George Bronten the founder and CEO of Membrain is here today to talk about sales effectiveness and how to drive winning behaviors. Membrain is a sales effectiveness platform that helps complex B2B sales. There goals are to make it easy to execute your process, enable your team, coach effectively, and optimize your strategy.
George is a lifelong entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. Because of the Internet and global competition, George knew the sales process needed to evolve. It is his vision to increase sales effectiveness using modern SaaS technology.
- After failing to build a successful sales team. George realized that he had some wrong assumptions.
- George started Membrain to create a way of working and selling that gives a strategy for sales people to use.
- Everything needs to be centered around the buyer.
- How can we differentiate when everything looks the same.
- How we sell is going to be even more important in the future.
- Having a buyer centered strategy that is centered around the buyer.
- Making sure everyone has the skillset to execute things properly.
- Then empowering everyone with the processes to be successful.
- The huge importance of management and being a better coach.
- Sales people having multiple roles and problems that arise around that.
- Focus first by starting with the clients.
- Reducing the number of mistakes made and having technical people and sales people onboard with new technology.
- Getting the right people onboard in the right stage of the process. Systemizing this process.
- The importance of milestones and points of interest in a checklist. Go down the checklist in relevance of the goal.
- Autonomy and resistance to a checklist.
- How the sales process is dynamic and needs to be flexible.
- The process is living, lean, and constantly getting adjusted. The importance of analytics.
- Start planning what area of the pipeline you can address in the first quarter.
- Checklist Manifesto
- @georgebronten on Twitter
- George Bronten on LinkedIn
Marylou: George, take it away. Tell us about your experience and what brought us today to this place, and how you can help people listening in for this next year in doing that highest amount of impact with lowest amount of effort in getting their teams to where they can be high producing, high functioning sales teams.
George: Thank you. Thanks for the warm introduction. Yes, my name is George, and you mentioned that I’m the Founder and CEO of Membrain, maybe to give you some backdrop, I could share how that came to be. It was really me failing to build a successful sales team in the previous company that I started. I really came to the conclusion that I had been doing a number of faulty assumptions. I was assuming that sales people who had sold something before could sell successfully for me, which was wrong. I was also assuming that sales people by nature are very disciplined and structured, which wasn’t always true either. I also thought that systems designed for salespeople, the CRMs out there, were designed to make sales people more effective. All of these things, I came to realize that they just weren’t true.
That was sort of the birth of why I started this new company called Membrain. It’s like how can we get away from these assumptions and instead introduce a way of working in selling that takes away this notion that salespeople are born and instead introduce a way of executing a strategy that we’ve designed, and that we believe in. That was the start of this whole journey that I’m on now.
I think also another conclusion that I made was that everything needs to be centered around the buyer, which sounds pretty obvious, but sometimes it’s just not. We’re trying to sell our solutions, and our products, and offerings, without really understanding how the buyer makes a decision.
I think especially now, when everything is becoming so competitive, and everything is available online for buyers, all the offerings look pretty much the same. How can we differentiate in a world where everything looks the same to the buyer? This is also something that I believe really brings out the importance of how we sell.
How we sell I think is gonna become even more important in the future to make our company stand out in the competition. That starts with understanding the buyer. Who are we trying to help, what are we trying to help them with, who are the other people in this space that we are competing to for their mindshare, and how are we different, how do we communicate in a way that makes us stand out, and makes us interesting. There’s so many things we need to think about and do right, and at the end of the day, it has to be executed with discipline everyday. In between, there are constant things that we could do wrong.
A very long rant, but I think it’s really about having a strategy that is centered around your buyer, making sure that everyone has the skill set to execute that, and then having the processes, and the technology as well, to make that happen in a very disciplined and professional way. That all needs to come together somehow, which is the big challenge.
Marylou: Right. Then the other challenge is we have dual roles for reps. Some reps are prospectors, closers, servicers in a lot of industries still today. We have the Predictable Revenue Model where we separate out some of those roles. We may have someone dealing just with inbound inquiries, we may have someone doing outreach to cold accounts, or to warm out that chill. The Sales Managers face with, you know, I love what you’re saying but, where do I begin? Where is the magic checklist?
