“Buyer First”, as the name implies, is a book exhorting the salesperson to change the narrative from sales-focused to buyer-focused. Carole will cover research involving 2.3 million sales professionals who took assessments and evaluations to evaluate what it takes to make salespersons successful— their beliefs, their mindsets, and the behaviours and skill sets that lead to success in her session.
The most interesting thing about this session is that you are going to have a peek into a book which is yet to be published. So thanks, Carole, for doing this for us. I really appreciate it. And before I ask you to start your session, let me give a quick intro for Carole.
She’s the author of “Buyer First,” which is the book you’re going to hear about: “Grow your Business with Collaborative Selling.” She’s changing the way the entire sales industry sees itself and how buyers see it too. She has been called the Sales Therapist at Harvard Business School, where she coaches on Sales for the Entrepreneurial MBA program. She’s also president of the AA-ISP Boston chapter, has been named as a Top Sales Influencer by LinkedIn and Sales Hacker, and voted a top Sales coach by Ambition. With the heart of a teacher and the spirit of a coach, she’s ready to share how you can unlock the success you have never thought possible. The session is based, as I said, on a soon-to-be-published book: “Buyer First: Grow your business with collaborative selling.”show more
Remember, you heard about it here first, and go pre-order the book. You have the link on your screen. Carole, over to you.
Thank you so much for having me here, Subhanjan. I’m so happy to be part of this. This is actually not only the first lit fest that you’ve done, it’s the first one that I’ve ever done. Because, as you said, the book is coming out in just a few short months on September 5th.
Now, a lot of people ask me why I wrote this book, and the reason that I wrote it, well, the real reason that I wrote it is because it’s the book that I wish I had 15 years ago when I first started my own business. And like so many small business owners and entrepreneurs today, as well as salespeople, I tried everything. I tried all of the tips, all of the tricks, all of the hacks, all of the books that you see on the shelf behind me. I mean, I tried spin selling, band selling, MEDDIC, referral, relationship, you name it.
Heck, if sales books and methodologies were weight loss programs, then I was the Oprah Winfrey of sales. But I was so frustrated and frankly, desperate, to figure out why what seemed to work for everyone else in all of the books and podcasts and things that you hear, didn’t always seem to work for me. I didn’t know what it was that I was doing wrong, and my thought was that if someone could just tell me and show me the step-by-step process that would be guaranteed to work for sales, then I would do it and I would be successful.
But like so many today, what I didn’t realize is that it was my own beliefs. It was my own mindsets towards sales that were getting in the way of doing the things that I knew I could do and should do. Kind of like when we want to get healthy, we know that we should eat more vegetables and get more exercise. But something seems to get in our way. It’s our mindsets.
So, when I began the work to change my mindset, I developed new habits that changed my behaviors with buyers. And in turn, changed my buyers’ behaviors towards me. That’s when I started to get more sales and grow my business. But the book really didn’t start there as the title suggests, I first started writing this book about “Buyer First.” With so much research that’s coming out from Gartner and LinkedIn that suggests buyers simply don’t want to interact with sellers today, and from my work with sellers and business owners and entrepreneurs who would complain about how hard it was to get a buyer’s attention and keep it, I became obsessed with the question that you see on your screen right now: What do buyers value in salespeople today? What is the experience that they want, since they are obviously opting out of the one that they’re getting now? What I’ve learned from decades of behavioral research, performance, and aptitude data from over 2.3 million sales professionals, and from the testing in the field on myself first and then with my clients, is that buyers want salespeople that will collaborate with them.
A research study from Harvard in 2012 showed that when we co-create things or we expend effort to create something, we place more value on it. They called it the IKEA effect, and what the IKEA effect does is that when we put effort into creating something, we put more value on it.
Now, in addition to this study from Harvard, in their book “Stop Selling and Start Leading,” Deb Calvert, who is also a part of this lit fest, and her co-authors surveyed over 500 B2B buyers. And what they found was that buyers value collaboration, the co-creation of ideas, and new ways of looking at their problems.
