Episode 10: Effective Sales Process – Ash Alhashim

Predictable Prospecting
Effective Sales Process - Ash Alhashim
00:00 / 00:00

An effective sales process brings a prospect on as a partner; working together to solve their issue. This ideal situation requires that their expectation is set and they commit to the solution. Today’s guest is Ash Alhashim a self described “marketing oriented sales person” who is an expert in all things sales process. Ash believes that the entire funnel should be connected to motivate those in a nurture cycle and shares his tips with us on how to achieve that. Ash Alhashim is the founder of Brown Flag Group, a consulting group that helps businesses grow through effective sales and marketing. Besides his own site, Ash also contributes regularly to the Sales Hacker blog and finds time to connect on social media.
Ash-AlhashimEpisode Highlights:

  • The importance of setting expectation early in buyer cycle
  • Ash’s thoughts on linear progression
  • Which actions indicate a prospect is ready to move out of nurture
  • Behavioral cues that signal readiness to progress through cycle
  • Respecting levels of awareness

Resources: Ash Alhashim’s Website Brown Flag Group Sales Hacker Blog Follow Ash on Twitter

Episode Transcript

Marylou:    In your current deal that’s finishing up, you examined the entire pipeline and you actually assembled, activated and optimized from beginning to end. Correct? Ash:     I would say not so much the assembly part but the optimization definitely. Into some degree assembly, I mean they had an existing process in place even if it wasn’t codified or documented. They were closing business without my help or before my help. My objective over the course of the last three months was really to help them document and quantify what they were doing, how they were doing it and then step in on occasion where there are some obvious improvements that they can make to the way they do things. Marylou:    Okay. What was the biggest sort of validation that you saw what people continually                struggling with especially with the work that you’re doing? Ash:    I think the main thing I’ve realized in the last three years—before this I was Optimize Lead for about three years and I built out their inside sales organization so I had a global inside sales org running the inbound and outbound SVR’s for a few years.  The biggest thing I’ve noticed throughout the entirety of the sales cycle is that the work that you do early on the sales cycle really has an order of magnitude effect on what happens on the end outcome. For better or worse, what you do in the discovery stage of your sales cycle is going to have a really positive impact or negative impact downstream. Any growth talks a lot about this and ties up with management the importance of getting things done early on as opposed to trying to fix them later on in the process. The main thing I’ve noticed a lot of young sales organization need help with is really setting their sales cycles up in a way where they think of it as a project to manage. With the projects that you’re managing, what you want to do is you want to lay out the deliverables early on and make sure that you get buy in from every stakeholder in the process. For example, you’re the project manager to the salesperson, you need to get the buy end of the person on the other end of the line, the champion that, “Hey, we’re going to need to do x, y and z on day five, days a, b and c in order to get you guys live and up and running and reaping the benefits of our solution by the date that you said you need it, by the compelling event date let’s say.” Most sales people just fail to do that. Let’s just work as if my sales project is a black hole and hopefully this will close and I’ll just start pounding at what I need to get and then people go ghost, people go missing and it really ends up with some very unfortunate circumstances. The importance of just setting expectations early on in the cycle and getting buy ins from the other parties involved on the customer end primarily are really, really important. I found that just implementing that alone has had huge improvements on things like wind rate, average deal size. Marylou:    It’s funny you say that because one of the things we talk about in my new book is about mapping the buyer journey, what we call it. It’s almost like a gigantic mind map of the steps that buyers typically take in going—since I specialized just at the top of the pipeline from cold context through qualified opportunities, we map out the various paths that a particular prospect can take and we do that for every single potential buyer because we also have the issue at the top of the pipeline of when are people actually going to enter. Since we’re starting cold, we may not even get to the decision maker, we may know the name of the decision maker but we may not even get to that person but we still need to keep them in the loop. I like what you’re saying. Have you implemented a mind mapping type of methodology or how do you get people to actually to sit down and talk through beginning with the end