In selling, the relationship is the deal

Edited excerpt from The Silent Deal Killer by Shane Gibson:

My father and mentor shared a great sales truth with me many years ago. He said: “Most people use the relationship to get the deal but the reality is the relationship is the deal.”

I often work with clients, coaching and mentoring them through a large deal. Sometimes we get to celebrate together, other times it’s more of a post mortem. In several cases recently the answer to “why?” was the would be big deal closer didn’t get the subtleties of the relationship and one-to-one communication. They got the features, advantages and benefits of their solution. They even identified client needs, pains and specific outcomes desired. What they didn’t get, which was the deal killer, was the person and what approach, type of communication, and behavior was appropriate with the prospect or prospects.

(1) See the first of the questions in Geoffrey James’ The 5 questions every customer asks themselves before buying from you.
(2) See also: Seth Godin’s Overcoming the biggest barrier with a first-time buyer.
(3) Cf. What do customers care most about?

Why you should use live chat to sell — even if you think you’re not ready for it

Excerpt from 29 B2B Growth Hacks – The Ultimate List by Iris Shoor:

We postponed adding live chat to our app and website for a long time. My assumption was that in order to benefit from live chat we need to have a 24/7 support group. I was wrong. We started turning on the live chat only for a couple of hours at first. It was enough to talk with some relevant users and schedule some demos.

To raise profitability, control tech costs in sales

From 5 Ways To Reduce Cost of Sales by Geoffrey James:

There’s nothing wrong with getting R&D folk involved in a sales opportunity; indeed, some complex products require it.  However, using R&D to help close business can vastly increase cost-of-sales.

Consider: every day that an engineer spends helping on a sales engagement ensures that the engineer in question’s current project will be a day late. It is not unusual, especially in small firms, to find an entire R&D group mired in special requests from sales, indefinitely delaying the next version of the product.

Using R&D resources in sales situations also encourages salespeople to sell products or product features that don’t yet exist, effectively committing R&D to do work that’s of use only to that individual customer.

A formal process that allows sales management and engineering management to decide collaboratively what deserves the attention of the R&D team prevents such abuses and ensures that R&D costs applied to sales are applied wisely.

(1) We’ve found a different solution to this problem. We permanently assign fixed tech resources to sales (a “pod”), and include those resources as part of the sales budget. Sales is then measured on net contribution (sales minus cost of sales).
(2) See: Compensate for profit, not revenue.

Demos can win sales if you do them like this

From What most sales people do in the demo that loses the deal by Keenan:

In the world of SaaS and cloud solutions, the demo is everything. As the demo goes, so goes the sale. When doing a demo, every feature you show must be tied to a specific business goal, operational process, work-flow, execution issue or opportunity that specific customer has. If you’re showing a feature and are saying; “If you… then this feature will…”, or worse, if you are just whipping features around like they are cars on a car showroom floor by saying “And the next thing I want to show you is”, you are doing it wrong.

There is no room for “if” in your demos. There is no excuse to show a feature that isn’t germane to the specific the business and highly targeted to the operational or executional needs of the buyer. Demos should not be used to demonstrate your product, but rather to show how your product can affect your buyer’s business.

The key to a successful demo is to make sure every feature, every function you demonstrate is attached to your buyer’s unique problems and challenges. If it’s not, your not giving a good demo.

Good demos demonstrate how problems will be solved and how opportunities will be leveraged. They temporarily and virtually insert the seller’s product into the buyer’s world.

(1) Cf. How to demo your product to a potential customer.
2) Thank you Eran Ben-Shushan, co-founder of Bizzabo, for the recommendation.

Five tips for SaaS sales people

From 22 Sales Tips From a First Time SaaS CEO by Danielle Morrill:

1. Cold emailing is actually not very effective. But lukewarm emailing works great for staying top of mind.

2. Make a playlist of songs to get pumped up, stand up while you do calls, speak loud and proud, no one does calls in a conference room.

