Why are salespeople depicted as slimy money-grubbers instead of as the brand representatives we know we are? As the industry changes it’s important for the modern sales professional to change with it, abandoning the old idea of building sales and marketing from the inside out in favor of connecting with the buyer’s journey to sell from the outside in. Today’s episode covers new techniques for sales reps to engage with prospects — you’ll be surprised at what common mistakes our guest thinks you’re making! Mark Roberge is a lecturer at the Harvard School of Business and the Chief Revenue Officer at HubSpot. His bestselling book The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to go from $0 to $100 Million covers his approach to building a sales team and increasing revenue.
The Sales Acceleration Formula - Mark Roberge
- Who is the modern salesperson?
- Buyer behavior & empowerment
- Understanding the buyer journey
- Relationship between sales and marketing within persona development
- Becoming a stronger sales rep: Sales Methodology
- “First in Ten” technique
- Writing data-based emails in a personalized way
- Changing the image of the salesperson
Resources: Check out Mark Roberge’s bestselling book The Sales Acceleration Formula Tweet him @markroberge or connect with him on Linkedin Pre-order my new book Predictable Prospecting: How to Radically Increase Your B2B Sales Pipeline , out on August 19th 2016!
Marylou: As the industry changes, the support for modern sales profession changes with it. Abandoning the old idea of assembling sales in marketing from the inside out in favor of connecting with the buyer’s journey to sell from the outside in. In today’s episode, Mark Roberge shares new techniques sales can use to engage with prospects leading with value rather than insignificance. I think I’ve been surprised and a bit humbled at what common mistakes Mark points out we’re all making in sales. At the airing of this podcast, 2016 August, Mark has transitioned from Chief Revenue Officer at HubSpot where he still serves in the advisory capacity to senior lecturer in the entrepreneurial management unit at the Harvard Business School. Yep, it’s Harvard. I’m beside myself excited for him. Don’t we all have teaching course curriculum at a business school on our bucket list? For you Harvard MBAs out there, Mark teaches Entrepreneurial Sales And Marketing in the second year MBA program at Harvard. A man of many talents, Mark is also the author of Sales Acceleration Formula using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to go from Zero to One Hundred Million. The book outlines Mark’s approach towards leveraging people, process, and technology and provides an action plan for others to replicate his successes. In today’s podcast, we’ll cover understanding the buyer journey, what that means for sales. We’ll also look at the profound relationship that’s evolving between sales and marketing in the development of buyer persona profiles. Mark gives us some tips on how to be a stronger sales rep through his sales methodology. We’ll talk about a first intent technique. He’ll also share how to write database emails in a personalized way. Last but not least, how changing the image of salespeople to more of outside in directly affects revenue generation. So Mark, tell us what’s changed from when you originally started—you’re thinking back to when you were starting in this business and working with trying to generate sales qualified leads or net new business. There was a certain modality, a certain way we went about that. Take us back to that time and then take us forward now to what we are looking at in 2016 and beyond as the shift of how we should be positioning ourselves as sales professionals. Mark: Yeah, sure Marylou. It’s a great question. I think we’re in quite an age of transformation actually for sales largely driven because of our behavior and empowerment. Anytime you see a major shift in sales and marketing I think it starts first with changes in buyer behavior and then we react to it. It’s funny, as I hit the road these days and talk to different audiences and educate various people, I like to keep things up and just show various pictures of people and I ask them, “Circle the sales person.” I’ll show them a picture of a devil and a doctor. Who do they circle? I’ll show a picture of a good-looking guy holding dollar bills and comparing them to a woman helping an elderly person across the street. Who’s the sales person? How did this happen to the field of sales? One day, in the age of business, probably 100 years ago, we sort of professionalized or attempted to professionalize this field of sales and they were supposed to be these people that are going to go out and represent our company in the market. Go out in the streets, go out into business, go and talk to prospective customers, represent us and convert them to customers. Hundred years later, we end up with a field where when I do a Google search for a sales person, these are the pictures I find. People in devil costumes, people smoking cigars and sleazy cheesy shirts, people holding money with a big sparkling smile, manipulative smirks. It’s like how did this happen? The big question going through my mind now is, is it over? Marylou: Wow. Mark: It changes. I think it does because I think we as buyers have had it and we don’t need them anymore. Like to your question. I mean 20 years ago, as much as we hated it, we had to get on the phone with a salesperson. We have to figure out what this thing did, how it is compared to the competition, how much it costs and we need them to sign to be able to buy it. All that’s changed, we don’t need that anymore. I think the empowerment of the buyer today has changed their perception of sales, their desire of sales, the perception of the type of salespeople they want to work with or if they want to work with them at all. We have to step up and have that mindset in mind. We get all these complaints. The reason why your book is going to be popular, you’ve done so much in the past and you’re such a sought after consultant because this stuff is changing under people’s noses and they don’t know what to do about