George: Yeah. Definitely. I think that’s a good insight that you’ve been working with, and talking also. These are really different processes within the whole sales process. Just having that insight is great, and knowing that there will be different types of people needed in those different roles.
You touched on management, I think that’s a huge leverage in the sales profession today. The time, and the will to become better coaches, I think, that would make a huge impact on revenues. Because we see a lot of times, Sales Managers, and they’re promoted to Sales Managers, but they may not have the skillset to be a great Manager, they’re bogged down in all these reporting, the excel file they need to produce for everyone. They don’t have time, or skills, or the attitude, or the mental willingness to do coaching in a good way. I think that’s a huge leverage, if that can be done right, that could even move the needle.
Marylou: Right. Where do you see in your work now, if we were to, since I’m a process person, I’m gonna force you to split the pipeline. If you go in and things are broken everywhere, where do you focus first? If I was a manager coming in to a company, we’re not getting enough leads, our close rates suck, basically our lifetime value of clients is just hurting, is there a process of hierarchy of where you would begin to start fixing things? If you can’t fix the whole thing, where do you think the biggest bang for the buck is in putting this type of process effectiveness, loop that you’re talking about in.
George: I think that’s gonna be very different of course, depending on the type of company, but I think we should start with the clients, the customers. Who are we trying to sell to? Who have we been successful selling to profitably? And that’s also an interesting question to ask because sometimes we chase the top line so much that we drive revenues that may not even be profitable. Which clients should we be able to attract, and win their business, and deliver, so that they’re happy. And then we should design a strategy to get more of that business.
I guess I would start with understanding who’s the customer, are we targeting the right customers. I see a lot of times, especially now with this whole inbound marketing and content marketing hype that’s been going on, that we attract a lot of leads to the websites, but sometimes, they’re also not the right type of leads. You have sales teams chasing the wrong type of deals, you’re chasing everything that comes through the door, or through the website.
Marylou: Right. I see that still to this day that I call minnows and whales. We get a lot of minnows, some whales on the inbound side, and reps chase the minnows just as hard with as much effort and time as the whales.
George: I think that’s the typical mistake that’s made, and the qualification process is poor. There’s nothing really guiding the reps to say, “Okay, this is one you shouldn’t spend time on, and this one you should spend time.” I think that scenario, that’s pretty easy to fix, that can make a huge difference. But then I talk a lot about just reducing the number of mistakes that we make.
Marylou: That’s an interesting concept. Let’s talk about that. I like that.
George: Yeah. That’s really one of the ideas I had also when I was starting this company. In the previous company, I saw that sales people were making a lot of mistakes. We sold in that company an IT automation product, it’s a software that could really make an IT service provide a much more efficient and effective. But, it was a pretty hefty investment for those companies, and from a business standpoint, it was a pretty easy pick. Do you want to go from 3% profit margins to 30% profit margins? All CEOs would say, “Yeah, sure. Of course, absolutely.” But unless you got the technical people on board, they were very afraid of the solution because they thought it was gonna make their jobs go away.
That was one mistake I saw the sales people doing all the time. They didn’t get the technical people on board, so their deal stalled and their deals died. That’s a typical mistake I think a lot of salespeople do, they don’t involve all the stakeholders in the deal. They run with a few stakeholders and then at the end of a three to six month sales cycle, someone pops up their head and say, “This is a very stupid project, let’s just cancel it, we have better things to do.” That’s a typical mistake, I think, a lot of sales teams do. They’re just failing in identifying all the right stakeholders, and there are probably a tons of other mistakes. I think if we can just identify those mistakes and reduce them, we can do a pretty substantial improvement.
Marylou: You mentioned early on in the discussion about the CRM and your awareness around the tool itself; the way we track, the way we traverse down the pipeline. In eliminating mistakes, where do you go look to see what’s wrong? Is it the CRM, is it interviews, how does one go about systematically defining what these mistakes are looking for those gaps?