3. Practice asking for 6 figures. Then practice asking for 7 figures.

4. Ask for the close. “Can I have your business?” “Let’s get your payment info so you can get started today.”

5. Don’t assume “no” means no the first time. Try again, be more creative and focus on benefits not features or pricing.

(1) Cold emailing is certainly harder, but if you’re going to try it, do this.
(2) Cf. How to do cold calls

13 tips for managing a SaaS sales team

From 22 Sales Tips From a First Time SaaS CEO by Danielle Morrill, co-founder and CEO of Mattermark, which provides deal intelligence about private companies:

1. Don’t assume your investors are experts on SaaS metrics. This is still a relatively new business model.

2. Be ruthless about trying/disposing of email tools based on metric/campaign results. I’ve stuck with LeadGenius, PersistIQ and Send With Us.

3. Hire sales reps at least in pairs, so you have some way to compare performance.

4. Learn how to fire people, because you will, and if you want to be the nice guy CEO maybe this is not the right business model for you.

5. Do 40-50 cold calls a day or 8-10 scheduled demos for awhile. Learn what it feels like to struggle with selling, and hit every objection.

6. “Sales enablement” at first is writing down everything you learned in a wiki for future reps. We just use Google Sites.

7. Support and bug tracking tools and processes have a huge impact on sales. That’s why our head of customer support has weekly meetings with our sales leaders.

8. One account manager per $1M ARR is a good rule of thumb for the first $5M (assuming LTV in the thousands).

9. Don’t discount willy nilly, set pricing and stick to it. We have only one discount, 20% off when you pay for the full year up front.

10. Have great comp plans post break even. We do 20% for month-to-month, 25% for annual – NO CAP.

11. Screen for people with excellent organization skills. Inbox zero and updating status in the CRM are table stakes.

12. Account management is more than glorified support. It should have a revenue expansion quota.

13. Don’t worry about micro-managing. Without clear process, be hands on and manage activities like # calls, days since last contact etc.

Live chat for sales and customer service

From Live Chat for Sales and Customer Service by David Cummings:

Live chat is incredibly powerful for sales and customer service. If you can staff it with a product expert, it’s worth running a two week trial and assessing the results. Here are a few tips when using live chat:

— Consider using it on more critical pages like pricing and FAQ instead of all pages.
— Running it inside the web app for support is a great way to engage with customers and trial users in the context of their product usage.
— Connect the live chat with your marketing automation system and CRM so that the chat transcripts are in your prospect and contact records.

Three crucial factors in sales success

From How to Conduct a Premortem to Win More Sales by Jill Konrath:

When I think about all the business I’ve lost over the years, 3 main themes come to mind:

1) I overlooked some critical piece of information.
2) I wasn’t working with the right decision makers.
3) My prospect decided it was easier to stay with the status quo.

Knowing that those are my main themes gives me the ability to think about them seriously before I meet with my prospects. If I feel that I’m missing some vital info, I’ll stop and ask about it before I rush blindly forward.

(1) This advice applies to bus dev as well as sales.
(2) Jill’s antidote to “rushing blindly forward” is to “stop and ask about it”. Cf. To sell, ask and listen.
(3) The importance of asking questions and listening comes up so frequently that I’ve now created a separate category for it in my list of posts by topic.

How to sell your product if it’s a “nice to have”, not a “must have”

From How To Sell Your Product If It’s a Vitamin and Not A Pain-Killer by Stuart Silverman:

In general, your product falls into one of two categories. Either it is a pain-killer that solves a very critical business pain, need, or crisis for your prospect. Or it is a vitamin that doesn’t really solve any major pain or crisis, but is a nice-to-have and is just a better way of doing something.

Vitamins are extremely hard to sell, because it is almost impossible to get the prospect’s time and attention, and it’s very hard to create urgency around the sale. So how do we sell a vitamin?

1. Focus on increased revenue
2. Focus on increased budget dollars
3. Show how your product provides a competitive edge
4. Point out that 1-2 of your prospect’s competitors are using your product
5. Tie the sale to your prospect’s boss’s needs
6. Tie the sale to helping your prospect with his/her career
7. Create urgency by using a specific date

Compensate for profit, not revenue

From 5 Ways To Reduce Cost of Sales by Jeffrey James:

Many companies still use gross revenue to measure sales performance. Focusing solely on revenue, however, can easily put a company in a position where you’re losing money on each sale and trying to make up the difference by selling in volume.