in mind and backing up all the points along the path. How do you do that? Ash:      That’s a great question. The main thing that you want to do here when you’re creating—I don’t like the idea of mind maps for sales prophecies or they make sense, a mind map is a far more accurate depiction of what the customer buying process looks like but the problem with the mind map that I have and why I don’t use it is because they are messy apparently. Typically, a mind map is messy. There are a lot of different end outcomes, a lot of different paths to getting there. In sales, particularly in middle to bottom of the funnel, you really want to make sure that you’re in control, that there’s a linear path that you always follow. There are maybe some steps that aren’t necessarily needed to check off in certain sales cycles meaning a smaller company, you might not have to go through a lengthy legal or procurement review process and that’s fine. It should always be linear because you should always as the project manager try to have control of kind of a linear path and move things along that path. If you don’t have buy ins from your customers that they’re okay with it, you don’t really have a deal. I don’t know what you have but you don’t really have a deal that you can forecast. Marylou:    You have a lag in the pipeline. That’s what you have. Ash:    That’s pretty much it. You have a bunch of stuff there, it’s a probabilities game at that point and I don’t like running deals that way. What I try to do instead of a true mind map is do some customer research, understand how a snapshot of your customers got to you and what the buying process looks like from their perspective. It’s important to do this from the buyer’s perspective because a lot of sales organizations actually end up trying to build out what the journey looks like from the seller’s perspective and then you end up using language. That’s not very powerful or compelling for the buyer. Why does a buyer give a shit if you need this deal closed by April 1st, you know what I mean? They don’t care. What they care about is, “Hey, we have this event that we’re launching mid-May and in order for us to reap the benefits of your analytics tool and understand who should attend that conference, we need to have this up and running by let’s say April 15th which means we have to have the deal signed by April 1st.” You want to work backwards from that kind of implementation date or date of benefit. But regardless, it’s not terribly sophisticated but it kind of journey that I would map, it’s more of a linear kind of process. That’s along the way that each party is responsible for, usually a spreadsheet is just fine. The most important thing is less so the map itself and more so what the map signifies. It signifies that the person on the other end has bought in. That they say at some point, “Yes, I agree to do this on April 1st. I agree to do this on March 27th. I agree to do this and you will do that in parallel.” Once you have that buy in, negotiation down the line becomes very easy. Marylou:    I was just on the phone last week with a gentlemen who talked about a book that was written in the 70’s called Getting to Closed. He focused on dates and activities within dates as mapping from opportunity down to close. I liked where they were going with it because that also presented what you say is a linear progression and it also is time sensitive. The new odds to that was trying to, which they didn’t really talk about back then but now with the buyer journey and the fact that buyers are more informed or seemingly more informed because they have the ability to search and do other things, the overlay of the journey to a time sensitive type of linear progression seems to be a great combination in order to reduce the lag in the pipeline. Ash:    Absolutely. I actually just read a blog post about this. I’d love for you to check it out. I’d love to check out that book Getting to Closed. Marylou:    It’s called Getting to Closed. Ash:    Yeah. I’m going to check that out. I think it’s right up my alley. There’s a book I just read about this stuff. If you’re interested in checking it out, it’s called Project Managing Your Way to the Gong. It’s on sales hacker. That’s the biggest thing. It’s just a good discovery where you set expectations and get alignment and then from there kind of managing everything. That’s mostly what sales is. It’s kind of the way I’ve learned to sell. To sell is doing good discovery, understanding what the problems are on your customers and then turning that into the need for a solution, educating your buyers about why your solution solves their problem. From there, it’s just really proper discovery or proper expectation setting. I’m saying, “Hey, in order for you to reap the benefits of this, you and I are teammates, we are working towards a shared goal. In order for us to achieve that goal by the date that you need to achieve that goal by, we need to do x, y and z together on these dates. Are we on the same page?” If you have agreements, that’s fantastic. If you have some objections then you try to overcome the objections. But