What does it take to be successful at sales? Gryphon Networks sat down with Jeb Blount, CEO of Sales Gravy and bestselling author of Fanatical Prospecting and Sales EQ, to discuss misconceptions about cold calling and overcoming the fear of picking up the phone and being rejected. His main point— don’t be afraid to interrupt someone with a sales call. If you want to survive in sales you have to pick up the phone and make calls.
The phone is the best tool for connecting with prospects, rather than email or social media because nowadays, phones are connected to people, not desks. Blount notes the qualities of great sales managers, and the importance of mentors, in teaching salespeople the intrapersonal skills they need to be engaging and efficient on the phone. Further, he discusses how the CRM and metrics should be used to manage the activities of salespeople and phone-based performance.
Gryphon Networks: There is a misconception about cold calling. Can you clarify what cold calling actually is? It seems people are under the impression that cold calling is just calling and pitching a random phone number.
Jeb Blount: This is the problem: nobody today can actually tell you what a cold call is. If you think about it, most of the people that are using the term ‘cold calling’ are basically saying “I don’t want to call.” So, if I call you up and you are a referral, and you are not expecting me to call you, that is cold to you. It is not cold to me because I know who you are, but it’s cold to you. If you are a “warm lead”, it is cold to you. If you are an inbound lead and I call you up, its cold to you. Why is it that 50% of inbound leads never get a call from the salesperson? They’re not afraid of the cold call, they are just afraid of a call.
What they are really afraid of is interrupting somebody, and that essentially is what you have to do with the telephone, or with your feet, or with an email. You send cold emails and I am not expecting you to send me an email. So, if you are calling someone, and you don’t have a meeting with them and they are not expecting your call, it’s cold to them and, a little terrifying to you, because you don’t know what’s going to happen on the other end. The reality is, is that very, very few people, although there are some people that are doing that, there are SDRs that get a list of names, and they call down that list of names, and they are trying to do some basic qualification.
I worked with a group last week and they were getting calls off of Sales Genie, and they basically had to go and make a qualifying sweep on those calls before they would go in and ask for a meeting. Those are kind of random in that they are cold calls, although those calls could be more targeted because you can organize your list in a specific way. But most salespeople at most companies are not grabbing a list of random names and just calling them. Most of them are working out of a CRM. Some of them have lists that are being curated at some level. Some good, some not so good, but they are being handed a list and having them make the call.
But this idea or this ongoing moronic argument, “Should I cold call, or not cold call?” It is just stupid. Pick up the phone and interrupt someone! Walk in the door and interrupt someone. Send an email and interrupt someone. Reach out on social media and interrupt someone. It is more about balance across all of your channels, but you have to realize that if you want to make money in sales, you have to have to go interrupt. If you want to call it a cold call, that’s great. If you want to call it a warm call, that’s great. If you want to call it any type of call that’s great, but I need to tell you, salespeople are not afraid of cold calls, there’s no misconception about cold calls. What people are basically saying is that “I just don’t want to call.” If you don’t make calls and you don’t interrupt people, as a salesperson you are probably going to have skinny kids.
GN: What is the best way to engage someone when you are cold calling? You just interrupted their day, now how do you get them to engage with you in a meaningful conversation to start the sales process?
JB: It depends on what you are trying to do. If you are just trying to set an appointment, I don’t want to engage in a meaningful conversation, I just want them to agree to the appointment. If I am selling over the telephone, which would be a much more transactional type of role—let’s say I am calling you up and I want to move you directly into a demo of my software, or I want to sell you something directly over the telephone—what I first have to do is get your attention and get you to agree to that meeting with me, and then I can go into selling. I am going to have to have a conversation there. If I am calling to set an appointment, I just want to set the appointment. Now, if I am calling to gather information, then in those cases I may or may not have a meaningful conversation, but I am trying to get information.
The idea is if you are going to interrupt someone, do it fast, let me be relevant and let me get to the point. This is the problem and why salespeople have a difficult time on the phone because they are trying to have meaningful conversations.
If you want a meaningful conversation, don’t interrupt someone. Set an appointment with them, then they know where they are going to be and you know where you are going to be, and you know you’re going to be there for a reason, and they know they’re going to be there for a reason. Those conversations typically turn into something more.
If, for example, I want to meet with you next week, I am going to call and get to the point. I am going to say “Hi this is Jeb. The reason I am calling you is because I want to set an appointment with you because I am helping companies in your industry do this, this and this. How about Thursday at 2?”
That took ten seconds. That’s what I am going to do. I am going to say this again. If your intent is to get people on the telephone that you’ve interrupted in the middle of the day and have a meaningful conversation, you are going to be sorely, sorely, sorely disappointed, because people are NOT going to have a meaningful conversation. If your intent is to ask for their time, which by the way is the hardest ask in sales, then you are probably going to get their time and you can have a meaningful conversation.
