Episode 79: Meeting Sales Challenges – Andy Zehren

Predictable Prospecting
Episode 79: Meeting Sales Challenges - Andy Zehren
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Whatever role you play in a sales position, there are a lot of moving parts and specific challenges involved with your unique role. Today, I talk to an account executive who has held many roles in the sales cycle and is passionate about making life for salespeople easier. We talk about his vast knowledge and lessons learned, along with how his company OppSource has developed a platform to make salespeople more productive.

Today’s guest is Andy Zehren. I met Andy by chance, but discovered that he had so much experience that he would be a perfect guest for the podcast.  Andy is an account executive for OppSource a platform that makes B2B sales prospecting and engagement easier. They help find and prioritize prospects and enable one sales rep to do the work of three with their automated touchplans.

Episode Highlights:

  • How Andy has held a lot of different roles in sales and he started as an SDR.
  • How each different role has had specific challenges.
  • Andy works with sales people at OppSource helping them with solutions to be more productive and make their lives better.
  • The importance of building relationships and challenges with automation.
  • Challenges of spending too much time and energy on a small amount of accounts.
  • Working smarter and hyper personalization. Average attempts at cold prospecting used to be four and now it is nine.
  • Saving time using a template, but making sure that the person you are reaching out to knows that you are a person reaching out to them.
  • The importance of having strong software that helps with followups.
  • Making sure that sells people moving is a seamless experience for the company and the prospect.
  • How OppSource simplifies the process of preparing for the sales workday using a smart technology solution.
  • The importance of finding the most productive call hours.
  • Having the ability to reach out to all of the decision makers and strategic selling.



Marylou: Hey everybody, it’s Marylou Tyler. A long time since we’ve been in the podcast. I’ve been taking some time off here getting ready for an MBA class I’m teaching at a local university, pretty excited about that.

Today’s guest is Andrew Zehren. I met Andy actually by chance, I’m friends with a gentleman in a company out of Minnesota and Andy can tell you more about that. We got to talking and I realized that Andy had so much experience. He’s been in roles that I think you guys are going to identify with and will resonate with you. Without further ado, I’m going to introduce Andy and then let him talk about his experiences and the sales roles that he’s been in, what’s worked, what hasn’t. At the end, we’ll put how to get a hold of him in case you guys want to continue this conversation with him. Welcome to the show, Andy.

Andrew: Thank you very much, Marylou, for having me and allowing the company I’m with, OppSource, to talk a little bit about, obviously, the company we’re with but more importantly, just about some of the challenges that I’ve had and some other sales colleagues of mine have shared with me and some of the solutions and strategies that we’ve used to help us be more effective in our job. Like Marylou mentioned to start, I’ve been doing the sales type role for several years now and has really spanned a couple different companies, both small, startup type companies to large enterprise type organizations.

I’m excited today because within those different organizations, I’ve held a lot of different roles in sales. Like a lot of people I’m sure listening, I started my career as an SDR. Working with the field based team of account executives and I was their prospector looking for opportunities to engage them on and moving through the ranks and management from an SDR team which obviously came with a great learning experience for me, managing existing accounts more on a farmer type role and also then managing a new business territory.

The reason I bring that up is each of those roles has proven to have its own specific challenges. Nonetheless if you try to do some roles where you’re doing all those responsibilities from managing a new book of business to also managing assisting customers, has some challenges that obviously go along with it. To be frank, that’s really what attracted me to join the current company I’m with which is OppSource. Not only to work with a solution that really helps you be more productive in your sales career but also just work with salespeople. It’s very common that I get calls from sales individuals or sales managers that have the exact same problems I have experienced for the past 10, 12 years and working with them on ways to make their life better and also help them sell more. Again, really excited to be here and share some of the experiences I’ve had.

Marylou: Wonderful. Let me add onto that. I just had a conversation yesterday with a small startup and they are starting to work on what I call the Whale, which also is known Account Based Selling where you’re focusing on targeted accounts, the big accounts or the desirable accounts, the accounts you want to marry, is what I call it. The people who are in those accounts that you really want to build a strong relationship with. What goes hand in hand with that is hyper personalization, you can’t necessarily put them through a sequence that’s completely automated and hope that they’re going to bubble up to the top. You’re going to have to make some effort and reaching out to them, adding value to them and making their day better because they’re talking to you.

We were struggling with that versus they also still have what I call the extended universe accounts, those accounts that are not the Whales but they still bring you good revenue for the company. I would imagine that your job revolves around that same thing, especially if you’re doing multiple roles. Can you elaborate on some of the issues that had come up with that and what steps have you taken to work within that rhythm so that your pipeline is flowing instead of gunking up at various stages?

