Practice + Authenticity = Modern Sales Excellence

The Greek orator Demosthenes was said to have treated his speech impediment by talking with pebbles in his mouth and shouting above the roar of the ocean waves.
 
In high school, Larry Bird would shoot 500 free throws every morning before his first class.
 
When I started my professional sales career in 2004, I wrote out every opening, iteration, objection handle, and closing approach. I then recorded myself speaking them until I was comfortable. I iterated on each talk track 20+ times until it was authentic and the language flowed naturally. Then I ditched the scripts and went to work.

What can you do outside of your day to day operations to be exceptional at your craft?

SalesLoft CEO Kyle Porter (LinkedIn Post)

SalesLoft CEO Kyle Porter is a strong advocate for authenticity. Simply knowing your pitch is insufficient. Sales reps have to master their craft and infuse it with authenticity. This means developing a deep understanding of how to sell your product and service but then combining what is unique about your story (both personal and corporate) with passion for the product or service you sell.

It also means that you cannot be giving a robotic pitch or a one-size-fits-all spiel. Great salespeople adjust their message and approach to the prospect. This adjustment is across many dimensions:

  • Job Function – What is their department and role within the department?
  • Job Level – How high in the organization are they?
  • Industry – What is your value proposition with respect to the purchaser’s industry? How do they benefit?
  • Buyer Role – As part of a purchasing committee, are they the economic buyer, technical buyer, influencer, etc.?
  • Prospect Knowledge about Your Offering – You need to understand how knowledgeable they are about your offering and those of your competitors and then speak to that level.
  • Concerns – The larger the value or strategic importance of a B2B purchase, the greater the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). FUD is also higher if the total cost of ownership or switching costs are high. If you are inauthentic, you can raise the level of FUD. If you can connect authentically with the buyer, you build trust and drive down the level of FUD.
  • Individual – What are the individual concerns of the buyer? What is the buyer’s communication style?

Scripts work well for novice reps and those learning a new product category or vertical, but they should be viewed as building blocks towards a polished, authentic sales voice.

One should also avoid focusing on features. A feature-focused monologue says to buyers, “you figure out whether my product / service will help you because I don’t understand that myself.” The focus should always be on benefits and value with features only used to justify your value proposition or to address concerns of technical buyers.

And the conversation needs to be interactive. Meeting intelligence analytics display who is talking during a call. A sales rep can visually review whether he / she controlled the conversation or it was a true conversation.

Sales trainers have begun emphasizing the value of storytelling as a way to connect with the emotional buyer. Marketers long approached consumer sales as an emotional pitch and B2B as a rationale pitch, but are now arguing that rational B2B pitches ignore the inherent FUD involved when making strategic purchases.

As sales reps begin to be coached by sales engagement analytics (directly and via feedback from managers and trainers), they should shift away from controlling conversations and become more interactive, present, and empathetic.

ConnectLeader Blogs

ConnectLeader Logo

While most of my blogging is published here, I also write commissioned blogs where I own the editorial. This provides me with additional channels for discussing sales intelligence, sales engagement, and B2B DaaS.

One of these channels is ConnectLeader, a sales engagement vendor based in Salem, NH. Their TruCadence platform supports three softphone dialer services: Click Dialer, Personal Dialer (power dialer), and Team Dialer (agent assisted). Other features include email templates, cadence management, analytics, gamification, Data Genie (data enrichment), and TrueInbound (inbound call management).

Here are my ConnectLeader blogs with their opening paragraphs:

  • Marketing Approved Templates and Scripts, “For at least a decade, there have been discussions about sales and marketing alignment and the inability of sales and marketing teams to provide a unified go-to-market strategy.  Marketing is concerned that sales reps fail to use their leads, share their copy, or conform to the company’s positioning.”
  • Drive Sales Productivity with Integrated Sales Engagement, “At their recent Dreamforce show, Salesforce rolled out a Sales Cloud upgrade called High Velocity Sales which helps “identify the best leads, eliminate busy work and boost pipeline.”  High Velocity Sales adds customized sequences for sales teams which incorporate best practice sales cadences within Salesforce.  Features include email and phone sequences, templates, and call scripts.”
  • Closing the Loop on Inbound Leads, “My career began as a tele-support rep for an insurance agency automation system.  Our role was to quickly return calls from customers and help resolve their system problems.  Speed was paramount with emergency calls placed at the top of the queue.  Because inbound calls were categorized with brief descriptions and codes, we also gave priority to problems that could be quickly resolved (while it was good for our quotas, there was also no reason to make customers wait an hour for a two-minute fix).”
  • How to Improve Your Sales Productivity Using a Sales Engagement Platform, “As soon as I submitted my last blog on Sales Productivity, CSO Insights published an update to their quota attainment research.  The good news is global sales rep quota attainment rose from 53.0% to 54.3%.  The bad news is that it falls within the range of error, so we probably won’t know if sales productivity is truly improving for another year. Even at 54.3%, sales reps remain well below the 63.0% quota attainment level of 2012.  When CSO Insights Research Fellow Jim Dickie looked at the underlying metrics, 22 of the 23 operational metrics declined over the past five years.”
  • How to Think about Sales Productivity, “Research performed by CSO Insights found that sales reps are failing to meet quota at alarmingly high rates. Global B2B quota attainment was a mere 53% in 2016, dropping ten percent over five years. That means that only one in two sales reps is likely to meet quota this year with only a small percentage entering Q4 confident that they will reach quota.”
  • What GDPR Means to American Firms?, “Back in May, there was a good deal of news coverage around the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  Unfortunately, most of the coverage was hyperbolic with a focus on penalties and how few companies had complied.  While the GDPR fear mongering has died down, there is still a need to understand GDPR and comply with the law, even if you have no operations in Europe.”
  • Local Presence: Handle with Care, “Sometimes, the most effective sales approach may be the wrong strategy.  One of these techniques is local presence.  For generalized telemarketing, it can lift call connection rates and revenue, but for strategic selling it may result in a negative return on investment”

LinkedIn Adjusts its Feed Algorithm

The LinkedIn feed algorithm has been adjusted to emphasize conversations of interest over viral content.

LinkedIn recently adjusted its feed algorithm to identify more salient topics instead of viral content.  The goal is to encourage conversations and promote niche conversations over broad topics.  The modifications place a higher premium on member interest signals.

“Our mission is to help people be more productive and successful, and it is what drives us daily,” said Senior Director of Product Management Pete Davies.  “We strongly believe that people need their professional communities to help them along the way, whether that’s current or former colleagues, peers in the same industry, or those that share similar interests or career ambitions.”

LinkedIn prioritizes posts from connections and follows along with their likes, comments, and posts.  Other factors include group posts, followed hashtags, and events “all with the goal of showing you the content and conversations that you care about.”  Prioritization is given to direct interactions; stated interests and experiences; and “explicit signals” such as with whom you’ve worked.

Davies provided the following tips to encourage conversation:

  • Post things that encourage a response. For example, if you’re posting a link, express an opinion with it.
  • Think about using the best type of post for the topic. Despite the rumors, the algorithm doesn’t favor any particular format. We have video, images, multi-images, text and long-form articles. More are on the way.
  • Use @mentions to pull other people you know into a conversation when you think they’ll have something valuable to add. Be thoughtful: only mention people that you think are likely to respond, max five is a good rule of thumb.
  • Engage in the conversation, respond to commenters and encourage back and forth.

Davies also recommended the use of hashtags, but no more than three.  Hashtags should be specific vs. general (#performancemanagement vs. #management).

Finally, Davies emphasized authenticity.  This is a theme that Kyle Porter, CEO of SalesLoft, keeps going back to.

“Authenticity is key: all the tips above work out better when members talk about things they truly care about, in a way that’s natural for them. Genuine conversation around real experiences spark better and deeper conversation. Better conversation, in turn, leads to stronger community and connection,” blogged Davies.

Gong: Sales Rep Sins

Usually, I hate listicles. They are one of the laziest formats for blogging and feature articles, but Gong.io put the format to good use in a recent LinkedIn post titled “The 7 most horrifying sales call mistakes of 2019.” I would have gone with the “Seven Deadly Sins of Sales Calls,” but that is a minor editorial nit. Unlike most listicles, the post contained seven in-depth discussions of sales errors with supporting data.