If you are selling over the phone, in other words, if you have time you are trying to move people into a meaningful conversation, then the same thing. “Hi, my name is Jeb and I am calling because … I just need a few minutes of your time; may I talk right now?” If they agree to that, you direct them into a conversation. If they don’t agree to that, then your fallback has to be an appointment in the future.
GN: Why are salespeople afraid to pick up the phone and how can you get them over their fear? Specifically, when it comes to interrupting what someone is doing that wasn’t expecting a call from a salesperson?
JB: I don’t know that you can get people past that fear. I think that fear is innate. I think fear is biological. The fear comes from the fear of rejection which is something we face every day, and it creates the deepest psychological wounds. The fear of rejection is baked into our DNA. In fact, scientists study what happens in the body, the neurophysical response is that the body releases opioids to reduce the pain. No different than let’s say, you broke your arm, your body reacts exactly the same way. It is the only emotion that will listen to that type of response.
What I do with salespeople is I begin teaching them why that happens, why the response they have to fear is happening. And I think the ability to show someone intellectually what is happening inside of them and why, the way they feel is not irrational, it is a rational response that we developed over the millennia to getting kicked out of the tribe. We respond to social threats because getting kicked out of a tribe for most of human existence was essentially a death sentence. So, we are very sensitive to rejection. What salespeople see, what they fear out of a call is that sensitivity to rejection. Instead of telling salespeople to let it roll off your back or you need to fear, or this fear is not real, don’t take it personally, I just tell people the truth. The truth is that it sucks and it feels that way. As a salesperson, you have to make a decision. The decision is: do you want to eat? Do you want to pay your mortgage? Do you want to be successful? Do you want to sell something? Or do you want to be a slave to the fear? You have to make that choice.
For some salespeople, especially in hunter-type sales where you have to interrupt people, it’s just not the right profession for them, because they are so hypersensitive to rejection that they can never get past it. For most salespeople it’s a combination of a couple of things: A. You have to know where it comes from so you can understand that and be able to tap into your desires. You have to want something that is better and bigger than the pain you feel temporarily from getting rejected. B. You have to have a process. One process you have to have is how to actually make a phone call. If you think, for example, you are going to have a meaningful conversation, you are going to get shut down so hard, so fast, that every call is going to be miserable. But if you think to yourself, your job is to get the “yes” “no” or “maybe” in ten seconds or less, then you are going to get some “no’s” and some “yesses,” but you are not going to try to get your prospect you just interrupted to like you for it.
The third thing is teaching people how to deal with happens when people tell them no. So, the recourse responses people give when someone interrupts their day, how do you deal with that? What are the mechanisms you use? And what neuroscientists call the magical quarter of a second, the mechanism of giving yourself the magical quarter of a second for your rational brain, your neocortex, to catch up with the emotional brain that’s feeling this sense of rejection.
We use something called the “ledge”, but it’s just a little thing you say every time you get a particular response. When you teach salespeople, there are only five basic responses they are getting. I think most salespeople get between three and fifteen core responses, but there is three to five of them they’re getting all the time. If you know what response you are going to get then the response can be anticipated. If it can be anticipated, you can develop a turnaround script that you can use every time you get that, that’s lead with a ledge that you can give your brain a chance to catch up, then you use that turnaround script and if you understand that turnaround script will get you the meeting, then you understand that rationally and that brings you more success.
I think finally its helping salespeople see that sometimes getting a “no” or a “maybe” or just getting information is a success in itself. It qualifies a prospect or further qualifies a prospect and gets you close to meeting with them at the right time so you are moving into the buying window when your probability of closing goes up.
It all sounds a little complex but basically, it is breaking down the components and the small pieces and recognizing that this desire or pursuit to get past fears is nature, and you are never going to do that. If you can teach people how to manage the feeling of fear and the neurophysical response to rejection, then they are going to be capable of doing the activity they need to do in order to put things into the pipe.
GN: In your book Sales EQ, you say salespeople are not learning and mastering intrapersonal skills. You say they do not understand how to engage buyers on a human-to-human level. How can sales managers train new salespeople to engage and be engaging with their prospects, in a world where we tweet 140, to get them relating back to human beings through conversation?
JB: Prospecting is activity driven. It’s a full-contact sport. It’s getting in the door. But, once you get in the door, then becomes the nuance of things, managing your emotions and the emotions of the other person. A lot of sales managers are working with people who are in their early to mid-20s. That’s probably if you were to draw a bell curve over the age, that would be the average age of most people, in their 20s to 35, or most in the salesforce for lots of reasons. But a lot of folks didn’t come out understanding how to manage relationships with people in the context of a sales conversation. I know I didn’t. I didn’t come out of school and walk into my first account and understand how to deal with people, how to be responsible, how to be responsive, and how to have situational awareness knowing where I was in the deal. The way I learned how to do that was I had a good sales manager who was a really good coach, who, when I came back from sales calls, asked me what happened. When I went on sales calls [my sales manager] demonstrated the right behaviors and when I was walking through a deal review saying “I am going to close this deal. This deal is going to happen,” would ask me really hard questions that would make me think. When I made a mistake or got sideways with a prospect, [my sales manager] would coach me through and walk me through the process.