Andrew: That’s a great question. I chuckled because it’s obviously something that has been a challenge. When you’re working on a lot of these target accounts that are larger organizations that one way or another you’re going to get in there, the challenge with that is a lot of times you spend so much energy and so much time on two, three accounts where at the end of the day when those do actually close, if you haven’t been always prospecting type mentality, you’re at the bottom of that hill. You’re experiencing a lot of peaks and valley in performance. When you’re working for a company or a sales manager, yes, they do like those large transactions but they also do expect you to be consistent when it comes to performance. Again, that’s one of the challenges. Trying to do things smarter and using technology as your friend to assist you in doing some things, and when you talk about the hyper personalization, I’m a huge proponent of that.

If you actually look at some of the studies that are out nowadays, I think it was 2006, the average attempts it took to engage with somebody cold prospecting was around four. If you look at today, that is around nine. I think a lot of that has to do with that people are getting so bombarded with just generic emails and cold calls that aren’t really making sense and social media, it’s just a lot harder to get people’s attention.

That’s something that I focus on every day, is how to be smart about that process, because I’m also a believer that success breeds success. If you have a template that you know works and captures some pain points for a specific audience, I am a fan of utilizing those, however, also making sure that those are 100% personalized to the people you’re going after. Yes, you are saving time by using a template type process but you’re also making sure through your own due diligence online or wherever you’re finding your information, that you’re making sure that person knows that there’s somebody out here, there’s a person out here that really wants to talk with you specifically for these reasons. A huge fan of trying to make sure that you are personal, so it’s relevant when you are reaching out to people but also making sure that you’re using technology as your friend.

The reason I think that’s also important and this is for some folks that may have a blended type role where they are tasked with uncovering new logos and they’re also tasked with making sure their current customers are happy so they continue to renew, a lot of that takes time as well. If you are working on these big accounts, you also run the risk of not paying attention to your base. I was always taught to protect your base. Again, using some of the solutions, OppSource is one of them out there that can allow you to be smart with technology to automate some of these things and give you reminders and when you actually need to take action. Yes, I completely agree with trying to focus on to be hyper personalized when you’re reaching out to these folks.

Marylou: Yeah. I like the idea of having that follow up technology. They envision us with spinning plates on our arms, our hands and legs and head, where we have our net new business on one hand, we have our renewals on our foot sitting around. We just have a lot of things, a lot of spinning plates that we have to address and do so in a way that’s systematic so that we’re not dropping the ball anywhere. Really you can, in my opinion, only do that with a strong piece of software that helps you with that follow up. I’ve done it with accounts, we’ve done this in Excel, it’s hilarious to watch the columns of data because we basically start at column A and then work through column whatever depending on how many touches, we physically move the people along the columns. It can be done that way but boy, when you move into software where it’s intelligent and it’s telling you the dispositions of your calls, what pain points are bubbling up to the top and resonating, how many people are clicking through to your content assets, it just lowers that stress. I can feel the Zen moment. Just a software helping me be better at my job. I’m really engaging conversation, I’m doing more selling, I have more selling time and less admin time.

Andrew: Right. I completely agree with that. It’s funny you bring that up. Over the past several years working for a couple different companies, primarily, being a prospector, I was given manual type solutions whether that’s an Excel spreadsheet or whether that’s some sort of CRM System. It’s almost like when I came to OppSource, I didn’t know what I did know. When I did meet with our leadership team and they walk me through the messaging and the product, it was pretty quick that I realized I knew there were solutions out there that could really help me do my job more effectively but until it was put in front of me and I compare that to how I was managing my current business, I really didn’t know some of the things that were out there.

When I think back to using a type of CRM technology to do the work of a prospector, it was just really inefficient in getting a solution provided that is specifically built to prospect in terms of whether it’s follow ups and completing the task at hand and moving on to the next action and not having to worry about setting a reminder for yourself. You go out on vacation, sales people obviously move territories a lot, you’re moving jobs and making sure that that’s not only a seamless experience for you, you want to make sure that’s also a very seamless experience for your prospect.

I’m sure you’ve had this experience, Marylou, where you had somebody from a company calling you and maybe you had a really good conversation with them and a couple of months later, somebody new calls you from that company and you’re starting over at ground zero. For you, as a prospect, that’s extremely discouraging. Making sure there are solutions in place, if people do move territories or move roles, that’s a really good experience for you as well. It’s something we talk a lot about here at OppSource.

Marylou: That’s nice. I don’t know if this is going to be helpful for the troops out there, but walk us through a typical day now, the day in the life with this type of an engine helping you out. For example, in Predictable Revenue, the end of the day was the time where we set our calling list for the next day. There was a lot of manual processes that we had to do in Sales Force, it was the CRM at the time, and setting tasks, this whole thing death by tasks, we all know that’s horrible, but that’s the only way that we could do that. What does it look like now when I come into the office, do I have to do some prep work before I go home to ready my calling list for the next day? Or how does that work?