And this data both supports the sales efforts of its clients and prospects and demonstrates the value of its Conversation Intelligence platform which assists with new rep onboarding and play recommendations.

Gong provides aggregated sales data to back up its statements.

For years, it has been gospel that sales reps should focus on a product’s unique value proposition and benefits. Features should be discussed when the prospect asks HOW, but should not be the focus of a sales pitch. In one graphic (see above), Gong has backed up this recommendation. What is amazing is how quickly a feature dump can sour a deal.

Feature dumping is to sales what bad breath is to dating. It kills “what could have been.”

Chris Orlob, Senior Director, Product Marketing at Gong.io

Chris Orlob, Senior Product Marketing Director at Gong, argues that “Most salespeople are overtrained on their products and undertrained on sales skills.”

My experience is different. It’s not that sales reps are overtrained on features, but that they aren’t trained in how those features map to benefits and their product’s value proposition. They also lack specifics around use cases and how their product provides value to specific industries. This causes them to take a least common denominator approach and hope a feature resonates. It’s the proverbial spaghetti on the wall. But this strategy leads to feature dumping and relying on your prospect to map features to benefits and benefits to value. Reps need more sales training, but they also need to understand their value proposition in the context of each prospect.

Sales reps that understand the concerns of their prospect by industry, job function, job level, and company size and can map those concerns to buyers across the buying committee don’t engage in feature dumping. They focus on their product value in the context of the customer. Features are discussed when they are must haves (“We are GDPR compliant”), but only in detail when the technical buyer or end user requests such details.

I don’t want to recapitulate what is a very strong post from Orlob. Instead, I recommend that you go see what he has to say about steamrolling objections, grand finale product demos, and four other sales sins.

Quora: Once your ideal client profile is established, how do you find the company’s decision maker and how to reach out to that person?

Your ideal customer profile (ICP) defines who are your best customers and prospects. It is defined by firmographics, intent data, technographics, business signals, etc. ICPs are focused on Accounts.

Your question implies that the firm has a single decision maker. But that is generally only the case at small firms. Generally, B2B mid-sized and larger procurement decisions are made by a buying team which can consist of multiple individuals at different levels and functions / departments. For these, you should define a set of personas that cover economic decision makers, users, influencers, reviewers (e.g. technology gatekeepers).

Many of the ICP vendors support contact searching for ABM accounts. Once the ABM list is defined, they allow users to prospect for contacts by persona (job function/level/title) at ABM accounts.

I discussed this process broadly on DealSignal’s blog and on my blog.

Products which support both ICP definition and persona searching against ABM lists include (alphabetical list):

  1. Cognism
  2. D&B Datavision
  3. DealSignal Total Audience Platform
  4. DiscoverOrg AccountView
  5. InsideView Apex
  6. SparkLane Predict (UK and France)
  7. Zoominfo Growth Acceleration Platform

These vendors include emails and direct dials for contacts along with company profiles, sales triggers, financials, technographics, family trees, filings, etc.

While LinkedIn Sales Navigator does not offer an ICP tool, it includes a Buyer’s Circle which allow sales reps to quickly identify potential contacts at accounts and drag and drop them into their role. They can then review all open opportunities, including buying committees, via a single-pane Deal report which combines LinkedIn intelligence with Salesforce or MS Dynamics.

Sales Navigator Buyer's Circle supports dragging executives to their function within the buying committee.
Sales Navigator Buyer’s Circle supports dragging executives to their function within the buying committee.

ABM Research Vendors

When conducting account based (ABM) research, it is necessary to develop a broad view of your customers and prospects which includes company, contact, and industry research.   Unfortunately, open web research is quite time-consuming and your sales reps are unlikely to consistently engage in general research, so consider Sales Intelligence vendors with editorial research teams. 

Executive research should go beyond the Leadership page and LinkedIn profiles.  One option is Boardroom Insiders which gathers rich executive profiles on CxOs written by business journalists.