it. It starts with the revelation that we have to understand the modern buyer and transform the way we sell. Marylou: It’s funny Mark, as I sit here listening to you, I wonder, I’m thinking of clients I have now who have come up with products that in the olden days we used to call disruptive, meaning that they’ve created solutions whereby the buyers are not either aware that they’re out there, they’re not sure they’re ready for something like that, they don’t know why they would need something like that and they’re not looking for that. How does that innovation of new products and services fit into this the buyer knows a lot more than they used to? Mark: It forces us to get away from the product and from what we want to say in the market and force us to align where the market perceptions are. When I think about bringing a product like that out to the market or when I think about bringing any product out to the market. I think the mistake that people make is they build themselves a marketing process from the inside out. They think about what message do I want to get out there, what features do I want to emphasize, who do I want to target, etc. etc. etc. The first step that needs to happen is you have to look at it from the outside in and you have to think about the buying journey first and then build a sales process to support it. Often times that’s like hard to get your head around but I like to try to simplify it down to just like with the buying journey, awareness, consideration, decision. Words they have in their head about the problem they’re experiencing or the opportunities they want to pursue. I’m not talking about products, I’m not talking about searches, they have some problems or opportunities that they would like to pursue that are in line with what you’re offering, how do prospects describe those today and how do they decide and what causes them to want them to prioritize it? That’s really what happens in the awareness stage. Then when they get pass that, they look at different categories like we’re talking in the pre-show here, what are the different categories they look at? Do they build it themselves? Do they buy something? Is it like some other service provider they need? What’s the unique differentiation of you? When they choose the category in the decision phase, who at the company is involved in that situation? What are the different perspectives? What is the evaluation criteria the company makes to make that decision and what are unique differentiations in that journey? That’s what I like to look at is whether you’re coming out with a disruptive product or you’ve got an existing product. You’ve got to look at this whole journey from the perspective of the buyer’s first and then build your sales process around it. Marylou: Do you think in this day and age that the CRM tools that are out there now are supporting what you just said? The ability to have a buyer’s’ journey map rather than a sales stage map? Mark: Not at all. They’ve been built from the ground up around managing contacts and being on the reach out to them on some sort of cold calling cadence. That’s the problem that a lot of people experience today. It’s like, I can’t get this to work. It just doesn’t fit with the foundational observations that we’re making here. Do you have to wait for people to come to you? No. But when you reach out to them, it has to be in a highly personalized manner. I think at the very top of the funnel that we’re talking about here, the two mistakes that people make is they start with, “Here’s who we’re targeting, let me build the list and go after them.” That’s the last resort for me. I want to go out and talk about the problems we’re solving, the opportunities that we’re enabling on our blog and our content, etc., that’s naturally going to attract people to me and that’s where I want to start. I want to start with the people that I know in my network that I can find more easily because of tools like LinkedIn today. My last resort is to focus on the folks that I have to reach out to cold and that’s where the largest CRMs today are built around. When I do reach out to them, ideally, every email and every voice mail is different. Not everyone can justify that level of personalization, but I think that’s the vision is for it to be so personalized that it feels like a human connection. The way that people can step stone there from where they are in the journey and places and area that you focus on your book which is persona development. If we do persona development well, we can make strides at making personalization scalable and easier for folks who don’t have the highest degree of business acumen on your team. Marylou: Let’s talk a bit about persona development. Traditionally, that sat right in marketing. But we’re asking our sales reps now to do some of the research work to be able to personalize emails. How much is sales in the best way that you could think of? What is the relationship between sales and marketing as it relates to persona development? Mark: I’ve seen this happen in a bunch of companies that I advised and I’ve seen it happen here at HubSpot. I think the best thing is for them to work together. Someone has to sit down and do—what I’ve seen, honestly a mass of 50 to 100 interviews and have those interviews not just be within the spectrum that you’re targeting but drawing that circle much farther out purposely talking to people that you think are outside of your audience as well. Through those observations, you can take a step back and draw patterns around behaviors, and patterns around needs, and pattern around perceptions that you can then assemble into personas. I do think once you hit that stage, there can be a little bit of different application in needs because marketers now need the craft copy that resonates advertisements etc., but marketers need to be able to segment based on demographic information versus salespeople need to be able to take an individual and try to match them into a persona. There needs to be a way for the salesperson to—I can’t look at your LinkedIn profile and tell if you like spicy food. I can write an ad copy for someone that likes spicy food and