate persona, evaluate results

Plenty of folks have chimed in already about sales people and hiring for startups. When do you hire and what type of salesperson you need for when and whether you need a sales person or a business development person. There is no lack of advice when it comes to hiring salespeople.

But the thing that keeps coming up in conversation after conversation is this idea of the prototypical salesperson. Many folks are looking for a particular personality and assume that the best salespeople are naturally gregarious and outgoing and boisterous. They want someone that appears outwardly social and assume that such people will have wide webs of relationships and engage easily with people. In short, they are looking for the classic networker type. But you know what they say about people that assume too much

I have worked for and with numerous types of salespeople over the years. The one thread that connects those experiences and I came away with is that there is no one type of sales person that is most effective. There is no prototypical salesperson, but many different types, and each type thrives or struggles depending on the circumstances and environment. Some are better in an inside sales role selling over the phone, others better in person. Some are better at selling tactical solutions while others are more attuned to strategic selling. And in the same way there are many different types of sales people, each salesperson has his or her own unique personality that often times does not ascribe to our notions of a typical sales person.

Personality does not give you much insight into who to hire. It might help for matching up to the company culture, but it has no correlation to actual results. I have seen salespeople who are borderline manic and others that are painfully quiet. Some are outgoing and others are shy, Some like flashy things, others are more down to earth. Some are incredibly organized and others swim in chaos. The thing that connected all of these reps was the fact that they got results.

So my advice when hiring for sales would be to focus on results. It does not have to even be directly related to quota carrying roles, but any situation where a candidate took the initiative and did something significant from beginning to end. That is what you really want from salespeople, that they can take the initiative, have a get things done attitude, and do not easily give up. Those are not outwardly discernible traits however, so you really need to dig deeper on what they have done and can do. When you look at results, that is what helps you get a clearer picture on the things that do matter for sales success.

A friend recently asked if I had any recommended sources for learning about strategic account selling, the type of selling you do when targeting big companies. Over the years, I have been trained on a number of methodologies and techniques, so I have a trove of few documents and presentations floating around somewhere. But as I searched around, I realized that while many of these tools are useful, it really came down to one thing that worked regardless of the method.

The best sales methodology is active listening. There are some helpful tips to become a better listener and hopefully I can round up those resources for a later post. But the point is that in a world awash with quick fix strategies for “instant selling success” and “immediate results” and “close more sales”, the one method that is readily available to everyone and free to use is listening.

What is active listening? It is a process of caring about what a customer is saying and spending more time listening to them than talking about yourself and your product. That is a core of any relationship and how one builds a foundation of trust. No one wants to buy from someone that is pushing and prodding and proscribing. People want to feel that you emphasize, that you understand their needs, and can be a trusted resource. In the age of the Internet, anyone can access any number of resources to get the answers they need about product. What people want is someone patient enough to listen.

Of course you need to actually converse and explain what your product is and how it fits a customer’s needs. However, that is something that evolves over the course of many conversations. That is not where you start when you first engage a customer, you need to hear them out and understand their perspective first so that you can properly frame your product in a way that addresses their needs.

This advice gets salespeople nervous because they feel they need to guide the conversation along towards their solution. That is the classic Solution Selling technique and it certainly has its merits. However, in reality the dialogue during a sales meeting never easily conforms to the cadence that fits into a methodology. It feels wooden and forced even when practiced over and over again. You are better off asking open ended questions and only piping in to address an objection or answer a direct question. Remember, if you are having this conversation, chances are the customer has a need, sees you as a potential solution, and does not need to be “sold” on taking action.

I am all for learning techniques and testing out methodologies to help improve one’s sales productivity and effectiveness. Just remember that no method can substitute for truly hearing what customers have to say. If you are talking less and listening more, you are well on your way to having more success in sales.

"We already have that" is never a real objection.

When describing your product with prospects, do you ever get the response that they have something that does what you do already? That is probably because in order to get anyone to listen to your pitch, you have to couch your solution’s value proposition in terms that others would understand. This is especially true when it comes to B2B enterprise solutions where it pays to be more conservative.