Plus, if you look at LinkedIn surveys in their State of Sales reports, they show that B2B buyers value behavior such as active listening. In fact, it’s the number one trait that buyers want in salespeople today.
This isn’t anything new, I don’t think, but when you look up the definition of sales, it is an exchange of value, a back and forth, a collaboration between two people who are trying to bridge the gap between a problem and a solution. Yet the prevailing mindsets, the prevailing books that you see about sales today, are all about how we need to persuade them, how we need to influence them, how we need to convince them. And then we’re surprised that, as Daniel Pink writes in his book “To Sell Is Human,” that seven out of 10 of us see sales as pushy, slimy, sleazy.
Which is why most of my clients, when they come to me and ask for help to get more customers and clients, say in the next breath, “I just don’t want to be salesy.” We have it all wrong if selling is an exchange of value and buyers want collaborations that help them to think differently and see things differently. What that means is that selling is not something that we do to other people. It is something that we do with them.
Hardly anyone, including salespeople, wants to be sold to. Now in the book, we go through the stages of the buying and selling process. And we walk you through the questions to help you ask and collaborate with your buyers.
Most of my training and coaching clients, when they come to me, what they often say is, “I want to close more deals. How do I get them to say yes and pay me more?” As if there were some magical words and steps like I used to believe, in the close that’s going to make all of this come together perfectly.
The truth is, the close starts the moment you open your mouth and say hello. Actually, in fact, it starts even well before that because buyers are researching their options and solutions online and have already likely been on your website.
For them, the process started long before they ever even knew that you existed. So if that’s the case, then what is the goal of a discovery call today?
Would you do me a favor? Everyone who is here, type into the chat pane your answer to the question, “What is the goal of a discovery call today?” And then I’ll tell you what my definition of it is.
Often, the answers that I hear to this question are finding pain where the buyer is in their journey.
Great answer, Neil.
One more question, one more answer. What other objectives do we have in trying to get through a discovery call? Finding pain is an obvious one. Find out where they are in their journey.
Now, my definition of what a good discovery conversation is, and sometimes even a demo, depending on, again, as Neil said, where they are in their process. Yes, it’s finding pain, but more than that, it’s understanding it. How they see it, what they’ve tried, what’s worked, what didn’t, and why they think that is so. Then, why is it so difficult? Why do buyers disappear after that first discovery conversation?
More often than not, what happens is that as soon as a salesperson (and yes, if you’re an entrepreneur or a business owner, here you are a salesperson), what happens is that when we find that hint of pain, we jump on it like a kid in a candy store. We start telling them how we can solve their problem, and we spend the rest of the call doing most of the talking because we’re so excited that we found a problem that we can solve.
Why does this happen? In 2012, a group of neuroscientists at Harvard discovered that we spend 40% of our daily interactions talking about our own thoughts, our own opinions, and when we do, our brains get flooded with dopamine. Despite being offered money to talk about pretty much anything else, most of those study participants chose to keep talking about themselves. You know that person too, don’t you? You know, the one that’s always talking about what they think, what they’re doing. They interrupt you, and every time you tell a story, they tell you how it happened to them.
But what this means is that when you can get your buyers to talk more about themselves, the things that they think, the pleasure center of trust is activated. And the place where that is released in our brains is also the same place where we form bonds and relationships, which means that when we get others to talk about themselves, they’re more likely to start to trust us. Simple, not so easy though because that means we also have to resist the urge for our brains’ desire to talk all about ourselves.
This is why the questions that I’m about to share with you are sequential and open-ended so that they get your buyer talking about what it is that they think. Now, the first set of questions that we’re going to talk about is these discovery questions. When they first come to you, they should be about how they found you, what piqued their interest in your outreach or the form that they filled out or the content that they downloaded. It might seem like a simple throwaway question to you, but what it does is help you understand where they are in their journey, how they started, how the problem came to them. If it’s a referral, they ask how they know the person and what it was that the two of them were talking about when your name came up. This gives you an understanding of where they started their search. Then, dig into some questions about why they were looking, what is happening right now, who’s responsible for it. What is it that they’ve already tried? Why did they decide to go in that direction for it, and how long has this been going on for? Finally, ask how they define the problem. What words and language did they use to define it? The goal here is to identify what language you need to use in the rest of the conversation to call it the same thing that they do, putting them first and their language.