Andrew: A good question, I think you may have been listening to some of my sales calls because that’s a lot of what we talk about. I know I keep talking about some of my past experiences but that’s where a lot of this comes from, a lot of the ways that I think we can do things different, that’s exactly it. If I look back, I would typically spend whatever time it might be, a half hour to an hour at the end of my day or the start of my next day just preparing, just getting a list together, coming up with my messaging, maybe writing a couple of email templates, just really trying to get myself organized. That’s one of the first areas that we start talking to people about is the time and pain associated with preparing for your work day, because we all know there is only so many hours you can actually be calling people within a day. We want to make sure during those hours, we’re using the time to the best of our ability.

That’s the first thing when I come in in the morning, none of that exists, that goes away, that’s enabled by using a smart technology solution allowing you to do that. More importantly, making sure even though your day is organized you also are attacking it in a prioritized fashion.

Again, using the solution to make sure you know who is your first call going to be, and more importantly, why is that going to be your first call. There’s a lot of different techniques that we use to allow people to do that, that I could get into if that’s of interest for anybody but making sure that they’re not only just dialling the phone, but they’re being smart with their time so they can actually work on getting people engaged in discussions. What we’ve seen using that type of technique and technology, you can actually increase the amount of connects you’re having with folks up to 9x if you do this right.

That’s the first thing that the haze of setting tasks and reminder for myself, thankfully those are gone. Just because a lot of times I even noticed that some of that would just get lost in the shuffle where I’d set reminders for a week I was on vacation or whatever it might be and a lot of those leads are some of them would actually be lost. That’s one of the advantages I get to do daily now is complete whatever I’m working on, move on to the next one, and know that the technology is smart enough to remind me when that next action needs a plaque, whether that’s an email or phone call or to go visit a customer or whatever it might be, would be the main way that we start a discussion with companies.

Marylou: That’s great. I remember working with a client in Florida who was adminning during what turned out to be their best time to call. Once I got down there, we started tracking the best time to call. I did that a lot when I worked in call centers and that was a real strong metric for us. It turned out they were doing their admin in the absolutely wrong time frame, that they should have been calling on their prospects, one persona in particular. When we swap things around, lo and behold, we were getting the connects that normally took 2 hours of our time in 45 minutes just because we shifted the time around. But we had to be cognisant of that, we had to be proactive about that, we didn’t have a system that told us, or at least gave us the guide and the path of what we’re supposed to be doing and when and with whom. That’s great, I love that.

Andrew: It’s funny that you bring that up because if you were to ask to me a year ago, “When do you think is your most productive calling hours?” I probably couldn’t tell you, to be honest with you, just because I didn’t really have some of that data up my hands. When I go into my weekly one on one with my manager, he pulls up three things. First of all, he pulls up obviously my forecast report, he wants to know what I’m working on, when it’s going to close, and for how much. He also wants to know what is pre-forecast, what things am I working through the prospecting cycle that eventually will make it to the pipeline because he’s looking for the visibility out two, three, four quarters on what his pipeline’s going to look like so he uses that as a really good barometer of what his piece is going to look like.

The last thing he pulls up is really an activity type report. That report is not meant to have a microscope on me in terms of how many calls I’m making and how many emails I’m making that absolutely is a function but the way that we use it is really more of a coaching mechanism, so I know when am I being the most productive. What hours within the day and what days of the week am I actually catching people on the phone. And then of those times, which ones am I generating opportunities. I use that report to specifically plan my week. I’ll make sure that when I see if what’s, for example, Tuesdays from 11:00AM-1:00PM is my best time to catch people, that’s when I schedule my call blocks. Again, beforehand using different systems, I couldn’t even tell you when it was, now it’s a click away. I can get that type of information to make sure I plan that week, so I’m spending my time to the best of my ability.

Marylou: Given the fact that you’re doing multiple roles, do you prospect every single day in your current role or are you, like me, I segment my prospecting because I might not at the end of the quarter, at the end of the month, is not as large as a full time prospector and plus I service all my business and my customers and also getting that new business in. I do all roles personally here as an army of one, maybe two at the most when Bob joins me on accounts. I have days of the week that I prospect based on what I know from the metrics of when is the best time for me to do so. Is yours similar or do you still, in an all role situation, still prospect daily?

Andrew: That’s a good question. The way that we’re structured a couple of things, first of all, I do have the luxury of having a sales development org that is helping set appointments and qualifying opportunities for me. But also, we’re tasked as a sales organization to have a list of target accounts, like the Whales you talked about at the start and that’s our responsibility to make sure we get into those accounts and go close business.