For industry research, look at Vertical IQ, IBISWorld, or First Research.  Vertical IQ and First Research are strong offerings for sales teams that sell broadly across many segments but are not verticalized.  They are written in plain English and include Q&A sections. The content in IBISWorld is more formal but better suited for verticalized teams.

At the company level, consider Dun & Bradstreet Hoovers, InsideView, or DiscoverOrg.  All three provide company and contact profiles, list building, and sales triggers.  D&B Hoovers goes deeper on global coverage, family trees, and industry profiles, DiscoverOrg offers the deepest set of technographics and rich bios, and InsideView provides excellent sales triggers and social media intelligence.

SalesLoft Rainmaker 2019 Keynote

SalesLoft CEO Kyle Porter Gave the Opening Keynote at the SalesLoft Rainmaker 2019 Sales Conference.
SalesLoft CEO Kyle Porter Gave the Opening Keynote at the SalesLoft Rainmaker 2019 Sales Conference.

At their Rainmaker 2019 conference, SalesLoft announced a doubling of their ecosystem, mobile functionality, a rebuilt analytics engine, and a hot leads feature.  The show attracted 1,300 attendees to hear 164 speakers.

“We’re in the middle of an evolution in the relationship between sellers and buyers,” said SalesLoft’s CEO, Kyle Porter.  “Sales teams need to tear up their playbooks and start fresh with a blend of human, relevant sales tactics and the modern technology needed to create an authentic sales experience that is repeatable and scalable.”

SalesLoft’s purpose is to “to activate the authentic seller in all of us” and elevate the sales profession by offering “world-class experiences.”  The firm operates under a quintet of values that inform its hiring and operations:


SalesLoft Operating Principles.

These principles led to SalesLoft being named the top-midsized employer in Atlanta for the second year in a row.  “We embrace the transformative power of technology innovation for our customers, but we believe in people first,” said Porter.  “Our founding purpose is to create an environment where others can come to learn more, do more, and become more.  Team members are encouraged to take their talents and skills and apply them to serve others and find fulfillment.  We show love to our people so they can share that sentiment with our customers.”

SalesLoft’s sales engagement platform is designed to support evolving buying behavior.  B2B buyers are swamped by messaging and “super busy,” yet need to solve complex problems.  Buyers are looking for an “engaging, authentic experience” that understands buyer needs and solves their problems.  However, sellers are inefficient and operate with broken processes.  SalesLoft is looking to address process failures by centralizing sales workflows and encouraging best practices.  Objectives include elevating the sales profession through community, encouraging diversity amongst its staff and event speakers (54% of whom were women or minorities at Rainmaker), and transparency in its policies and outcomes.

Porter described his future vision of sales where “every single seller has a digital assistant by their side” along with a “sales coaching network” which is a “giant distributed network of sales activity.”  Sales reps are supported by a digital assistant which delivers broad data and context-specific insights based on seller, stage, and customer to help reps “connect authentically with the buyer.”

Porter contends that “you can’t take the human out of the equation” but you can make it “easier to distribute a world-class experience to your customer.”

“[It’s time to] elevate the profession of sales to focus on delivering customers world-class experiences.  With that, you can maximize revenue.  A sales experience must be authentic, engaging, relevant, human, one-to-one and, most importantly, it understands buyers’ needs and solves their problems.”


SalesLoft CEO Kyle Porter

Sales reps have long suffered from a bad reputation, being forced to take ethical shortcuts to meet managerial demands.  SalesLoft is looking to lead by example.  According to Porter, when “we do right,” SalesLoft customers are able to hire, innovate, and invent new things.

SalesLoft’s other goal is to improve the efficiency and efficacy of sales teams.  A SalesLoft study found a 22% increase in opportunities created when comparing the 90-day windows before and after implementing their platform.  To back up their research, they commissioned a Forrester study of their customers which found a

  • 2.5X improvement in response rates
  • 20% lift in conversion and productivity
  • Doubling of the funnel
  • 13% increase in renewals
  • 329% ROI

“Many people say we’re in a state of digital transformation,” said SalesLoft CMO Sydney Sloan.  “For sales, we’re entering a revolution of how we engage customers.”

