With Automation and AI, the Human Side of Selling Is Fast Becoming a Unique Skill Set
We teach sales reps all over the world how to ask better, more purposeful questions which improve the overall efficacy in qualifying and closing more deals. But all of that questioning goes out the window if we are not actively listening.
Sales journeys for leaders in the business make up for some of the most interesting stories. We had a candid chat with a well-acclaimed sales leader, Julie Thomas, President and CEO at ValueSelling Framework. Julie reveals her sales mission and her view on role of emerging technologies like AI and machine learning that make B2B sales an exciting sphere of business.
Tell us about your riveting journey into the sales industry?
I’ve been a part of the sales industry for my entire career, but amid leadership transitions at Gartner, I was laid off along with other senior leadership. I was at the top of my game with proven wins and a 16-year sales career that had been on a fast-moving, positive trajectory. I’d been perceived as a top performer in every role and was well-liked and well-respected. So, the question became, “What do I do now?”
I was confident in my ability to get another job, but I’d be starting in a new company at ground zero. I’d have to work my way back up the corporate ladder to gain the status, clout, and respect I’d garnered at Gartner. At that time, my children were one and three years old. My husband was an executive with a Fortune 15 company. I worried that I’d have to go back into a sales rep job, traveling every week with no flexibility to be at home at night with my family.
I had become good friends with the founder and president of a very successful sales training company and reached out to see if there was an opportunity to become a trainer. To my surprise, he was looking for an exit strategy. In 2003, I signed an agreement to purchase the business and, thus, became an accidental entrepreneur.
Since then, ValueSelling Associates has retained a marquee list of customers, successfully ridden economic downturns, and expanded its base of licensed sales associates from the US to Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.
What is your sales mission for 2018-2020 and what roadmap are you following to achieve it?
Our mission is to reach and positively impact the lives of B2B sales professionals. To do that, we continually invest in and evolve our training courseware and delivery options to accommodate the way our clients work: from anywhere on any device.
To enhance the highly customized and interactive workshop experience, we take a blended learning approach that includes multiple modalities such as instructor-led training, eLearning, one-on-one coaching, mobile apps, and reinforcement via videos, webinars, books, and white papers.
Adoption of the ValueSelling sales methodology is high because we are continually interacting and engaging with participants before, during, and after the workshop. Sales organizations have realized high adoption of the ValueSelling Framework because of the consistent follow-up reinforcement, coaching, assessments, and opportunity reviews that help sales reps integrate the concepts when they’re back in the office or in the field.
Why is there such a distinct gap between sales productivity between teams who use a multi-channel approach like Vortex Prospecting and those who don’t?
SiriusDecisions came out with research that showed sales professionals spent less than 26% of their time on core selling activities. We see this with sales organizations around the globe. It doesn’t matter whether they are enterprise, SMB or emerging. Their sales teams are not as productive as they could be. When you only have so many hours in a day, you’ve got to maximize your time selling.
At ValueSelling Associates, we teach Vortex Prospecting™, a cadence-based, multi-channel approach to prospecting. It requires a commitment to call blocks. That means, each week or each day, you’re reaching out to prospects with a customized message by phone, email, social, or whatever the delivery mechanism.
Our clients have said that they’ve secured more meetings in two one-hour call blocks with their teams than they have in the past two months! We show sales managers to measure the right levers that lead to more productive reps.
Tell us why sales reps should be familiar with your report on ‘Sales from the Buyer’s Perspective’?
As sales professionals, we know that a buyer’s perception is their reality. But do they think of us (those in the sales profession) the way we think of ourselves? I’ll go out on a limb and say that most of us in sales think we’re doing a pretty good job.
To get those answers, we surveyed 260 B2B buyers in a variety of industries to find out about their interactions with their sales reps. The buyers said that they want long-term, rather than short-term relationships with vendors who offer comprehensive solutions. That’s great news for sales professionals. However, the buyers said that only one-third to one-quarter of the time their sales reps were “always effective” in engaging with C-level executives, decision makers and influencers. When you only get one shot at an important meeting, it’s a shame to think that reps are developing a rapport with the buyer less than 25% of the time.
The truth is that as salespeople, we think we’re credible. We think we come across as honest and transparent in our communication. But the buyer doesn’t always think so. The report pinpoints areas where sales reps need to up their game to win and keep the business.
How should sales leaders develop a habit of personalizing email and content for better sales revenue?
People like to communicate through technology. The vast majority (81%) of buyers prefer to communicate through email. Second is by phone (63%). Far less popular are text messaging (38%) and social media (35%). With such an emphasis on email, less than one-third of buyers rated sales professionals as “always effective” at virtual communication skills. When you only have one shot at making a first impression, that is very troubling.
The fact is if you’re selling to a business executive, you must think like a business executive. You need to understand their point of view and what’s important to them. You’ve got to have the business acumen and financial know-how to speak their language.
Sales reps don’t need to have an MBA or become a financial analyst to understand how businesses operate, but they need to know the basic business and financial literacy and use that knowledge to participate in meaning conversations.
We offer a course called Executive Speak™, which provides a strong foundation of business acumen. In the course, sales reps must craft tailored messages, for email and voicemail, that are centered around the prospect, their business, and the potential value of a partnership. This training improves the effectiveness of prospecting efforts and creates more qualified sales opportunities.