In the past it was impossible to compensate on profit because most company’s back-office systems weren’t capable of reporting the profitability of each sale. Today, however, most companies have a fairly good idea of their cost-of-goods, which makes it possible to provide salespeople with solid estimates of how much profit their sales are generating.

Since profit, not revenue, is the point of selling in the first place, it only makes sense to measure sales accordingly. A big advantage of this approach is that it reduces the temptation to discount (a hidden cost-of-sale) in order to close a deal.


From Smiling Is Contagious. Customers (and Your Business) Thrive on It by WhichWitch CEO Jeff Sinelli:

Smiles have an effect on those who receive them. [They] can literally make other people feel like they are winning. As smiles are contagious, this sentiment of reward is passed along to the next unsuspecting soul.

In my various roles in the service industry, I tested this science of smiling. Then when I found myself working a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. corporate sales job inside the four walls of my office, I was shocked to discover that a smile still could be important, even when customers couldn’t see my face.

Needing an outlet of entertainment, I started to play around with the inflections and intonations of my voice, speaking with a big smile painted across my face. Colleagues who passed my office certainly questioned my sanity, but orders came through and appointments were being made. By starting with a smile when I called people on the phone, I was able to land face-to-face meetings with clients and close deals.

(1) This is why one of Jane Porter’s 7 Secrets to Cold Calling Success is to look at yourself in a mirror when making a sales call.
(2) “Smiles have an effect on those who receive them.” So why limit this to sales?

The human touch in nurturing leads

From My Secret Methods for Turning Marketing Leads into Qualified Sales Leads by Jon Miller:

The human touch enhances lead nurturing. Whether or not leads are sales-ready, SDRs [sales development reps] can nurture relationships with each interaction. By talking with more leads, you can offer personalized thought leadership and value around a lead’s individual pain points, and cultivate future demand.

Notes: Thanks to Rich Anastasio for the link.

How to demo your product to a potential customer

From Selling online products to offline businesses by Neil Murray:

Rather than wasting your breath meticulously explaining every little feature and detail, all you need to focus on is the most tangible measurement of all: revenue. This is the number one concern for traditional businesses, and the metric that is best understood and the most translatable between the online and offline world. Tell them exactly how much more revenue they will generate using your solution compared to how they are currently operating.

Notes: In other words, the goal of a demo is to show how this product enables the customer to achieve her goals.

Overcoming the biggest barrier with a first-time buyer

From The most important question by Seth Godin:

The most important question in marketing something to someone who hasn’t purchased it before is, “Do they trust me enough to believe my promises?” Without that, you have nothing.

If you have awareness but people haven’t bought from you before, it’s likely they don’t trust you as much as you would hope. If you are extending from one business to another, it’s also likely. In fact, if your value proposition is solid but sales aren’t being made, look for trust issues.

Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.

(1) How can you earn a potential customer’s trust? Prove you’re acting in their best interest by truly understanding their needs. To do that, ask the right questions and get inside their head. Then, once they know you understand their needs, avoid hype about your product.
(2) According to Geoffrey James’ listing of the top concerns of customers, you need to build trust of you as a sales person and of your firm.

Avoiding hype in sales

Alen Mayer, quoted in 18 Sales Experts Share Their Best Tip for Maximizing Productivity:

Don’t use hype! Salespeople love hype language because they don’t have to invest time into understanding the product or the customer. Introverts spot the exaggerated information in these traditional types of pitches quickly, and when they find out that the salesperson doesn’t know what he or she is talking about, they shut down the conversation. To win an introvert’s respect, you need to prove your credibility using third-party endorsements, certifications and awards your product or company won. Introverts don’t usually get swept away by a sales pitch, but they can be influenced by objective reviews or media coverage.

(1) While particularly pertinent to sales, this advice is applicable to potentially every part of your business.
(2) When hype leads to sloppiness and inaccuracy, it becomes an issue of culture and ethics.

How to get testimonials

From The Secret of the Ultra-Successful Sales Person: Testimonials and Recommendations by Miles Austin:

The timing of asking for a recommendation can make all the difference. The best time to ask is right after they have told you that they have been able to accomplish their objective because of your effort. This might be immediately after your work is completed or several months down the road. It is important to listen closely to what they are telling you and when the time is right – ask.