Buyers are looking for partners that work with them to identify and resolve issues.  “Today’s successful seller has to be a problem solver and you do that by asking great questions and collectively solving the problem with and for your customer,” said Sloan.  “It doesn’t matter if the product goes 10 miles an hour or 50 miles an hour, it’s the people I want to work with in partnership and, at the end of the day, it’s the people I want to work with.  I’ll pick a company because of the relationship.  The product still has to solve my problems but if two things are equal, I’ll go with the partnership.”

Buyers are looking for partners that work with them to identify and resolve issues.  “Today’s successful seller has to be a problem solver and you do that by asking great questions and collectively solving the problem with and for your customer,” said Sloan.  “It doesn’t matter if the product goes 10 miles an hour or 50 miles an hour, it’s the people I want to work with in partnership and, at the end of the day, it’s the people I want to work with.  I’ll pick a company because of the relationship.  The product still has to solve my problems but if two things are equal, I’ll go with the partnership.”


Part II: SalesLoft Rainmaker Product Announcements

Quora: Does LinkedIn Sell Your Info?

The following is a Quora post answering the question, “Does LinkedIn Sell Your Info?”


This is likely to fall into a semantics question. If data is employed in the aggregate and your personally identifiable information is not disclosed, then I would argue that your information is not sold. Likewise, if you are presented an ad because your LinkedIn profile conforms with a target audience definition, your data is also not being sold.

I can’t answer for LinkedIn Recruiter, but can answer in the Sales and Marketing context.

LinkedIn offers a sales product called Sales Navigator. Users can view company and contact information on Navigator just as they can on the free service. It even supports viewing this data within third-party SNAP products. However, Navigator and SNAP are view only. Sales reps cannot download your profile or sync it with any of their partner platforms. They also restrict display of your email and phone information to your direct connects as well as other content you flag as restricted.

LinkedIn Marketing sells advertising on LinkedIn and Bing based upon your profile attributes. Advertisers define their target audience across a broad set of firmographic, career, and location variables, but these segments are not provided directly to the marketer. Instead, they are used for advertising display. Thus, your data isn’t sold, just your eyeballs.

LinkedIn treats its member’s data with respect. Microsoft, its parent company, has called for a US version of GDPR, the European data privacy standard. CEO Satya Nadella stated that “privacy is a fundamental human right” on an April 2018 earnings call and said that the firm has implemented an “end-to-end privacy architecture” which is GDPR compliant.

The LinkedIn SNAP AppExchange connector displays LinkedIn content and functionality within Salesforce, but does not sync any company or contact data with SFDC.
The LinkedIn SNAP AppExchange connector displays LinkedIn content and functionality within Salesforce, but does not sync any company or contact data with SFDC.

Artesian Risk and Compliance Hub

Artesian will be launching its Risk and Compliance Hub, which supports front-line KYC checks, in 2019.
Artesian will be launching its Risk and Compliance Hub, which supports front-line KYC checks, in 2019.

Artesian Solutions CEO Andrew Yates published a year-in-review blog and a preview of their upcoming Artesian Risk and Compliance Hub (ARCH).  The new ARCH capabilities will extend their social selling platform into Know Your Client (KYC) reviews at UK banks. ARCH is in early testing.

ARCH leverages Artesian capabilities around interpreting structured and unstructured data ”to create useful flags and to drive appropriate actions.”  Artesian already is on the desktop of relationship managers (RMs) at most of the major UK banks.  “This puts us in a unique position to make insights regarding financial and KYC risks available to the front-line as a pre-screen, to ensure that corporate banking relationships begin with an appropriate understanding of risk.”

Arch supports an automated audit trail and storage of evidence.  Early tests found ARCH to be “100% accurate in reflecting policy in pre-screening.”  Arch also reduced the time spent in gathering risk assessment data by 90% and identified 14% more risk issues compared with manual processing.

By providing a pre-screen at the front-end of client discussions, RMs can focus on new clients that will pass muster during the onboarding review process.  This process makes both relationship managers and compliance professionals more effective.  RMs will no longer be spending time with prospective clients that won’t pass compliance review while compliance professionals can focus their attention on more complex reviews which require their skill and expertise.