George: I think the problem with the traditional CRM systems is that they don’t really provide any granularity in the sales process, they’re pretty rough. You basically ask the salesperson to select the stage the deal is in. The rest, you need to go dig up in notes, somewhere. Hopefully, they’re in there. But I think usually, and the way I found out, was just in the deal we’ve used and in deal coaching, when asking sales peoples, Okay, this is a great deal, you’re very happy about this deal but you mentioned you don’t know who their CTO is. You haven’t figured that out, because if you don’t get that person on board, how do you think this deal will go? Maybe that person will object, maybe they’re afraid. Have you seen this before? There’s a lot in the deal coaching that we could find out these mistakes, and I think a lot of Sales Managers do that, and they do that well. But the question becomes, “How can we systemize that?” Always done, not just by manual probing in manager sessions, but the systems should be making sure we don’t make these mistakes.
I read a really interesting book on this topic actually, it had nothing to do with selling, whatsoever, called the Checklist Manifesto, I’ve read about it, it’s an American Surgeon. They were approached by, I think, the World Health Organization who said that the number of surgeries is going up exponentially, just one problem, people are dying. They asked him, “Okay, you’re a Harvard Surgeon, you’re a team, you’re great, help us understand why this is happening and how we can prevent it.” Pretty quickly, they figured out that people were dying, and there were complications post surgery because of simple mistakes. Not just not washing their hands, anesthesia was off, and the timing and scalpels weren’t disinfected, etc. etc. They lifted that problem and said, “Okay, what should we do? Should we train them? No, they’re very well trained, they should know these things. They’re just forgetting about it, or things that come in between.”
They started looking at other industries, and other professions, and they saw a pilot’s friends list, they all use checklists like okay, that’s interesting. They don’t take off for the plane unless they’ve really checked off all the things, and if those things they have on the checklist were missed, that could jeopardize lives. They went back to the surgeons and say, “Hey, I really think this is a really good idea, let’s introduce checklists. Before we put the scalpel through skin, we have to do these things. What do you think?” They were like, “No, that’s silly. I’ve been a surgeon for 25 years, I don’t need no checklist.”
Marylou: “I know what I’m doing.”
George: “I know what I’m doing. That’s really stupid.” But they did try it anyway, and they reduced the number of deaths with 47%.
George: I think that’s staggering.
Marylou: That is staggering.
George: The surgeons and their teams are very highly trained people. I always tell that story to Sales Managers and salespeople like, “Don’t you think we should have a checklist as well to prevent killing deals? We do these mistakes that kill deals, and sales people do these mistakes all day long. Let’s just introduce more structure, and a process that’s more granular so that we don’t miss anything that’s really important. I think that’s interesting.
Marylou: It is an interesting concept, but once again, not unlike surgeons, sales people love to think of themselves as each deal is unique, every client is different, so we can’t possibly have an underlying process because it ebbs and flows.
George: Have you heard that as well? Yeah. But in part, of course it’s absolutely true. But there’s some things that are always the same, we’re helping a buyer make a decision and throughout that decision there will be milestones, there will be small decisions that have to be made, there’s information that we need to gather. A lot of things are very similar throughout the sales cycle even though each opportunity is different.
Marylou: What I like about that, and I’m just kidding you about that, because I hear that all the time from people and I snicker and laugh, but one of the things that I tell folks is look, once we get it into a checklist format, the number of milestones, the number of what I call points of interest, I get people to think of this as like being on a freeway here on the States where there’s mile markers that show forward movement, there’s exits that, basically exit out of the pipeline when you know that it’s not a fit now and may never be a fit. And then, there’s this points of interest that allow you to traverse to the next important meaningful stage.
When you think about it that way, there’s not a lot of stuff that we really want you to track, or to be able to converse with us about, in relation to the entire deal. It shouldn’t be that difficult to give us three to five things versus the hundreds of things that could go on. If we have a checklist to guide us, our meetings are shorter, because we just got on the checklist, and we go through the things where we are relative to goal. We know positionally where things are because the checklists aligned to points of interest or levels of probability in the opportunity pipeline.