How you ask will affect your success as well… keep the focus of the request on their situation and their results. A testimonial that says how awesome you are is nowhere near as powerful as when they tell everyone that they achieved their goal/objective because of selecting your product or service. Future customers will relate much better and be motivated to act because they can put themselves in the place of the recommending customer.

Make it easy for your customer to provide the recommendation by giving them some tips. Sharing other recommendations that deliver a compelling message has worked wonders for me.

Make sure that you are able to use your customer’s full name at a minimum, but preferably their title and Company name as well. A photo is very compelling if they have one to offer. If not, ask if you can use their LinkedIn headshot.

Understanding your customer’s needs

From What I learned from negotiating with Steve Jobs by Heidi Roizen:

Steve [Jobs] took the contract from me and scanned down to the key term, the royalty rate. I had pitched 15%, our standard. Steve pointed at it and said, “15%? That is ridiculous. I want 50%.” I was stunned. There was no way I could run my business giving him 50% of my product revenues.

I slogged down to my car feeling like I had just blown the biggest deal of my life. Lucky for me, someone had followed me out. Dan’l Lewin, one of the NeXT co-founders, said one sentence, which I will never forget. “Make it look like fifty percent,” he said.

[Steve Jobs] had promised the developers 50%, he had said the number within earshot of everyone, and he wanted to be able to tell everyone he got what he wanted.

Heidi hit 50% by deducting various costs before calculating the percentage, leaving her actual profit margin unchanged. She concludes:

In business school, I learned that negotiation is “the process of finding the maximal intersection of mutual need.” People are not often as clear as Steve was — it sometimes takes extra work and lots of iterative communications to find out what the other person truly wants, but the process creates better, more sustainable deals.

To sell, ask and listen

Excerpt from How to improve your abilities to close sales by Robert Waddington:

Why do questions work so well with closing sales?  Using questions balance out the ebb and flow of natural conversation. If a conversation is not natural, it will quickly fade and stop. The more you talk, the less chance the person you are talking to will feel like listening.  This aversion to not listening is exponential as you continue to drone on.

Asking questions show that you are willing to listen and that you are interested in what this person has to say.

People love to talk about themselves. A few well-placed questions will get even the most reticent of people to open up. When people start talking about themselves they generally brighten up, which will make it easier to move forward in the sales process.

Questions enable you to listen. Once you know what the needs are, it is easier to close the sale because you have an authority or command of the situation. Establishing yourself as an authority is crucial in establishing trust.  There can be no trust if there isn’t an environment to listen.

How to do cold calls

Excerpted from Seven Secrets to Cold Calling Success by Jane Porter:

1. Plan Ahead
Who will you be calling? When will you be placing your calls? These are questions you should answer the day before you make the calls.

2. Investigate Before You Call
Doing homework on the person you’re calling will make a huge difference. This can be as simple as doing a Google search on the company or looking up the prospect on LinkedIn.

3. Seek Out a Personal Connection
You should try to find a personal connection with your prospects… the same alma mater or… a past connection with the same company… [or] a common interest.

4. Get Information Before You Give It
You should ask lots of questions during the call rather than immediately try to sell your product or service. Learn about your prospect’s business needs first, so you can more effectively tailor your pitch.

5. Get Out of Your Chair and in Front of a Mirror
A mirror will make you smile and smiling will make you more confident. [Also] standing up when making calls.

6. Keep careful records
Measuring your progress will not only keep you organized, it will also give you a sense of accomplishment.

7. Use Referrals in Your Voice Mail Message
More often than not, you’ll be reaching voice mail… Try to find a common connection you can mention in the message you leave…

How to truly understand your customers

From Geoffrey James:

Plenty of B2B firms are “customer focused” in the sense that they’re aware of what their customers need. However, the ones that really thrive focus instead on the needs of people that their own customers sell to. Once you understand why those customers are buying from your own customer, you can more easily figure out how to help your own customers satisfy those needs. More important, this knowledge allows you to create products and services that are crucial to your customers’ success.

Another way of putting it: It’s not enough to ask what your customers want; you also need to understand what makes them successful.

