We’ve all heard it. Many of us have even been tempted to ask this question on a sales call.
The Sales Call Question You Should Never Ask
You are nervously wondering what you’ll ask when you go on that sales call, and some well-meaning person advises you, “Ask them what’s keeping them up at night.”
DON’T DO IT!
Maybe it was good advice once upon a time, but as Matt Dixon, co-author of The Challenger Sale, explains in today’s Frank Reactions Podcast interview, asking that question now — when information is so easy to find online — is just showing that you’ve haven’t done your homework before the sales call.
“You should already have a hypothesis about what’s keeping me up at night,” Dixon explains. Discuss that hypothesis with your prospect and then (once you can see that you’ve hit the mark) tell the prospect how your clients are solving that issue.
Give them insight that they didn’t have before. If you can do that, they will see you as the expert they need.
[This is part 2 of my interview with Matt Dixon. The first part focused on customer experience, and his book, The Effortless Experience.]
Marketing & Sales Must Work Together
It boggles my mind how, in so many companies, marketing and sales are still not only separate departments, but see themselves as rivals!
I’ve often thought about writing a book about this. (How about Marketers Are From Mars; Salesfolks Are From Saturn?)
The good news is that both sides are starting to realize that they need each other.
Depending on what stats you read (and on the industry) 60 -75% of the sales process now happens before the sales call. In fact, potential clients don’t want a sales call; they’ll call you when they are ready.
“Insight selling,” says Dixon, “is an approach that requires both sales and marketing.”
“Part of the reason there was this rift between marketing and sales is that they just had nothing to collaborate on,” he adds.
To sell with insight means reframing the way the customer perceives their world. Finding the crucial insights that they are too thick in the weeds to be able to see.
Can Your Company Deliver?
To be effective at sales, your company first needs to look inward. Your marketing team needs to ask itself:
- Is what we are claiming really unique?
- Is it credible?
- Can we deliver?
- Is it defensible?
Once the answer to all those questions is yes, comes the time to develop the story to put in the hands of the sales department.
Can Your Sales Team Deliver?
Not all salespeople will be able to get comfortable with this approach to selling. Some may need to leave.
But with good coaching, many more can learn to be great insight sellers. Do your sales managers really know how to coach?
“Most sales managers confuse coaching with performance management,” says Dixon. They do “spreadsheet coaching.” This does not lead to effective sales people or successful sales calls.
What creates effective sales calls?
The messaging and the manager are the two most important things.
Get those right, and your growing list of clients will thank you.
If you missed it, check out part 1 of my interview with Matt Dixon: Does Customer Effort Score Trump Net Promoter Score?
And, if you are in the B2B world, check out the upcoming B2B Online Conference, happening in Chicago May 7 – 9. Frank Reactions listeners and readers get a 25% discount using the offer code B2B18FRANK. Go to http://bit.ly/2mOJRzM to use it.
Episode 119 – NEVER Ask This Question on a Sales Call!
Posted on 02/13/2018
[Transcription starts at 0:00:05]
TEMA: Customers are cranky these days. So are employees. I’m Tema Frank, host of the Frank Reactions podcast on customer experience, and my goal is to teach you how your organization can succeed in this era of PeopleShock, a time when human expectations are growing while human contact is shrinking.
0:00:25 Every two weeks, the Frank Reactions podcast talks with leaders and researchers who can help you find the right balance between technology and people. Frank Reactions is a proud member of the Alberta Podcast Network powered by ATB.
0:00:40 This is Episode 119 and it’s Part 2 of my interview with Matt Dixon, co-author of The Challenger Sale. In today’s episode, we discuss the insight selling method that he recommended in that book. In Part 1 of our interview, which you can find at FrankReactions.com/118, in case you missed it, we discussed his book The Effortless Experience, and we talked about how the amount of effort customers have to put in to deal with you affects your organization.
0:01:10 Before we jump into today’s interview, though, just a quick reminder that Alberta Women Entrepreneurs is hosting a learning day on February 20th here in Edmonton. And, as one of our listeners, you can get a 10% discount on the already ridiculously low price of $129 for a full day of learning and networking. Register at bit.ly/AWELearningDay
0:01:41 Now, here’s Part 2 of my chat with Matt.