George: I think one interesting piece or concept with the resistance of checklist I think is our willingness to have autonomy in what we do. I think a lot of sales people especially like their freedom on their autonomy in their work that they can be creative. They feel that process is sort of standing in their way for that creativity.
Marylou: Yeah, you’re right. It did exist. But in prospecting, it can’t exist like that in prospecting. It just will not work if we try to allow too many free spirits out there doing whatever they need to do.
George: No, I agree, of course I agree with you, I’m just saying to understand why that pops up, I think that’s a big part of it.
Marylou: It is.
George: Also, I think the checklist, I always say that a sales process is not a recipe, because a recipe is very like okay you have this [00:18:28] and very rigid and then you come with an end result. And of course selling is not really that rigid, you have a sales process which is marked guiding and then it should be dynamic as well. If we find out that the customer is in a particular industry or we know that, we have different scripts, and this is a different buyer. It can’t be too strict and it can’t be too rigid. It has to be there, I wouldn’t even go grocery shopping without a shopping list because I’ll forget something.
Marylou: I agree. I think the points of interest or the main milestones, whatever you wanna call them. The concepts of project management and understanding how to leverage the brain power that we have in our teams into a process that works for everybody, that’s the baseline of what you’re talking about, sitting down in that planning session together, brainstorming, what’s real, they call it the FOG Effect, what’s Fact, what’s Opinion, and what’s a Guess. Creating those milestones based on as much fact as possible, instead of the opinions and guesses which a lot of sales people like to live in the world of opinions and guesses. Once we can all agree that we can all get into some type of structure that’s not overwhelming that we can follow but still have our creative side addressed is, in my opinion, the best way to attack some of these issues that we’re having.
I’m not a bottom of funnel expert like you are, and I have, luckily, at top of funnel, there is less resistance to the creative side because people know that we’re dealing with higher numbers of records to begin with, can’t possibly get through them all without some type of process underlying it. But then when it gets handed off to an opportunity, that’s when things get fuzzy and gray.
George: Yes. I would agree.
Marylou: Hence, the reason why Marylou doesn’t cross that line.
George: Yeah. That’s the challenge on working on it. I think another issue we’re facing is the analytical part. How can we do win-loss analysis and how can we really look at the pipeline, and what we are doing that’s working and what we’re doing that’s not working as well, and how can we improve the process because the process is never completed, it’s living.
Marylou: It’s living, it’s lean, it’s constantly getting iterated.
George: But if you don’t look at the analytics, then you won’t know what really what to prove. I see a lot of sales leaders not really looking at the analytics in a way that I would like them to look at it. Just some more like in depth.
Marylou: George, we’re running out of time, I could talk to you forever. I would like you to kind of let us know, if we were to pop on to your Membrain website, and say, “Okay, he’s speaking my language. I’m drinking that Kool Aid, I really wanna know more.” Where can everybody go find more information on you, your process, your company, your history, etc.?
George: Thank you, membrain.com is the product website, the company website, you’ll find information there. Connect with me on LinkedIn, it’s probably the easiest. I’m very active on LinkedIn, George Bronten. It’s a weird last name which makes it easy to find, or just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marylou: And just for you guys out there, George has got a lot of articles, a lot of blog posts on this topic, makes a lot of sense to outlining the challenges that we’re facing. As we move into the new year, it’s a good time now to sit down and plan out what area of the pipeline, starting with the buyer as he said, what area of the pipeline can we affect first quarter, and then just chunk away at it because that’s really how this works when you’re leveraging the strategies, the buyers, the skillsets, the process, coaching. We can only take off a little bite and perfect that and move on. And knowing that we’re gonna come back to that bite, because it’s never perfect, but at least we have a system in place that we can strategize against, and make sure that we’re continuing to optimize that process. George, thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
George: Thank you for having me.