Now, data from call recording company Gong suggests keeping discovery questions to 11 to 14 or 6 to 9 if you’re talking to executives. And it’s not just about asking questions at appropriate intervals; you also want to summarize what you’re hearing and offer insight so that your buyer might learn something that they didn’t know or didn’t fully understand about their problem before. Remember, you’re the expert here. They may have just started to deal with this problem that you’ve been researching for years and talking with dozens, if not hundreds, of people about.
Now, to go into a deeper discovery and uncover what they believe is happening, ask questions about what they believe the root cause of this particular issue is. Why do they even believe that it’s a problem? If there are multiple people involved, which most of the time there are, expect to get different answers to these questions and make note of them so that you can help them connect the dots and bridge their own struggles and obstacles that they’ve been facing in trying to solve this before. Finally, ask them about who else is impacted by this, who else cares, and who needs to get involved and at what point in the process should we get them involved? Then finally ask them what obstacles have stopped them from solving this in the past and how are you going to work through that together to make this solution happen for them? Now, following each of these threads of questions, again summarize what it is that you’ve heard, offer insights into their answers that can help inform them of things that they hadn’t fully realized or considered before, quantifying all of those impacts as you go.
Buyers value collaboration that helps them think differently about their problems and options to solve it. Collaborative questions like these that are open and sequential will help facilitate that. You have the what: “what are the questions that you need to ask”?
You know the how: “how do you ask those questions now”? What might be the hidden weakness that causes you to forget or stumble when you’re trying to do these things in your next discovery conversation? Because you probably know that you should be asking these kinds of questions. But somehow when you get in that conversation, you either forget it or maybe, like me, you check out from asking it because you’re worried. Now, in my work with coaching clients, there are five different mindsets and corresponding sets of beliefs that will either help or hinder you from selling with your buyers. What you need to know about these is that they are not separate silos. They can impact one another.
The other thing about these mindsets is that they’re contagious. If you’re leading a team, whether that’s as a manager or a business owner, the beliefs that you have about sales will be passed on to your team. In my analysis of over 500 managers and the teams that report to them, I found that when those leaders had certain non-supportive beliefs around sales, their team was 355% more likely to have those same beliefs. However, the flip side to that analysis is that when those leaders had supportive beliefs around sales, their team was 1000% more likely to hold those beliefs. And those are the teams that perform better. Changing your beliefs and mindsets about sales will not only impact your own personal sales results, but it will also impact your team’s ability to sell with your buyers when you want to scale growth later on.
The most common complaint that I hear from sellers is that buyers ignore them or don’t respond to their initial conversations. It’s so hard to get attention today, never mind getting them to come to a meeting and stay there and then engage with you afterward, only to have them disappear again and not respond as you hoped they would. It’s frustrating.
The reason that this happens so often in sales conversations is because the seller has lost their ability to actively listen and be objective. Because they’re wrapped up in their own mind about what’s going on, they’re talking to themselves in their head, which means that they’ve become emotionally involved in the conversation.
Oftentimes, they’re thinking about the buying signals that they heard and they’re eager to cash in, or they’re hearing objections and are scrambling to think in their head about how to answer. They’ve become time travelers in their mind, thinking about the past or the future and not in the present moment with their buyers, which is what is preventing us from actively listening to our buyers, which is the number one trait that buyers want from us in order to collaborate with us. When you’re wrapped up in your head, you’re missing your buyers’ cues and clues that could help them think differently about that. The worry that we have is that we think about how this is going to impact us. And as a result, it robbed us of our focus on our buyer. That’s why I’ve created these T-shirts.
If you can see it, it says “not about me” upside down to remind the wearer that you need to be able to keep your thoughts focused on the buyer. It’s not about what you want, your products, or your services, or what you think. If you want to purchase those T-shirts, go ahead and look at that Bitly URL. You can know that all of the donations, all of the funds, are donated to the Barbara Giamanco Scholarship Fund for more women to study sales in college.