This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand coming off as too novel and innovative scares potential customers. On the other hand, going in by aligning to something tried and true could obscure how you are different and unique (and thus a much more effective a solution) from existing solutions.

The best strategy is to at least get in the door and then cut and juke your way through. Plenty of the customers I spoke to last week already had some sort of CRM product or sales & marketing pitch tools for their field teams. They even said as much when I opened with my initial pitch. There were two things that I had ready to evade the objections. First, I had a message that was just enough different to peek interest (mobile CRM built for the medical device industry and highly customizable include their branding and workflow. Second, I had a demo to immediately launch into to demonstrate the product and visually reinforce the message. The demo is what sealed it for folks and turned an objection into an invitation.

This strategy may not work for you based on the type of solution you are pitching. The principle behind it however is sound. Your intro should be just enough different to offer the opening, and then being able to offer (better to show) proof points as to why it is better from the customer’s perspective. In addition, the faster you can get the point across, the better your chances. Once you get past three minutes, you lose people’s interest. Go on for over ten minutes and you will never recover.

The worst thing you can do when getting the “we already have that” objection is to walk away. Chances are they do not understand what you are offering and they do not fully comprehend the challenges they have today compared to how much better things could be. If they truly do have something that works well for them today, then no harm no foul, but at least you know definitively. Remember, there is always the opportunity to turn a “no” into a “yes” if you dig a little deeper.

"You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take."

That is a Wayne Gretzky quote. For those that do not follow sports, he is one of the greatest hockey players of all time. It also happened to be the words that were on my mind as I started hitting up tradeshow booths during the last day of the AAOS show to pitch them on using Enhatch. What was I thinking going up to these folks to pitch them and distracting them from the surgeons attending the show?

Well, it turns out things went way better than expected. But I had to get out of my own psychology and hesitancy in being so direct. I had to battle through possible rejection and humiliation and ire. The thing is, those are scenarios that exist in your head and have nothing to do with reality because they never happened yet. They are misguided fears that the mind conjures up to stop you from taking that first risky step.

Now mind you, I am probably a bit more forward that most and I have been selling stuff for quite a few years. This seemed different though because I know next to nothing about the medical device industry, I have no network to rely upon, and the atmosphere is decidedly more professional than other industry tradeshows. I really felt out of my element with little to help me stand my ground. I was going in cold.

I was at a distinct disadvantage. It would be awkward though to simply go up to a booth and ask for the “marketing person” or the “head of sales”. So I decided to take a different tack and target only the bigger booths (representing companies that most likely had the money to buy our type of solution given the marketing spend) and gather a few key names of folks at those companies through LinkedIn. I then had my list.

With a plan in place, I went in with confidence. I tackled booths one by one, making sure that they were not too busy so as not to distract them from their focus on surgeon customers. I walked up to a free person, asked if such and such person was around, and let things proceed from there. Sometimes said person was not there so I left a card and got their contact info. Sometimes the person was there, so I got an introduction and went into a quick two minute pitch with demo in hand. Sometimes I was guided to someone that was an even better contact. I never got a flat out rejection. Instead of missing 100% of the shots I never took, I got 100% of my shots off and they could very well lead to a few goals down the road.

Be bold. We all hate rejection, so the challenge is to overcome our own fears and simply plow ahead. When you go in cold, find a way to get an inside advantage and increase your odds of success. Having the names helped measurably because it instantly broke the ice and established credibility. But the point is that rejection is not something to fear. You can never find success if you hesitate and hold back. In fact, your greatest successes may come when you thought you never had a chance.

Get out of the building and meet thy customers

So this week part of the Enhatch team is on the road. We are in New Orleans and I know you feel really bad for us having to suffer these warm 70 degree temperatures, good Creole food, and excellent music. But it is not all fun and games here down here in the Big Easy, we are here to attend this event called the Academy. It is the largest gathering around for folks in the Orthopedics space, doctors, vendors, and all types of professionals in the medical device space all converging to new about the latest and greatest in the industry. It’s like CES but for the ortho industry.