[Interview starts at 00:01:58]
MATT: My name is Matt Dixon, and I’m a senior partner at Korn Ferry. I’ve got responsibility for our global salesforce effectiveness business, a solutions business, so we are working with client organizations to help boost the effectiveness of their sales organizations. But, I also spend a fair amount of my time also working with clients on improving customer service and customer experience since that’s a lot of what I did for my time when I was at CEB. I really focused on the sales and customer experience, customer service as kind of my touring areas.
TEMA: I found it interesting, over the last few years, to listen to the fact that there often seem to be disconnects between sales staff and customer experience staff or marketing staff. Why is that, and do you think that we’re making significant improvements in that in most companies?
MATT: That’s a great question. I think it’s almost like this land bore in Asia that nobody wants….
MATT: It’s very hard to extract yourself from. But, you know it’s interesting because, if I speak about sales for a moment, I think that the rift is most pronounced between sales and marketing. I think if you asked the average chief marketing officer about his or her sales counterpart, they would describe the sales organization as a bunch of, you know, cowboys and cowgirls kind of going off doing their own thing; they don’t stay on message; they don’t use the content or the tools that marketing has provided them with.
0:03:14 Then if you ask the chief sales officer about his or her counterparts in marketing, they would say, “Well, they don’t bring content, tools, or perspective that actually help us sell.”
MATT: The reason we go and do our own thing is because marketing isn’t doing their job.” I think the perception in sales is that marketing is kind of disconnected from the clients, from what’s really going on in the client’s world. They are a little bit too focused on branding, advertising, and things like that that have nebulous returns in the eyes of sales and not focused enough on producing tools and content that actually helps salespeople bring in good leads and move those leads through the pipeline.
0:04:01 I think that has gotten better over the past few years, some of the work when I was at CEB around the challenger sale and certainly this broader movement around insight-based selling.
MATT: I think one of the big stories about this is that this is, for the first time, unlike product selling or solution selling that came before it, insight selling really is an approach that requires both sales and marketing to work.
0:04:28 We always used to say that insight selling is partly about individual seller skills, but it’s just as much about organizational capability. The premise of an insight-based sales approach is leading with insight that reframes the way the customer thinks about their own world, brings them new opportunities and new ideas that ultimately lead to the solution that you’re trying to sell the client.
MATT: The truth is that most salespeople, we would definitely not advise the salespeople to do that on their own. It’s a job of marketing, and it’s a job of sales, marketing, product leadership in the organization to define here are the unique things that make our company unique; here are the stories that will bring new ideas to the table for the client that tie to the things that we can sell them, and we can deliver for them. That’s the job of the company to figure that stuff out and, usually, it’s marketing that run point on that.
0:05:21 I found that, over the past several years, in a number of organizations we’ve worked with who have been on this insight selling journey, you’ve seen sales and marketing come together in a way that you just didn’t before because they have to in order to get this to work. It’s been very rewarding to see. I think part of the reason there was always this rift between sales and marketing is they’ve just had nothing to collaborate on, frankly. This gives them a very principled area for collaboration where they can both be successful. It requires both sides of the coin to really make this model work.
0:05:55 I think, separately, on customer experience and there I would say the rift I’ve seen is maybe not quite so pronounced. It always struck me that chief customer officers were a bit more aligned with the chief marketing officer than maybe the chief sales officer was.
MATT: But, that’s not to say that it’s ideal there either. I think one of the big pain points if you would ask the chief customer officer or the key chief service leader is that marketing is out there painting a picture, a rosy picture, and they are leading clients and customers to expect an experience that maybe the company is not equipped to really deliver, and so it leaves customer experience holding the bag sometimes. It’s not as if we want to be out there airing our dirty laundry, but we also don’t want to be teaching customers, as we say, teaching customers into the desert.
MATT: Teaching them to expect an experience that we just have no ability to deliver on.
TEMA: Based on the work that you’ve done, what are some of the most effective strategies for getting sales and marketing to actually collaborate?
MATT: I really do think, again, if we dig a little bit deeper on that insight-based selling approach, again that’s been one of the most powerful collaboration opportunities that I’ve been able to be a part of and witness in client organizations. What it really comes down to is quite literally getting, in a room, sales and marketing leadership, as well as product leadership and folks from corporate leadership, together to really answer a fundamental question.