Keep your target market narrow

Excerpt from Michael Skok:

I find too many entrepreneurs who follow the lean methodology stuck in a product spin, and consumed with their Minimum Viable Product. And it’s ironic, because while I often hear about the importance of product market fit, not enough consideration is given to the designation of the market side of this equation. Yet we all know your product isn’t going to fit the entire market from day one! So while the MVP is critical, it’s missing its dance partner, what I call the Minimum Viable Segment (MVS).

MVS is about focusing on a market segment of potential customers that have the same needs to which you can align. Defining and focusing on your MVS is vital because without it, potential users who have divergent needs will quickly pull your MVP in many different directions. This in turn will bloat rather than minimize your product requirements and drain your limited startup resources. And that sucking sound won’t just be felt in product development but also in any Go To Market (GTM) activities, and then later on in service and support, potentially paralyzing your Business Model.

What do customers care most about?

Excerpt from Geoffrey James:

Why does a customer buy from one vendor rather than another? According to research recently conducted by The Rain Group (detailed report here), customers tend to buy from sellers who are superlative at the following tasks:

  1. Bring New Perspectives and Ideas
  2. Be Willing to Collaborate
  3. Have Confidence In Your Ability to Achieve Results
  4. Listen, Really Listen, to the Customer
  5. Understand ALL the Customer’s Needs
  6. Help the Customer Avoid Potential Pitfalls
  7. Craft a Compelling Solution
  8. Communicate the Purchasing Process
  9. Connect Personally With the Customer
  10. Provide Value That’s Superior to Other Options

Note the order — pricing is at the bottom of the list.

How exactly to write a cold-call email

From Noah Kagan:

Let me give you a simple frame-work when you are cold emailing or trying to get someone to chat with you:

  1. Flattery. Do you compliment them or stroke their ego a bit?
  2. Benefit. How will this benefit them (not just you)? Do you spell it out and is it a real benefit?
  3. Credibility. How can YOU be the person the other person would enjoy meeting?
  4. Call to action (aka the ask). He didn’t ask for a 60 minute phone call but a digestible request that seemed appropriate.
  5. Read it out loud. Read your email out loud with a timer. If it’s a longer than a minute, cut it down.

You’ve got 5 minutes to call back, or else…

From Jon Miller:

When a lead submits an inquiry on your website, the faster the response the better.  According to a Lead Response Management study, the magic number here is five minutes.  A five-minute lead response means you’re four times more likely to qualify that lead than a 10 minute response, and a staggering 21 times more likely to convert than after 30-minute wait.  SDRs [sales development reps] can focus on this fast response time whereas it will never be a quota-carrying reps top priority to jump on an inbound lead.

My guess is that rapid response time also impacts areas other than sales. Interesting to think how this impacts each part of a business.

The 5 questions every customer asks themselves before buying from you

From Geoffrey James:

Before making the decision to buy, [says Duane Sparks, author of Selling Your Price], customers go through the following five distinct “decision-making” thought processes:

1. Do I want to do business with this person?  Who is this person, really? Do I trust him? Do I like her?

2. Do I want to do business with this firm? Are they reputable? Are they credible? Do I have a history with them?

3. Do I want and need these products and services? Is there a problem that they solve? Is there a goal that they make possible?

4. Does the value meet my expectations? Will I get a quick return on my investment? Is the price in line with other offerings? Is this a unique solution?

5. Is this the right time to make a decision? Is there a reason to buy now? Is the problem about to explode? Is an opportunity slipping past?

Interesting to note the similarities and differences between this list and Mark Suster’s sales methodology.

How to get inside your customer’s head

Excerpted from Get Inside a Customer’s Head by Geoffrey James:

Use your imagination to see the world from the customer’s perspective.  Here’s how:

  • Imagine that you look like the customer: same height, same weight, same complexion, same gender. (Hint: check out his or her LinkedIn photo.)
  • Imagine that you have the exact same background: same education, same companies, same experience. (Hint: LinkedIn again.)
  • Imagine you must deal with the same challenges: the same customers, the same colleagues, the same vendors, the same bosses.

Finally, from that perspective, ask yourself:

  • What benefits would I get from buying what that person (you) are selling?
  • Why is that person the right person to buy from, rather than somebody else?
  • Why is this the right time to buy from that person, rather than later or never?

Write down your answers and use them to craft your sales message.  It’s really that simple.