By the way, you’re not alone in this if you struggle with it. 63% out of those 2.3 million sales professionals struggle with this. It is a common issue now with clients when I’m working with them. What I do is assess them with objective data to determine if this is something that is truly getting in their way, but there are some clues that can tell you if this is something that you also struggle with.
The first symptom of getting emotionally involved is, do you ask yourself, do you get bored easily? Is this something that happens to you on a regular basis now? Of course, it’s normal to get bored at times, but then ask yourself, do you have a hard time remembering people’s names? Is it something that you struggle with because you’re not fully present in the moment? Or perhaps, and I’ve done this and it’s a little bit scary, you find yourself driving along and you don’t remember how you got there because you’re totally tuned out or spaced out. Now, one of the ways that you can also find out if you are getting out of the moment with your present buyers is to listen to your calls. Are you missing cues and clues that your buyers had said and you never picked up on? Look at how much time you’re talking about those conversations. Are you monopolizing the majority of that time now? How do we better manage our emotions? How do we become a better active listener?
The good news is that there are small things that you can do in your day-to-day life to help you control your emotions on a day-to-day basis so that when you get into those high-stakes sales conversations, it isn’t something that’s going to cripple you. Now, one of the most common things that you’ll probably hear is meditation. The reason that you hear it so often is, well, because it works. In a 2011 study, participants found that after eight weeks of meditation, researchers found that it changed the areas of their brains that had to do with decision-making and emotional management. Now, I have always found meditation difficult, like the idea of sitting around and doing nothing. Like how is that going to help change anything? But I did find an app called Insight Timer that helps me to choose five to 10-minute meditations on a daily basis, so it made it easy for me to start. Eventually, I worked my way up to 15 minutes a day, and now it’s like second nature.
Another way to control your emotions in the moment is to slow yourself down and eliminate distractions. Multitasking? It’s not a real thing. In fact, studies suggest that not only will it distract you and cause more stress, it will also lower your IQ. When we try to do too many things at once, it increases our stress and takes us out of the present moment. The enemy of focus is distraction, so eliminate distractions as much as possible by turning off your email and social media notifications, as well as Slack notifications. All that distraction is causing more stress in your brain, which is causing you to think more in your head.
These habit-building strategies will help you manage your emotions in the most high-stress situations, and it will help you improve your mental health. You will also find that your personal relationships are going to improve as a result as well because being in the present moment and giving people our full attention is what builds trust and intimacy.
So, for more on the other four mindsets that I talk about, please consider buying the book now. I know that it’s not coming out yet, but bonuses are available, which include getting an advanced digital copy of the book before it even comes out in September. We’re also going to be doing a group coaching session for people to tackle some of these mindsets and issues that they have. You’ll also get first access to those worksheets to help you start building those habits.
I believe that we can change the pushy, slimy, sleazy perception of sales today by applying a scientific method to sales through research, data, and testing. And when we do that, I also believe that we will attract more women to sales, which is why I’m donating 10% of the net proceeds of my book to the Barbara Giamanco Scholarship Fund for more women to be able to study sales at the college level.
Thank you all so much for joining me today. I think we have maybe a minute or two for questions.
Let’s see what we have. I see a few.
“What are some of the signals that sales organizations can send out to a buyer to show that they are in a collaborative state of mind?”
So signals, I’m going to say signals in terms of maybe content or maybe in your messaging. One of the things you can do to show buyers that you’re putting them first is to use their language. But there are also other types of buyer-first focus language that you can use. When you’re describing your capabilities, for example, say you’ve had a discovery call and you’re sending a follow-up email or ending your discovery call with a summary. The thing you want to do is take everything you’ve learned in that conversation, summarize it for them, and then as you’re summarizing the pain points they’ve shared, quantify the impact of that and tie it to your capability using telling details that make it more credible. That’s one way to show collaboration with buyers.
Another way is to, when you’re offering something to them, again, asking these open-ended questions. But another thing that you can do to be collaborative with them is to share insights and content. So, if you have data points or other insights that you can share with them during the journey that help them think differently, also taking their feedback and saying, “Because you said this, we’re doing this for you,” that’s another way you can do that collaboration.