probably run a Facebook campaign to people that likes spicy food. It’s a little bit of a different thing. I need to be able to tell who is this individual is, put him into a persona bucket and then it gives me a lot of guidance as a sales person, I can make some inferences as to what their interest are, what their needs are and be able to line my prospecting efforts and the whole sales process around it. Marylou, I’d love to know your take too. I know you’ve done a lot more reading in the last five years than I have on this particular space. Have you seen the best practices that companies go about built persona? Marylou: First of all, we cover a whole chapter on this in our book. One of the things—you hit the nail around the head when you said that it’s not just about the bull’s eye, it’s not just about the person, it’s about direct influencers and indirect influencers which is what you mentioned. We actually put them in a drawing in the chapter of the book and interviewing those people who directly influence or have the ear of the person that we’re trying to target and also the ancillary people around the edges who may have information, they may be able to guide as to how to best craft a compelling sales conversation with our buyer. That’s one of the things. Since I come from the product world, when I develop software, we had product personas. We actually, in the programming side of the house, developed our own persona for graphical user interface, user experience type of touchy feely type stuff with the code so it’s not a stretch to say, “Okay marketing, you’re probably developing the personas that are going to be major attraction and working through the different channels and touchpoints and things like that but sales needs to be able to utilize what you’ve got and then add their own touches so that they can formulate their sales conversation to answer three question, why change, why now, and why you.” The persona development allows for a sales person to really get beneath the skin what those conversations look like. Mark: Do you think that where most marketers complete their persona development is sufficient enough for sales team to run with it or is there a point where there’s a little bit of a fork in the road and they both kind of take it for their own discipline and apply it? Marylou: I think that there’s a fork but there’s also a feedback mechanism because marketing is relying on sales when they have those conversations to be able to send back to marketing the language that was used, the pain points that surfaced more often than not. Those conversations are a direct between the sales professional and the buyer. Marketing needs that feedback in order to be able to amp up the content to reduce the lag in the pipeline. Even though they do fork, they come back again. It’s a loop, it really is but you need to have that alignment between marketing and sales. I think marketing gets into buyer personas probably more deeply than sales would but sales needs to focus on the conversation of the why change, why now, why us. Mark: That’s great. Marylou: Yeah? Mark: Yeah, I like it. Marylou: These are the things that I think if we look back in 2010, we just glossed over all of that and to your point, we weren’t being respectful of the buyer and how the buyer now is empowered. Mark: Exactly. Once we have that buyer lens then we have to think about how we can tailor the entire experience to that buyer. What we typically do is take that awareness consideration decision framework around the buying journey and layer on top of it and identify, connect, explore and advise. I think what we’ve talked a lot about is sort of the identifying connect stage and how to reach out to these folks but the more we can think about each one of these stages, in fact purposely use those words which probably as a buyer I’ll probably be willing to be explored with the sales person be advised by a salesperson much more so than I liked to be qualified, demoed and closed. There’s a new onset of terminology but I think it sets the right cultural vision for the team Marylou: And the tone. I think you’re right because it’s a relationship that you’re building and you’re taking that relationship and then some cases if you look at the predictable revenue model, you’re handing off that relationship to somebody else as the lead progresses through the pipeline stages, or if you’re someone that handles from you take it the rest of the way. There’s got to be a trust value established early on as well. If that’s not there. If they’re getting the sense that you’re slamming them with sales messages that don’t resonate and forcing them to do things and they’ll just acquiesce to get you off their back, that’s not a good way to start a relationship towards close. Mark: We’ve all been there before where we thought we were interested in this thing, we feel like we’re being dragged through this process. What’s actually happening is the sales later put in place this process that they want their salespeople to check the boxes. I’ve had plenty of situations where I’d won great business over a competitor because it was a breath of fresh air for them to get on the phone with us and have a sales person that was trained in their business acumen to walk them through exactly what goals the individual had and had some insightful stories and best practices to share with them. They compared that to when they called our competition and how to talk to a 23-year old that know nothing about business and just want to qualify on how much money they had to spend. That shouldn’t be the first experience for a prospect with the organization but we can probably all think of a number of business that have set themselves up that way. Marylou: Right. Mark, if I’m sitting here listening to this conversation, I’m driving in my car I’m thinking okay, this sound so good but where do I start? Let’s pretend that I work for a larger company and I’ve got a manager but I want to go ahead and start this on my own and then socialize it later. Where should they begin? Mark: Sure. Tactically speaking, I spent a lot of time this winter codifying these comments into what we call an inbound sales