if you have someone on the other end of the line who’s just not interested and not willing to cooperate, not willing for you to be the project manager on this path, then you don’t really have a sale. Marylou:    Yes, exactly. To what level are you feeding back information to say marketing? Or if they do somehow fallout and go into a nurture status, what types of pass you need to help people find to get them back out of nurture, back into the working cycle or at the very least feeding that conversation back to marketing so that at the top of the pipeline they are now armed with better conversation topics? Ash:    That’s a great question. The first was I think what kind of actions do you look for that imply to the sales team that this person is ready to come out out of the drift and back into the sales cycle. Correct? Marylou:    Yeah. That’s the first question. Ash:    There are some explicit things like for example they reply to an email or they go back to a website and say I want to talk [00:12:07]. There’s the explicit ways for something to come back into nurture or come out of nurture back into the sales cycle. They reply to an email saying I want to someone on sales or they fill out a contact sales form, pretty obvious. But then there’s the less obvious stuff like for example they’re in our product, in a pre-trial perhaps, and they perform a series of actions that we know from a probability perspective signifies a high likelihood that they turn into a customer soon. There should be a trigger in your marketing automation or CRM that automatically pushes that as a behaviorally active lead back to a sales person. Marylou:    That’s great, and we do a little bit of that at the top of the pipeline too. We call them behavioral indicators and what we do with them is we watch to see if they’re ready to be put into our calling queue so it’s a little bit different than what we’re talking about. We look at clicks, specific content that they’re interested in. We look at, if we can get the time spent in the depth of interest on the website itself. We also track their path movements, whether they’re deep and focused or they’re shallow and erratic. We look at the frequency of the activity versus inactivity, and then as you mentioned downloading forms, opting in, asking for a rep, attending a webinar. And then of course what we hope for is the email replies, the inquiries, the direct “I want to talk to somebody.” We take all those indicators as well but the call to action or the focus is to get them into our calling queue. Ash:    Exactly. In many ways, it depends on how your sales organization is structured. It actually can be very similar to what you’re describing at the very top of the funnel. It’s just more a matter of that kind of actual loop. The bottom of funnel kind of pushes back the top, sends an SGR and gets the notification. Maybe in some organizations, they even call back. It doesn’t really matter so long as there’s that kind of connectivity loop there. Marylou:    Perfect, and so that’s coming back into the funnel. What happens if they are nurtured? They’re not ready, they’re not coming back in. What is the process there that you found that is the most successful? Ash:    So you’re saying, can you please clarify? Marylou:    Their behavior isn’t giving you a clear map as to whether or not you should engage with them so you need to sort of force the engagement. At the top of the pipeline what we do for example with those nurture people is recycle them back in as if they’re new again. I’m just curious when they fall out further down into the pipeline from opportunity to close, what process have you worked for those people who are just not even budgeting but you think are qualified. The accounts, you know they are in your ideal customers profile, etc. Ash:    Right. Good demographics set, just not at all responsive, what do you do then? Marylou:    Yes. Ash:    That’s a harder question. I don’t know that I have the perfect or the right answer for this one but I think there’s a reason they’re allergic to the idea of reaching out. Usually what I think it is is just lack of awareness of what the solution is, what the problem is actually. There’s this kind of unconscious incompetence level that exists particularly around risk averse market majority, or they don’t necessarily know that the way they are doing things today is a problem. Those are the hardest people to sell to in my experience because the people that realize that they have a problem, it’s only a matter of time before you convince them that you’re a good salesperson, that your solution can fix that problem. The people who don’t even understand that the Sony Discman that they’re carrying around is just crap and they should operate an iPhone, those people are harder to convince. You first have to make them aware of the fact that there is a problem and then and only then can you really start selling them your product. I think the reason I’m saying all that is because education and agnostic marketing is the most important thing at this stage.  