“ARCH gives companies control of a sophisticated decision engine to enable data being accessed to have rules applied and flags created. It means that Relationship Managers can see a summarised view of what their central risk teams assessment of a potential client would be, before spending time and money engaging with them. The automation aspect of this is fundamental as it brings efficiency, consistency and control to the areas it transforms.

But more than that, it places compliance at the heart of the business – front of mind for every member of staff, informing every decision, instructing every interaction and shaping every relationship from pre-screens for new customer prospecting through to long-standing client development.”

Artesian CEO Andrew Yates

Yates cited McKinsey research which notes that the risk function at financial institutions is being transformed “with the detection, assessment, and mitigation of risk” being transferred to all employees by 2025.

Risk and Compliance tools are a greater focus amongst European sales intelligence firms due to the availability of private company registry data.  While US private companies provide only minimalist filings with Secretaries of State offices (with a few exceptions in insurance, banking, and nonprofits), UK company registration data includes directors, shareholders, and financials.  Other UK compliance data includes sanctions lists, Politically Exposed Persons (global government officials and relatives), disqualified directors, gazettes (shuttered business and those in receivership), and traditional credit reports.  Vendors such as Artesian, DueDil, and Bureau van Dijk have recently emphasized compliance and risk tool development over sales intelligence offerings.

Artesian reached 30,000 users in 2018 with their user base tracking over 800,000 companies.  According to Yates, Artesian customers “have received 12.5 million actionable insights, 2.5m unique computational matches each week, automated the equivalent of 2 trillion Google searches per week (13bn per hour), and have made 523,813 useful connections using Artesian data.”

Artesian staff provided over 350 training sessions, webinars, and workshops to more than 3,000 users in 2018.  Artesian Academy delivered an additional 1,200 multi-media tutorials, certification modules, role-based tips, and social media best practices overviews.

LinkedIn Email Downloading

LinkedIn users can block connections from downloading their emails.
LinkedIn users can block connections from downloading their emails.

LinkedIn added the option to restrict downloading of emails by their connections.  LinkedIn does not generally allow profile downloading or CRM synching except for permissioned connections.  Users now have the option to permit connections to view their emails but block them from downloading emails.  By default, emails are not downloadable unless users change their settings to permit downloads.

While the change is pro-privacy and consistent with GDPR, TechCrunch took a negative view of the new setting.

A win for privacy on LinkedIn could be a big loss for businesses, recruiters and anyone else expecting to be able to export the email addresses of their connections.…[The new option] could prevent some spam, and protect users who didn’t realize anyone who they’re connected to could download their email address into a giant spreadsheet. But the launch of this new setting without warning or even a formal announcement could piss off users who’d invested tons of time into the professional networking site in hopes of contacting their connections outside of it…

On a social network like Facebook, barring email exports makes more sense. But on LinkedIn’s professional network, where people are purposefully connecting with those they don’t know, and where exporting has always been allowed, making the change silently seems surreptitious. Perhaps LinkedIn didn’t want to bring attention to the fact it was allowing your email address to be slurped up by anyone you’re connected with, given the current media climate of intense scrutiny regarding privacy in social tech. But trying to hide a change that’s massively impactful to businesses that rely on LinkedIn could erode the trust of its core users.


Josh Constine, TechCrunch

TechCrunch overstates the loss.  Member control their data, not LinkedIn or LinkedIn connections.   Second, there are multiple ways to reach users from within LinkedIn including InMail, messaging, and PointDrive.  Unless the email is blocked on the profile, connections still have access to emails from within LinkedIn.  Finally, most emails in LinkedIn are personal emails, not business emails (an issue they should address by allowing both and setting privacy and messaging rules around multiple emails), so reaching out to individuals on their emails only makes sense for friends, family, and recruiters on LinkedIn, not businesspeople networking with colleagues and clients.

While LinkedIn wasn’t transparent about the privacy change, it enhanced the privacy of its members.  As such, looking for nefarious reasons for the enhancement is a reach.