methodology and that sales methodology is not restricted to inbound leads. It can be used in any of these contacts. For starters, if you want to Google HubSpot Sales Certification and take a look at the completely free course, you can walk through it. Tactically speaking, what I would do if I was a sales person in a legacy type system and I want to try some of this stuff, I would take the time we just talked about and right what I know about the buying journey, just write it down on a piece of paper, use the awareness consideration decision framework, then I would write out a revised sales process within the identify, connect, explore, advise framework on how I can do a better job of identifying prospects, connecting with prospects, advising them, exploring with them in the way that resonates with their stage in the buying journey. At the identifying stage, what are some creative ways that I can use to find prospects that have raised their hand as opposed to me just doing an advanced search on LinkedIn in my industry? As I think about connecting, what are some creative things that I can do? Maybe I can segment into different personas and do some leg work for a half a day and write more personalized outreaches that focus less on giving them a demo and more on connecting them, educating them on the problem they’re facing. Maybe there’s some collateral—I don’t have to create the collateral. Just find something online as long as it’s not from the competitor. You don’t want to promote them but there’s probably some good ebooks and whitepapers from whether it’s industry magazines or education institutions that you can then promote and restructure your outreach around that. Also, think about spending more time in the digital communities where your buyers are hanging out as opposed to just cold calling. Go into LinkedIn and find that Q&A forms where they’re hanging out and participate. Find the blogs that they like to read and comment on those blogs. Write a guest blog once a month on your company’s blog and incorporate those elements, those assets you’ve created for yourself with your own brand in your outreach. There’s all these tactics that we can take that cause us to rethink every step of that sales process once we’re looking at from the buyers’ lens. That’s where I’d start. Marylou: Okay. Sounds like there’s a little bit of what we used to call day in the life or scheduling block time, whatever you want to call it. Do you have a rhythm that you like to see your teams go through in doing this type of work or is it everyone can do whatever they want whenever they want? Mark: No. There’s certainly a rhythm. I think the day to day prospecting stuff as opposed to having a list of cold emails or cold calls that I want to make, instead the first instinct is to go to some monitoring elements. Any inbound leads that are coming in, any prospects that are touching our website that come from good companies, any that are just happening in social media. I’m using those to drive my outreach first. Then, I’m deferring back to my targeted list and I’m going through what we call sequences where those sequences are focused on different conversation bits, stuff that you guys write a lot about in the book around engaging with those folks not on the demo or the product but again on the problem that they’re actually trying to solve. We set those things up and then we try to make sure that there’s goals set around their own content production, like one blog article a month, two to three hours a week of social media participation. You’re going to be a better salesperson. You’re going to develop your better domain knowledge in business acumen which is going to help you with your sales process and you’re going to build the trust and authority in your space with the people that matters most for you which is your buyers. We try to develop the cadence like that. Marylou: That’s great, in the book we have a concept that I think I borrowed from real estate which is called first in ten. It’s all about in the morning when you come into the office, there’s ten people that you reach out to and the goal of that session is to just be able to be helpful, to educate, to empower, to entertain, whatever it is but to be consistent in doing that every single day, 22 days a month for the first ten records or people or instances or whatever it is that you tee up usually the night before and then you’re basically on a rhythm of reaching out and being helpful, of connecting other people of like you said, sharing articles those are all great ways to continue to develop relationship with clients, prospects, or soon to be clients it doesn’t really matter. It’s the consistency of doing it every day that we still really like people that are in sales building new business to get in habit of doing. Habit trumps the inspiration. A lot of sales reps like doing it sometimes and really, we found over and over again that consistency is what produces the results that they’re looking for. Mark: I totally agree. You gotta have those habits. Let me ask you this question Marylou, I’ve seen it come up last year as we moved in this direction because a part of this we’ve got this personal that are a lot of people are leaning into and having success and then the somewhat opposite side you’ve got this automation element of this merge mail tools for salespeople and sales automation. Where are you on the stance of there’s some organizations are just like this is fantastic now, my STRs can get a thousand emails a day and even though 1% is still only open, that’s 1% of a much bigger number versus other folks who are like I just really want to lean into the personalization. I may only get out 30 to 40 emails a day but the conversation rate is ridiculously higher than the 1% because it’s so personalized. I don’t know if you’ve thought about—where do you see the best practice evolving and how do the companies think about their tactic there? Marylou: I’m a fan definitely of personalization. There are degree of personalization though that I think I’m leaning towards, depending on positionally where folks on the pipeline. But definitely once it moves into what we call working