0:07:30 We call this the Deb Oler question. Deb is the person who coined this question. She’s the president of Grainer North America. She came up with a question that led her and her team down this insight selling journey. The question was, why should the client or why should our customers buy from us instead of from our competitors?
MATT: Most companies struggle with the answer to that question. They’ll come up with pretty generic answers like–
TEMA: Great customer service. [Laughter]
MATT: Yeah. We’re service oriented. We’re very customer-centric.
MATT: We’re very entrepreneurial and innovative, or we’re socially responsible. Those are all really important things, but they’re not really things that make you that much different from your competitors. They don’t make you different from your competitors because, if they did, then those other companies probably wouldn’t be considered competitors if they weren’t also customer-centric, socially responsible, employee-centric, and innovative.
0:08:21 The real question is, how do we define the thing, the capability that can bring to bear for the customer that our competitors can’t replicate?
MATT: Then, how do we tell a story that leads to that unique capability? Getting that right really requires getting those leads from sales, marketing, product….
MATT: –together in a room.
MATT: And, for lack of a better description, kind of hashing it out over a day or two to figure it out and to see if what we are claiming really is unique. Is it credible? Is it something that we actually can deliver to the client? Is it really unique? Is it something that nobody else can replicate? Is it defensible? Is it replicable across different clients, or is it a one-off that we only did for one client? These kinds of things.
0:09:08 You can’t really get to that answer and then begin to architect, okay, if we’ve got agreement on the thing that makes us unique, how do we tell a story that you could actually take and put in the hands of your average salesperson to address it or help illuminate a client opportunity, a problem, an opportunity for top-line growth, an opportunity for risk mitigation, cost savings, any number of objectives that then leads to our unique strengths? How do you tell that story? That again requires sales and marketing leadership to sit down in a room and literally storyboard out the slide deck.
MATT: What is the pitch deck we’re going to build to put in our seller’s hands?
MATT: We’re going to hold hands that this is the story we’re going to tell our clients. All of our content marketing, all of our advertising, all of our social engagement is going to be geared towards feeding clients into that story, peppering insight out where customers are learning. Then this is the story our salespeople are going to tell.
0:10:07 We’re going to teach them. We’re giving them tools and the training so that they can customize that sort of for different clients, but we are holding hands as a leadership team that we are going to stay on message, and this is the message we’re going to stick with. That is a very powerful moment. When you can get that group of people together, suddenly I think that you finally have a lot more in common than maybe they thought beforehand.
MATT: I have seen this quite literally, these, what we call messaging, insight kind of messaging workshops where we’ll sit in a room and, on day one of the workshop, you’ve got all the sales leadership team sitting on one side of the room and all the marketing leadership team sitting on the other side.
MATT: By that afternoon or maybe the beginning of day two, you find that there’s some backslapping and there are people mingling and actually getting to know their colleagues.
MATT: They’re like, “Hey, these aren’t actually bad people. We’re all after the same thing, which is helping our customers in new and powerful ways and benefitting financially as a result.”
TEMA: How do you even get the senior leadership to the point where they’re willing to sit down in that workshop? Do they have to be in a desperate situation before they’re open to it?
TEMA: Or, you have to have an inspired CEO? How does that happen?
MATT: I think it’s not a satisfying answer, unfortunately. I’ve seen it; there have been a variety of situations which have driven this activity on the client side, in my experience. One is, the easy one is the visionary leaders, whether that’s the head of sales, the head of marketing, the CEO, the COO, the president of the business unit reading some work around insight selling. Whether that’s the challenger sale, whether that’s John Doerr and Mike Schultz book Insight Selling. There are a number of other great pieces out there that really point to the same conclusion that the best salespeople lead with insight.
MATT: Sometimes it’s that visionary leader who picks that up and says, “Holy cow. This is what the future looks like,” and sometimes they identify an opportunity to go out and create a different sales experience in what is otherwise a crowded and commoditized marketplace. So, they see this as an opportunity to differentiate not just what they’re selling, but how they sell with their customers.