Any other questions that we have?
I think we have a couple, maybe one more, but before that Carole, this is fantastic. I mean, this was a great, great presentation, and I mean, I do have a copy of the book courtesy of you.
The thing that I wanted to point out was, I think it’s so important that the part of discovery that you covered. I think that’s the key, right? If you are in this rush to sort of find a fit, find an avenue to push in your agenda, so oh, I found this, so let me start plugging away. I think it is so, so ineffective, basically. Yeah, I mean we can do that, but it’s not going to solve the problem.
One question I had for you before the next one comes up. Ok, here’s the next question. But before you answer this, I have one question.
See, there is this whole Gartner philosophy about sense-making, right, that people have too much information and they’re not able to make sense of it, right? Where does it, where do you see that fitting in vis-a-vis sharing more information? So sharing more information is again, in Gartner parlance, you are a giver, but you are not the sense-maker. So do you have, or is it the same thing that you’re talking about?
So when I’m talking about it, yes, we are all overwhelmed with information. But one of the reasons that we’re overwhelmed with information is that we’re getting bombarded with a lot of the same information or information that we’ve already heard before. And so by being able to take the information that your buyers are hearing and tying it into what they’re seeing and how it impacts them, giving them the context of that, that’s where you’re going to be able to add that real value.
The other thing is, we have a ton of information on Google. We have a ton of information that people are sending us. But when we can offer something that maybe they hadn’t fully considered before because, again, remember, you’re the experts in this particular issue. You’ve been studying it. You’ve been working with it. You’ve been talking with hundreds and thousands of people just like them, facing that same issue. This may be the very first time that they’ve had to deal with it. And so they don’t know what they don’t know, and that freaks them out. And so it’s not a matter of giving them more information. It’s being able to contextualize that and then offer a different perspective to it.
Absolutely great. Can we get the question up, please?
Yeah, so how practical is it to revamp our entire sales organization from leadership to SDR to get better results?
The answer is, it is practical and necessary, but the way that I approach this is because sales is all about change management. When you’re helping a buyer make a decision to do something differently, you’re helping them to make a change. And in our sales organizations, change is hard, it’s scary, it’s overwhelming to us. We don’t know if it’s going to work out.
So when you’re looking at your sales org, what I encourage you to do is look at it from the perspective of a cognitive-behavioral approach. I don’t want you to take everything and just throw it out. But what I want you to do is to start working with your team to identify, first, what are the personally meaningful goals for them to want to make a change? Again, this is about change management. So what’s going to drive them to make those changes? And I’m going to give you a hint. Their quota is not going to make them make a change. That’s like being excited to pay your taxes and your bills every morning. That’s just not something that motivates us. But something that’s personally meaningful to us and that ties to that, that’s going to be meaningful.
So the first step when you want to overhaul your organization, make sure you understand what’s in it for everyone. And then use the objective data. That’s why I use objective data because it’s then not my opinion of what’s going on or someone else’s thought. It’s subjective data that we can then use to identify those hidden areas that maybe we didn’t realize were getting in our way before and start with one change at a time. So maybe it’s the way that you do your coaching cadence with your reps, and then you focus on doing that initial outreach part, then you focus on doing the discovery. And so breaking it into small little chunks, that makes it manageable for the team and also helps them to make small changes over a period of time. That’s the best way for humans to revamp some type of a change or an org.
Carole, that was wonderful. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed the session and all the best for the book— I’m sure is going to do fantastically. I’ll be around to see how that goes.
Thank you so much, bye everyone.
Author of “Buyer First: Grow Your Business with Collaborative Selling”, Carole Mahoney is changing the way the entire sales industry sees itself — and how buyers see it too. She has been called the “Sales Therapist” at Harvard Business School where she coaches on sales for their Entrepreneurial MBA program. She is also the President of the AA-ISP Boston Chapter, been named as a top sales influencer by LinkedIn and Sales Hacker and voted a top sales coach by Ambition. With the heart of a teacher and the spirit of a coach, she’s ready to share how you can unlock the success you’ve never thought possible.