But the point here is not to gloat or to talk about the wonders of orthopedics. This is one of our key market verticals (when you think complex sales, these are some of the most regulated, complex products around). So we are here with two objectives in mind; first, to meet with existing relationships and strengthen those, and second, to meet prospects and build new relationships.

In the B2B enterprise tech markets, trade shows are essential to marketing and building the business. That is doubly so when you are tackling more niche vertical markets. That is because it is one of the few times a year that you are going to find a large conglomeration of relevant people in one convenient location, all socializing and probably on the lookout for new technologies/products. It is not so much about having the booth presence or trying to make a big splash (we are an early startup after all with close to zero budget for marketing). It is more about getting the attention of prospective buyers outside of the work setting who are more available and willing to take a meeting.

The other element of getting out the building is to get a sense of the real world. The world of tech can get rather myopic and it is easy to lose sight of why you are building the technology. We can be as creative and “disruptive” as we want, but without a tether to customers, we can create a lot of whiz bang stuff that no one actually needs. Being with customers, understanding how they are using the technology, diving in to learn what matters most to users, that is what moves the needle forward in building a great product and a great company.

I cannot overstate the importance of being with customers face to face when capturing that understanding. So when we were invited to present in front of GE Transportation’s global sales team in Erie, we hopped in a car and drove out to spend some time with our users. What we heard sitting across from seasoned sales professionals helped us immensely in guiding the next set of product enhancements as well as being great validation that we are doing the right thing on the product front. Salespeople really do love our technology and they gave us great stories about how they use Enhatch in their sales meetings.

So my strong advice is to get yourself out of the building and go road tripping. I think all the ways we can communicate are great and I am a big believer in using tools to lower travel costs. So things like video and text chat are important tools for us both internally and in supporting customers. But they are no replacement for being in person when the opportunity makes sense. Same goes on the sales front, you need to get out of the building and meet people. You can sell software over the phone and through web conferences and the like, but you do not build relationships virtually, at least when you are selling big ticket enterprise software solutions. So get yourself on the road and get with your customers.

"It’s not enough to sell. Any fool can sell. Creating real meaning and purpose is when sales becomes truly valuable."

And how often do we implement structures, craft processes, teach methodologies, and push tools that crush the root of meaning and passion in the selling environment.  Sales too often is a dirty word when it is the entry point and heart of the customer relationship and just as valuable as the product itself.

* Art work by the always awesome gapingvoid

(via enhatch)

This isn’t just about asking easy questions and listening for answers, it’s about being able to get beneath the surface and actually identify a core challenge or opportunity. In this way the same thing that makes a great seller actually makes a great product person: The ability to get beneath the surface and get the root cause of an issue.

What I’ve Learned About Sales from Watching Great Sellers by Noah Brier

In the world of enterprise selling, the term consultative sales gets tossed around a lot.  Problem is that you often see little of that happening.  What Noah describes gets to the core of what is fundamental to the sales process; uncovering the pain point.  Sometimes it is explicit, but often times the pain is hidden and it requires great patience and expert probing to discover what is implicit and underlying the surface where everything seems fine.  Often when I am evaluating salespeople, I listen more for the questions they ask as opposed to the answers they provide.  That tells me a lot about what type of salesperson I am dealing with.  Do not underestimate the power behind a well positioned and thoughtful question.

The top 20% producers spend more time disqualifying out the non-buyers and thus less time stuffing unqualified leads into their pipeline hoping they will close. In other words, they would rather lose early because it frees them up to find and spend more time with buyers later on. And this is what makes them top producers.

The Sooner You Lose the Sale, the Better via  OpenView Labs

People hate losing, especially salespeople.  But it is even worse losing at the end of a long sales cycle than losing early on.  The moral here is to qualify hard those early prospects and make sure you are setting yourself up for success later on.  This is especially true of startups, where resources are limited and spending time & effort on fruitless deals can be a huge setback.