MATT: They jump on it for that reason. But, sometimes it’s also because there was some big problem in the business. We’ve engaged with clients who have come and said, “Look. We are seeing more and more of our business going through RFP. We’re getting squeezed on price. Our salespeople are struggling. We’re seeing the gap or the spread between our top performers and our average performers get wider and wider and wider.”
MATT: You hear those burning platform, like, “Hey, we’ve got to do something different here.” Sometimes you see it born of opportunity. A lot of times we’re all engaged with companies around this idea is that when the company themselves, when they’ve come up with a unique product or solution that’s come out of the product part of the business, they’ve come up with something really unique in the marketplace, and they need to do two things. One, they need to change the way that clients think about them because I think what they find is, over time, especially in commoditized businesses, your clients kind of get in a groove. Your customers get in this groove of just sort of putting you in a box and assuming they know everything about who you are, what you do, and what you’re there to tell them.
MATT: It’s very hard to escape that. When you have something new and disruptive, a new solution where you say, “Hey. No, no, no. You know us for this, but now we’re about much more than that,” it can be very hard to change that dialog. A lot of that comes back to actually teaching salespeople a different way to engage clients, which requires a different story that they’re engaging clients with, an insight-based story.
0:13:51 We will engage with clients. It’s not as if they’ve had no epiphany from senior leadership, they’ve got no horror show going on in the business, but it’s more, “Hey, we’ve just created what we think is a world leader or technology or solution that nobody else has. The problem is, our clients know us for something totally different. How do we change the dialog with that?”
MATT: That becomes a great occasion for it as well. Those are kind of the three that I tend to see.
TEMA: Okay. You’re now in charge of sales force effectiveness. What is involved in transitioning a sales team to get them to start doing this other type of selling?
TEMA: Often it’s a very different personality type. Do a lot of companies end up having to change who their salespeople are?
MATT: I think so. Yeah, what we work with clients on is salesforce transformation, which is sort of an overused buzzword in the business because everyone is at some point in transformation. What we often find is, and what we’ll tell our clients is, that transformation creates this need to, if you will, align the spine.
0:15:03 Figure out, if you’re trying to go from A to B. I could give you some examples here, but if you’re trying to shift from selling products to selling solutions, or you’re trying to shift from selling one kind of solution or solution selling to more of an insight selling approach, but senior leadership is saying, “Hey we need to change what we sell,” or the business is suffering, or a new disruptive solution you want to bring to market and now you want to change the game and go to insight selling, you may know that that’s your strategy and that’s where you want to go. But, what you often find is that all of the pieces or the vertebrae in the sales spine, if you will, are not aligned.
You need to think about everything from the very top, the coverage model, how are we going to bring this solution to market, how are we going to bring that story to market. You want to think about the people and how they’re organized. What kinds of people do we want? Exactly to your point.
MATT: What’s the profile of these people? Maybe we have product sellers and we need solution sellers. Maybe we have solution sellers and we need insight sellers. You’ve got to think about the way in which those folks are managed, so you’ve got to think about the way in which they’re compensated and rewarded.
MATT: You’ve got to think about the climate that you create inside your organization. There are so many different pieces that really need to come together to make that successful.
0:16:14 But I guess, if you talk about specifically the salesperson, in my experience what we’ve found is, yeah, you’re right; not every salesperson is going to make that migration to be an insight salesperson. Some people are not going to want to, so it’s a will problem, because they’ve been successful selling the way that they sell right now, and there’s no need to change. Other folks are going to struggle more from the skill perspective. They’re not going to be able to do it.
0:16:43 I think, in general, our experience ahs been, over the years, both our experience at CEB and my experience here at Korn Ferry is that with the right training, and especially with the right manager coaching, which is crucial in these kinds of transformation moments, if you’ve got that stuff set up and, in the case of insight selling, if you’ve got the right messaging and content that’s been built by the marketing team to enable that, 70%, 80% of your sellers can do it. Now again, you’re going to have some folks who they are so far off on the skill perspective that it’s such a chasm to cross, or they just opt out.
TEMA: Yeah. For sure.
MATT: They say, “Look. I don’t want to be in this place of leading with insight. I kind of like selling in the way I’ve always sold.”
MATT: “What’s keeping them up at night? The idea of going in and telling them what could be keeping them up at night, well, that’s not something I want to do. I’m just going to take my skills and go elsewhere.”