To answer your question, yes, I actually prospect every day. I would say there are days that we may full demo type days or we’re doing on site set legs a little bit but for the most part, yeah, it’s every day. I’m a firm believer of to always be prospecting, whether that’s you have a half hour or an hour to make sure you are reaching out to some of these accounts. The reason I think that’s a really important question, because with any type of blended role where you are wearing several different hats, when you’re charged with new business and renewing accounts, if you do get really tied up with maybe it’s a lengthy renewal type cycle or some type of expansion with the existing account, and you haven’t spent some of that time, say it takes you a couple weeks to do that, you haven’t done that prospecting, well then you’re behind.

I just think that problem just can compound and continue to grow as an issue. That’s another benefit of working for OppSource, even the ability to use this solution is even though I make it tied up with some certain activity, making sure that the rest of responsibilities aren’t falling behind. Some of that can be automated and again, even if it’s a simple as automating a task or remind me when I need to take that action, for me, it’s not only a huge time saver, it’s not also I’m not worrying about it at night. What am I missing here?

Marylou: What’s falling through the cracks?

Andrew: Exactly. It’s everyday there is some level of prospecting but also making sure we’re using technology to the best of our advantage to make sure that nothing is falling through the cracks and we’re staying on top of our business.

Marylou: It sounds like truly, you’re maximizing the return on effort in the selling conversation, in the selling situation. Also, letting technology handle the higher impacting things with less effort. On your part, let the technology do the things that it can do well and allow you to focus on the hyper personalization, the rapport building, all those personal things that the behavioural things that sales reps still need to do even though we have this technology. We’re still having conversations one to one. It’s not one to many. Once you get into that situation where you are working with a prospect and they have bubbled up to the top, you’re going to switch, I would think, for the most part, to a human to human type of conversation to take it the rest of the way through.

Andrew: Absolutely. That’s been another big change where for the most part, in a lot of the past roles I’ve had, I’m not going to say we typically hitched our wagon to one person but typically we identify a small group of people that would be involved in some sort of initiative or making a decision. What we’re seeing now, and I’d be curious to get your thoughts is gone are the days of typically one or two people, even though they may tell you they are the decision maker, typically, there is a team, it’s a consensus type sale that you’re getting a lot of different buy in from a lot of different parts of the organization on what they’re going to need and what’s going to be important to them.

You mentioned the one to one type communication which is very important and also making sure that you have full visibility into the entire account. That’s one of other big advantages and bonuses for me working for OppSource is I was usually focused more on a contact type basis in the past and moving to a true account based selling model, so you do have visibility into all the people that potentially could be involved and making sure you’re actually reaching out to all of them to find out what’s going to be important to them and what role they may take within the process. That’s something that’s been a big change for me personally, is something that we’ve seen benefit very quickly from.

Marylou: For me, 30 years in sales, it’s been there, done that. It was called strategic selling back in the day, it was called spin selling, up when I was full blown sales, I had six accounts. They were the remote bill operating companies. It took me up to $2 million for that. Yes! It was all about trying to find the people in the accounts and working each as if they all mattered. Especially if different divisions and things like that. I agree, I think, the more people that pop in, now, maybe if you’re doing just top of funnel, there are two to three, three to five folks who will get you in the door, who will [00:23:42] you to a certain point in the pipeline in a certain relative position and then if you hand off that opportunity to a quota carrying sales representative, then they’re going to probably meet more people too. Depends on how you’re structured, but definitely, even at top of funnel, we need one or more people along the way in order to get to that opportunity. We have to have those conversation assets and pieces ready to go at our fingertips and technology helps us do that better with less effort and higher impact.

Andrew: Absolutely.

Marylou: Andy, we’ve extended our time. I don’t want anyone to say, “Marylou, you always go over!” I would like you to share with our folks how to get a hold of you. Just so everybody knows, and they already know this, those listening, I will put your contact information on the podcast page, but what’s the best way to get a hold of you? If should they have any question, what you said today resonate in some way and they want more clarification from you, how do they reach you?

Andrew: First of all, if anybody is just curious about OppSource, the company here, you can go to our website, we have a lot of good collateral in terms of customer testimonials and some of the challenges we’re helping sales professional solve, that’s www.oppsource.com. And if anybody just wants to chat with me, to bounce some ideas off each other, I love learning from different sales people, that’s something I learn every day, a new technique that’s working, feel free to send me an email, that’s andy.zehren@oppsource.com. Love to hear from you.

Marylou: Wonderful. Thank you, Andy, for your time, and I will again leave your contact information on your page and we are very thankful to have had this conversation with you today. Thanks again.

Andrew: My pleasure. Thanks, Marylou.