Sales professionals can become more engaging, better diagnose and understand where the buying executives are, and resynchronize the sales process with their buying process through a thoughtful, conversational questioning process and empathetic, active listening skills.
We teach sales reps all over the world how to ask better, more purposeful questions which improve the overall efficacy in qualifying and closing more deals. But all of that questioning goes out the window if we are not actively listening. So, develop the habit to reflect and actively listen to confirm and play back what you heard.
And last but not least, be honest and believable. It’s very difficult for sales to happen without trust and rapport. The good news is that we can address and improve the perception of how buyers think about us by improving our business acumen and our communication skills. We control that. The most positive thing that we learn in this study is that the sales reps and sales teams can improve how they interact with buyers. There are no outside barriers to becoming more knowledgeable and better communicators. And that is a really powerful lesson.
Which tools and technology do you use to identify and close best deals in lesser time?
The key to closing deals in less time is to qualify deals more stringently. This leads to more accurate forecasting and faster time to close on a deal. When you’re only focused on those deals which have a high probability of moving forward, you get a higher probability of closing.
At ValueSelling Associates, we teach salespeople the Qualified Prospect Formula™. By using this formula, organizations and individuals can measurably accelerate their sales results.
We have developed the eValuePrompter®, which embeds the ValueSelling Framework into existing CRM systems and daily processes. This cloud-based tool integrates with any SFA or CRM system to show where each deal is in the pipeline and what needs to be done to close them, to track usage and to measure performance. The eValuePrompter is an online playbook that empowers teams to qualify prospects, conduct team selling and execute a consistent sales process, more efficiently.
And the 360° Profile Builder® is a proprietary tool that streamlines the time required to prepare for a sales call. The 360° Profile Builder leads individuals through 16 targeted questions to answer about their buyer. Then, the answers are mapped to the ValuePrompter®, so reps are ready to engage in more effective sales calls with high-level executives.
What is your prediction on AI for Sales and how should sales teams demonstrate technical literacy in this area?
As we incorporate more automation and AI into the buying cycle, the human side of selling is fast becoming a unique skill set. At the end of the day, people still want to forge relationships with one another during the sales process – and that takes communication, credibility, and connection.
Studies show that sales managers with good coaching skills can motivate teams to grow revenue anywhere from 15 to 30% annually. It’s a tough job to coach a sales team when your plate is already full. But in a more automated world, it will be the “human touch” that supports modern-day prospecting and leads to long-term business relationships.
Sales reps need to know how to leverage their organization’s sphere of influence to build credibility in the buyer’s mind. They also need to create a consistent, multi-channel cadence that reaches prospects.
Sure, it requires technical literacy, but more importantly, the high performers in sales will be those who are more trustworthy, more resilient and more relevant to buyers.
What training and coaching aspects for sales do you deliver at ValueSelling? What industries are you targeting with these coaching?
We deliver a manager’s workshop called, Installing the ValueSelling Framework for Managers. It’s not about general management. It’s about what you need to do to be sure you get a return on investment with ValueSelling.
You can be a great coach, but if you aren’t measuring the right things and aligning, you won’t show a return. The coaching process is about continuous improvement. You’ve got to assess reps and their deals, communicate your expectations for them, demonstrate and model the behavior you’re expecting, facilitate role-playing and practice so that you can see the reps demonstrate the behavior, observe them in action, and give them feedback.
Part of coaching is identifying what are the barriers to sales rep performance.
Do they have the right attitude?
Do they possess the right abilities?
Are they supported by the environment?
We’ve implemented this manager’s workshop in sales organizations around the world in industries that range from high tech to manufacturing, from the most complex B2B deals to easy-to-grasp B2C products.
Who are your top sales leaders in the B2B industry, and why?
B2B sales is a tremendously fragmented industry. There are leaders by industry, by geography and by type of product sold. Then, there are those who influence the general industry. Jeb Blount, Mike Kunkle, and Andy Paul are a few of the thought leaders that I enjoy hearing from.
An advice to all sales pros for 2018 —
Trust the process. We work with sales reps all over the globe to develop repeatable, sustainable and impactful processes and behaviors.
Work the process and trust the process. Leverage your tools and do only the things that you can do. In other words, spend your time selling and not administering.
One sales leader you would like to feature at SalesTech Star?
I’d like to feature one of our associates, Scott Anschuetz of Visualize, Inc., a leading provider of the ValueSelling Framework.
Visualize, Inc. is a sales performance firm focused on empowering individuals, teams, and organizations to maximize their revenue potential. Visualize offers classroom training in sales and management, e-learning and consulting services focused on driving revenue, generating effectiveness, and efficiency through mastery of the ValueSelling Framework®.
With more than 25 years of direct sales, sales management, and leadership experience, Scott leads, coaches and motivates sales forces. Founded in 2002, Visualize delivers excellence and results, training over 21,000 Sales and Marketing Professionals around the globe at corporations including Avaya, ServiceNow, Comcast, Pure Storage, Berry Plastics, newScale, Symbol, salesforce.com, VMware, Motorola, SuccessFactors, and TELUS, among others.