0:17:38 Some folks will opt out of the journey, but that’s kind of typical. I think you’ll find that in almost any sales transformation.
MATT: I think above all else, at least in the case of insight selling, I do think the two keys to getting it right are the messaging component, as we talked about earlier, and the other one, which we didn’t talk a lot about, is the manager, the sales manager.
MATT: The number of sales executives I’ve spoken to, especially recently, it’s been interesting. I’ve spoken to a number of long-time clients who are just coming up on retirement or have just recently retired. Many of them are saying, “When I look back on my 20, 30 years of leading sales organization, what I realize now, only in hindsight, is that I spent way too much money on sales, things like sales training, and not enough money on manager development.”
0:18:21 The reality, I think, that many of these sales leaders have realized is that a great sales manager, even with a below average team, will outperform a pour sales manager with a great team. The impact of that sales manager is just massive. So much of that impact, I think, comes down to their ability as a coach to really help their salespeople understand and develop the behaviors known to drive success. The reality is, I think, most sales managers confuse coaching with performance management, what we might call spreadsheet coaching.
MATT: But ask me, how many visits have you done this week?
MATT: Where is this deal, have you sent out that proposal, or have you responded with an RFP?
MATT: That’s not coaching. That’s performance management.
MATT: Coaching is, in many respects, agnostic of activities, deals, and pipeline. It’s about your behaviors and developing competencies over time.
MATT: We, in sales management, don’t take enough time to really focus on that. We don’t know what “good” looks like. Nobody has taught us how to do it well. Often, we’re pressed to fill out reports and do pipeline reviews and all these kinds of pressures on our time that it sort of falls by the wayside. We don’t make time for it, but it’s absolutely critical.
TEMA: Can you talk a bit about what you perceive as the difference between solution selling and insight selling?
TEMA: When I learned about solution selling, it sounded, the way I interpreted it, was very much like what I think you’re describing as insight selling.
MATT: Yeah, it’s a great point. I think one of the important things to think about is that insight selling probably represents what I would call an evolution, not a revolution, if that makes sense. What people need to understand is that the skills of the solution seller are absolutely foundational and critical. Think about something, for instance, like questioning skills, which is a core part of being a great solution seller.
MATT: Diagnoses, this kind of thing. In an insight sale, questions are still a critical part of the dialog, a critical part of how insight is communicated, absorbed, and appreciated by the client. But, the way in which the questions are used will change. And so, it’s not as if you’re telling sellers, “Hey, sorry about the past 20 years you spent mastering solution selling. You can….”
MATT: It’s more, I think, as Neil Ackerman said very well. Solution selling skills, those core skills of being a great seller in a complex sales environment, it’s kind of the cake, and insight selling in many ways is the new icing on the cake.
MATT: Which is critical to be successful today. But, I think the big difference is this. It’s an overgeneralization, I’ll admit, but I think if you were really to get down to in an elevator pitch kind of way, what I would say is solution selling is really rooted in this idea of needs diagnosis. We can go in, and we can ask the customer, “What’s keeping you up at night?” to understand what they need and to see if there’s a match between their needs and our solutions.
MATT: That’s the fundamental premise of solution selling. There’s a lot more to it, of course. But, insight selling is much more about leading with insight, insight about new opportunities, risks, cost savings opportunities, revenue growth opportunities, employee engagement or market share stealing opportunities, whatever it is. Leading with insights that effectively tell the customer what should be keeping them up at night.
MATT: If they do it really well, what you’re doing is you’re bringing an idea to the table that the client themselves hadn’t really thought of before. It’s surprising. Literally, people have called it provocation-based selling. It’s designed to push the customer outside their comfort zone a little bit.
MATT: Again, the difference between asking the customer, “What’s keeping you up at night?” and telling the customer, “Here’s what should be keeping you up at night.” Now, the way in which that’s communicated, the questions are critical part of that, of course.
MATT: Having all the soft skills and the consultative skills of a solution seller is absolutely critical to do that well.
MATT: That’s the big difference. I think part of that is rooted; I think it’s rooted in a couple things. One is the fact that, as we know now, back in the ’70s when Mack Hanan and Neil Rackham and other pioneered kind of coined this idea of needs diagnosis and solution selling, this was an era before the Internet.