status, then I am a stickler about, “Look, let’s build some templates emails that have our core value props ready to go.” Meaning the rep doesn’t think about a lot of the why behind a certain problem or substantiating the claims or looking for percentages or whatever it is to get someone really curios about, “Well, how do they do that?” We put those types of templates in but it is required that they be personalized. We have maybe the 80-20 rule where 80% of the emails are written from the standpoint of contrast from the obstacle to the outcome, substantiating the proof, giving them a taste of the opportunity that is ahead for them but the rest of it is personalized. Mark: That really allows you to find a really nice balance where you still get this quantity up there but the personalization especially perceived by the buyer side still strikes high. Marylou: Yeah and I really still use between the number 25 and 50 emails a day when it comes through the working status. When it goes to nurture though, we do rely on database to help us put them in the right track. If we’ve had sales conversations and the buyers indicated certain pain points that they really focused on and for whatever reason they fall out and go into long term follow up, then the nurture track is really geared towards that pain point. We do use data for that purpose in nurture and then if it’s really, really, cold where we’re testing a new vertical, we’re trying to reach a new market meaning we have no idea if this thing would work for these types of people, then we again use the data but with a very cold list that we’re sending out to so the messaging is not necessarily geared towards ‘this is what our stuff can do and this is how to help you’, it’s more of ‘I’m not sure if you’re the right person for this, if you don’t mind getting back to me and letting me know if this is something that made me remotely interesting,” and then we link them to click through content assets. That’s basically it. It’s very warm, what I call warm up the chill, watch a campaign. It’s a kinder, gentler world and I never really liked hearing about like you said, thousands of emails with the 1%. I’m looking for a double digit response rate even with the what I call data-driven emails, not as much in personalization but they have to be written in a way that even those generate a high response rate or reply. Mark: Yeah. I think it’s something these automation tools have enabled a little bit of an issue out there that salespeople are always going to want to solve for the former. It’s just much easier for them if I could just blast 10,000 emails a day, who cares? As long as I get three or four people to respond, I know where the quick low hanging fruit is. Unfortunately, they don’t have always have the motivation, incentives, alignment and foresight around how negative that can be for the overall company. It’s fine I got three or four people to raise their hand it was great but they also really burned our brand image in the face of 997 other people. Marylou: That and once they get them to raise their hand, they are not giving them a good enough reason to continue the relationship, that’s where I’m seeing the breakdown. I know what you’re saying about the data that from the standpoint of branding, there’s a bad taste in the mouth already but those records, those people, those buyers are not going to convert at a higher enough conversion rate to make it worth your while. Mark: Totally. More to come on that one. I think a lot of people are unfortunately falling into that pothole and hopefully we can turn that around. Marylou: Yeah, this books is really all about ‘That’s not the way to do it’. Mark: That’s great. We got to check that out. Marylou: Definitely. Mark, as we part ways here, I’m just so intrigued by your history and where you’ve been, what are you seeing on the horizon? Mark: What I really hope honestly is I hope we can pull off this sales transformation. We talked a little about this in the pre-show, this is something I’ve chatted about quite a bit. I think the best professional analogy I can make to where I hope sales goes is the doctor. When we go and see the doctor and she starts asking me, “Do you smoke? Do you have a heart disease in your family?” I don’t withhold that information. I don’t lie about it. I don’t feel offended that she’s asking me. I see her diploma on the wall, I trust that she has the best interest in mind. She’s just trying to diagnose my situation and I tell the truth. When I tell her about it and she says, “This is what you have Mark, and I need you to take these pills.” I’m not like, “Can I think about it? Can I get 20% off?” I take the pills because she’s just helping me. That’s what I hope for the futures. I hope we pull off offer a lot of stuff you’re talking about in your book. I hope we pull off a lot of stuff we’re talking about in our sales methodology and I hope ten years from now, when someone has a problem, they think, “I need to call a sales person.” When they find the sales person, they look at them as a helpful, thoughtful, and intelligent individual that has their best interest in mind and not someone that’s going to manipulate them into a solution that they don’t need for their own self benefit which is unfortunately where the image today is. I think that’s going to die and I hope we can breed and train a new set of sales people that take the field into that direction. Marylou: On that note, I think it’s up to people like us to be able to spread the word, be available, mentor. It’s funny, I’ve been toying with the idea of having even office hours for me because there’s so many questions that come in that people want to know how to do their job better and how to be a better salesperson or sales professional. I take responsibility for being able to instill in either younger people or whoever wants to learn the right way to go about this and it’s a very enjoyable and fun profession that we’re in and it really is very gratifying if done correctly. Mark: Absolutely. Marylou: Well, great. Well, thanks Mark so much for your time. I really appreciate this conversation. I had a blast. Mark: Me too, Marylou. Thank you very much.