That’s what I always say here, the Henry Ford thing, “If I ask people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Marylou:    Right. Ash:    It’s not about marketing them towards the solution, it’s about marketing to them in a way that allows them to understand that they have a problem. Marylou:    We’re definitely on the same page there. The precursor to all of this was Eugene Schwartz’s’ Breakthrough Advertising so that book was written on my birth –, 1950’s, my birthday decade. It talks about the five levels of awareness and being respectful of where the buyer is at in that consciousness. What you’re describing is what he calls that they are unaware or they think they are aware of a problem but don’t know if there’s a solution or don’t even know there’s a vendor that can have that solution. Ash:    Exactly. Marylou:    Those levels are best residing in marketing’s hands in terms of the long term nurture. As soon as someone lifts a little eyelash then we take them in at the top of the pipeline and start getting them sort of warmed up and warm up that chill to a point where they want to engage with the sales executive. Ash:    Exactly. You got it. Marylou:    Tell us about your new venture when you comeback from your travels? Ash:    I will be joining Heat Analytics as their VP of Sales. They have currently a very high functioning albeit inexperienced sales team that’s doing very well but definitely can use a little guidance. I’m going to help them, take them from where they are now to the next level, truly excited about that opportunity. Marylou:    That’s great. If people are listening to this conversation and wanted to get to know you, your work, how to get a hold of you, what is the best way that they can do that? Ash:    I have my website ashalhashim.com which is my full first name, last name .com. I also have my consulting website brownflag.io where we post some content over here and there. We talk a little bit about our offerings and our background. Go to saleshacker.com, check out Ash Alhashim. I’m on there. I have quite a few posts for you guys to check out. I’d love to get lots of feedback on them. Marylou:    Okay. Ash:    Of course online, all those social media channel on Twitter, LinkedIn and so on. I’m pretty active on all of the above. Marylou:    Very good. I like to compartmentalize myself because when I want people to think of Marylou, it’s sales process, it’s top of funnel. When we think of Ash, can we put you in a box a little bit for the sales engine or are you like all over? Your beginning to end. Ash:    I like to think of myself as beginning to end. I do think of myself as marketing oriented salesperson but definitely that API point between marketing and sales, the handoff which I think is crucial in any organization that is high functioning. I take pride in really understanding demand generation, digital marketing, event marketing and offline marketing as well as I can. I do have a day job after all but I take pride in understanding that domain and working collaboratively with marketers to achieve a common goal. Marylou:    You know it’s funny you mentioned about the sales and marketing alignment. I’m actually talking with an expert on Saturday, that’s all he does. He specializes in sales and marketing teams working together mostly for lead generations so he’s more up at the top of the funnel as well but. That’s becoming a really hot topic and we really depend on marketing, at least the content assets because at the top of the pipeline where we’re trying to start conversation, we’re linking through and clicking through to content, to try to understand where they are behaviorally as we just discussed before. Ash:    Absolutely. Marylou:    Taking a long piece of content, the longer post and the way I describe it is we flip it sideways and from there we create persuasive content assets that we can link to in our cold emails so that we can see what’s of interest to people, what they’re clicking on if they’re signposting or breadcrumbs to a lengthier piece of content that helps us gauge where they’re at behaviorally so it’s very helpful. Ash:    That kind of stuff is super, super helpful because the buyer who is not fully engaged,  getting feedback from them is totally very difficult at the moment to really understand. Marylou:    And then when you get them further in, they’re also less committed so your point about they’ve got to be committed to the process and shown how to go from a to b to c to close. Ash:    Exactly. Marylou:    It’s all starts with what is this level of engagement that they have. Are they just appeasing us or are they truly, genuinely committed to changing their lives and transforming their business. Ash:    Absolutely. Marylou:    Well thank you so much Ash for your time. I’ll put on this, I’ll get all of the first, last name and all of that for everybody so that they can follow you and watch your progress at Heat Analytics. That’s awesome. Ash:    Awesome. It was really nice meeting you over the phone and I hope to see you all. Marylou:    Yeah, thank you Ash. I’ll talk to you soon. Ash:    Thanks Marylou, bye.

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