MATT: This was an era before, really, procurement was formalized and became very sophisticated. This was an era in which you could go in and ask clients those big open-ended questions, and they would answer those questions for you.
0:22:55 Today, what we know is that customers are engaging salespeople much later than ever before in the purchase journey. They’re waiting until very, very late to pick up the phone and call a salesperson because all of this stuff about your company’s solutions, your customers’ success stories, your futures and benefits, your ROI calculators, all those things are on your website.
MATT: You can go and check on clients by going to LinkedIn and asking your network, “Hey, have you done business with these guys or those guys, and what do you think?”
MATT: You can kind of get to a short list pretty easily, put everything you want into an RFP, and then you call the supplier to say, “Hey, we know what we want. You made the shortlist. We want you to compete for the business.”
MATT: That’s a really tough place to be in. What we found is that salespeople who succeed in that world are taking much more of an insight-based approach. They’re engaging. They’re earning the right to engage the client early because they’re bringing new ideas to the table.
0:23:46 I think the way you think about it is that insight today, we’re still fundamentally in this business of building great client relationships, but what we’re trying to do is shift the relationship from being reactive and responsive and just asking the customer what they want and doing whatever they say, to a relationship where the currency is really more about the insight we as sellers can bring to the table, the new opportunities we can teach that client to appreciate that, in a commercial way, we can also help them deliver. We have solutions that speak to [it].
0:24:19 I think the other thing I would say is the solution selling approach, even if you put that at the advent of information and the fact that customers are learning on their own. You put that aside for a moment. The fact is that if you ask clients about the solution selling approach, coming in asking big questions and the death by questioning, as I’ve heard clients describe it–
TEMA: [Laughter] Yeah.
MATT: –has started to wear on clients over the years. I think they’ve gotten to a place where most clients are under-resourced. They are running a million miles an hour. They are struggling to keep pace. They don’t have the time or patience in a way they once did to sit there and educate a salesperson.
MATT: They want a salesperson to come in and bring a new idea to the table. If I’m going to make time for you, don’t waste my time by asking me to tell you what’s keeping me up at night. You should already have a hypothesis about what is keeping me up at night. Then you should come in and tell me what are your best clients doing to address that I’m not doing, and what’s the thing I’m missing because, otherwise, I don’t have time for you.
MATT: I hear this from clients all the time. They appreciate, and they understand why salespeople still rely so much on open-ended, needs diagnosis questions because it comes from a good place. Salespeople don’t want to be presumptuous.
MATT: They want to feel great empathy. The Stephen Covey principle of seek to understand before being understood.
MATT: However, what clients will tell you is that, in today’s world, that is not valuable to them. What they say, if you were truly empathetic to me as a professional, as an executive, you would come in and we would start the conversation in a very different place. You would have done your homework. You would have said, “Hey, I know we haven’t met before, but I work with clients like you and I did some research on your company and your business. Are these the kinds of things that you’re working on right now? Am I in the right…?”
MATT: “Okay. Got it. Now here’s an idea that we are working with our top clients on that I’m wondering if you are working on and maybe it’s an unseen opportunity that we might be able to help you with.” That is a much more valuable dialog than just coming in and saying, “Hey, can you tell me all about your business and your priorities?”
TEMA: Right. That’s really important. Well, and it drives me crazy when I keep reading sales advice saying, “What’s keeping you up at night? Ask them that.” I’m thinking, are you serious?
MATT: Oh, gosh!
TEMA: They’ve heard that way too much.
MATT: I had a client who had told me. It was really funny. He told me, “You know what’s keeping me up at night is the thought of the next salesperson coming in to ask me what’s keeping me up at night.”
TEMA: Yeah. Exactly. And how can I keep them away?
MATT: Yeah. Yeah.
TEMA: Having listened to Matt, I promise you that if you subscribe to the Frank Ideas newsletter, which I hope you already have or you will, I won’t ask what’s keeping you up at night. Though, honestly, I would kind of like to know. So, if you’d care to share that with me, just send me a quick email, Tema@FrankReactions.com, or send me a tweet at @TemaFrank.
[0:28:38 end of audio file]