When I co-founded IT Werks, I was coming in as the product and marketing guy, and because we had no outside investment, I would only get paid when we closed new clients. My partner has been B2B sales for the past ten years, but we also needed to invest heavily in the development of our product, which he was far better suited than I was.
In other words, I would be the sole breadwinner for the team.
Last time I was in a sales-focused role was between 2004 – 2007, when I was an “Electronic Sales Associate” as Staples and still in high school.
Surprisingly (or maybe not), I was crushing that role and trained new hires who were often older than me in how to sell. I did well because I was honest with my customers, I refused to hustle people and make them pay for things they didn’t need, and I could simplify complex technology into simple terms to help them understand what they needed and that they didn’t. Apparently, I was so good that some of my customers tried to get me involved in their pyramid schemes so they could get richer…even at 16, I couldn’t fall for that crap.
Shift forward nine years later, time to get into sales again. This time, in a B2B role working with small business owners.
But this time, I was failing miserably…
I never had to build up a leads list, groom them, and set up appointments
I never had to pick up the phone and get shut down constantly by “gatekeepers.”
I never had to convince people of a problem they didn’t know they had but did have
After three months of doing this role, I was getting depressed.
I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I then tried to change tactics: instead of coming in as a direct salesperson, what if I tried to set up a meeting like a Product Manager and interview them for their problems? Still, that didn’t work either. Small business owners felt they were way too busy for such conversations.
Thankfully, I ended up meeting a professional Sales Trainer who thought me a Sandler Sales system that started to show me results.
Here’s what it taught me that I find are universally useful to everyone:
“The Upfront Contract”
I’m sure you’ve noticed many a meeting run off course, isn’t that why people hate meetings? Derailed meetings are more harmful when you’re a salesperson in a sales meeting with your prospect; there goes the sale…and your paycheck!
So how do you ensure that the meeting fulfills your needs and is also fair to your prospect?
Sander has this concept called the Upfront Contract (UFC), which is similar to setting an agenda but uses the ANOT framework.
Here’s how Sandler would advise you start a meeting, and these are actual words/terminology they use:
“Dear Mr. Prospect
I Appreciate us spending the next 45mins together…
Naturally, you’ll have some questions around who we are and what we do…
Obviously, I’ll also have some questions about you, your business and your needs…
and Typically, at the end of our conversation, there’ll be two outcomes, either you’ll decide there’s no fit between us and that’s okay, or you think we can help and we continue the conversation.”
Sandler teaches that you should use this system every time you enter a conversation or set up a discussion for the future, so both sides understand the expectations of the conversation and there are no surprises.
What’s great about this system is that it allows you to take control of meetings without being obvious or overly assertive, facilities shorter meetings as there’s no deviation, and everybody can use this system. Furthermore, it gives the prospect the opportunity to stop the process at any time, which makes them more comfortable and open to a conversation, and stops them from misleading you if there’s no potential partnership.
Focus on the Pain
Sandler, very similar to Steve Blank’s Customer Development, is all about understanding your customer’s pain before even talking about your solution.
No pain, no Sale.
In other words, you’re not in a sales meeting to sell your product. Your in a sales meeting to understand all the relevant pain points that your solution could solve, without mentioning your solution, and building a case for your solution that in essence makes the customer feel the pain so much, that when they see your product, they’ll beg for it!
Unfortunately, I’m not going to tell you how to do this. You need to invest in yourself and the training like I did, but I will tell you that once you have 3-5 critical pain points, you can then use these pain points to remind your prospect of their situation when they start to get cold or deviate.
Understand who the Client
Even though Sandler isn’t explicit about this, Sandler is all about understanding psychology. One of the inherent ways it does this is through DISC. DISC, which is similar to Myers-Briggs in the sense that it helps categorizes people’s personalities, but in an easier four bucket system: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness.
Because there are only four categories, and there is usually one dominant one out of the 4, Sandler teaches you how to quickly tell which category a person mostly falls into, and how to “handle them.” For example, a high-Dominance person will always be straight to the point, so with them, it’s best to skip the pleasantries and get straight to point with them. On the other hand, a high-Influence person will have pictures of family and friends around their desk and love making pleasantries, so with them, it’s important to ensure the meeting doesn’t get wasted.
Without this knowledge, I was treating each customer the same, and as a result, failing miserably. But once I started understanding their personality types more clearly, my meetings were becoming more productive.
Now with this knowledge as a PM, I know I’ll be better able to manage people during meetings and increase the chances of win-win situations. Booya!
And even more Tactics
Sandler also teaches other topics that I found very useful such as how to conquer the fear of rejection, how to make cold calls, and handle cancellations and flat-out nos.
The major insight I got from this training was that a good Sales training teaches you how to be a better human being. Why? Because it teaches you how to actually listen, and understand people. And the only way to do listen, according to Sandler, is to shut up! If you’re talking more than your prospect, you’re doing something wrong!
Once I started using the Sandler system, I ended closing clients, and it was such a fantastic feeling! And after all of this struggle and success as a salesperson, I now have a huge amount of respect for sales people, especially the great ones. They are the breadwinners in the B2B world. You could have the best product, but if your sales person sucks, that product will not get bought.
Towards the end of my time at IT Werks, we needed to scale so it was time to hire additional sales people. I couldn’t expect everybody I interviewed to know Sandler, but I was looking for them just to do one thing: show me they could see by focuses on pain/need, rather than selling benefits and features. I got to see this firsthand by asking them to sell me anything, and when they got confused on what to sell me, I asked them to sell me a phone. Immediately every candidate started selling me on features such as memory and failed my test miserably. And it got me thinking, some of these guys claimed they were A-players, so if that was the case, how did they constantly beat quota as they claimed? Was it sheer luck or brute force? Clearly, it was not due to their skill…