I became self-aware of my own behavior and how that was holding me back. It is an evolution and an iteration. It is not something you do in one shot. As a sales leader, it is a process. The problem that I find, and you may agree with me on this or you may not, is that most sales leaders are not doing those things. I hate to say that it is a world shifted but I do think it is. I talked to people who came up in my era and we all seem to have these great personalities, these great sales leaders in our lives that really shaped us and really helped us become professionals at the art of selling. What I see today is that sales leaders have too many people that report to them. That’s a problem that is organizational, not the sales leader’s problem. Or, more likely sales leaders are spending all of their time looking at a computer screen at a dashboard, or being email jockeys, and they are not actually in the trenches with their salespeople, leading face-to-face, hands-on, providing that level of coaching, teaching their salespeople, and helping them become and grow at a higher level of emotional intelligence when it comes to dealing with prospects.
That is my observation over the last five or six years. I think sales leaders have lost the courage to confront salespeople who are having a problem controlling their emotions and getting them back in line.
I hear people say this “Millennials can’t do it.” Millennials can do it because we train millennials and we see them do it all the time. I think we all learn from people who have had experience because an experience is the greatest builder of emotional intelligence. You need someone in your life; mentors or coaches in your life in a skilled position like sales to help you learn, and be the example, and be the model for what that looks like. We just have to have those people. If companies are not training leaders that do that, then you end up with a generation of salespeople who are essentially transactional. As a manager you know if you treat your customer or your prospect like a transaction, they just treat you as a transaction.
GN: Who mentors you?
JB: Man—I have to tell you, I am sitting at Andy Feldman’s desk. He is, at our company, he’s our Vice President of Business Development and a really, really good friend and a great partner in our business. He is just a super mentor for me because he helps bounce things off and push things off.
My wife is a great mentor. I’ve got one of our sales leaders, Beth Maynard is a great mentor. I surround myself, I think, with people who both provide mentorship, pushback and help me. I have a really strong personality so those poor people who are doing that [laughs]. Those are great people, so I can look back on my entire career and folks like Chris Dods and Steve Donnelly, and Mary Gartner and Bob Blackwell. I could just go on and on and on with all the individuals who have come and gone in my life, who have been great mentors in the moment for what I’ve needed at the time.
GN: What do you think are some of the best metrics sales managers can use to manage the sales activities of their salespeople to measure their performance?
JB: For me, it starts with activity; how many outbound touches are you making to generate how many contacts to generate how many appointments. How much new information is getting into the database because the database is everything. If I have a great database, I have a cash machine.
Is it getting into the database or not getting into the database? How many calls does it take to close a deal? So, if I make really big, enterprise long cycle deals, what does that cycle look like? If I am in shorter cycles, what does the cycle look like? Most sales managers are managing people in the B2B space that are in short to mid-cycle deals, so two to five calls, typically. What does that look like? How effective am I at moving deals to the next step? Then, what is my close ratio over my opportunity ratio? At what point do we consider it measure when a deal enters the pipe, and how long does it take to get out of the pipe? So, what is my pipeline velocity, then what is my close ratio? Once you understand what that looks like, once you understand what my opportunities to close ratio looks like, I can measure that against my quota and obviously understand what needs to be in my pipeline.
I am not a big fan of how some companies measure their pipeline. One times pipe, two times pipe… four times pipe, ten times pipe… all that does is get people to put a bunch of junk in the pipeline and some sales managers are happy.
I am more interested in “what do you put in the pipe?” and “how long does it take you to get out of the pipe? What stalled in the pipe?” and then when I look at all of that, that backs me back into prospecting because of the Law of Replacement. The Law of Replacement says you must replace the opportunities in your pipe at a rate that is either equal to or greater than your closing ratio. Once I understand that, I am then able to sit down with each of my people and understand their situation, what they need to do. If I look at that along the entire conversion funnel and am a good coach, I am coaching in the conversion funnel, I am coaching in the pipe, where my salesperson needs the most help.
If the person doesn’t have anything in the pipe, my only option is to coach activity. If they have a lot in the pipeline and are not closing anything, it could be I need to coach qualifying. It could be that I need to coach asking for micro commitments and next steps. It could be I need to coach asking for the business. It could be I need to coach intrapersonal skills, but I won’t know any of that.
When I look at metrics to help me know where I need to coach. Sadly, a lot of sales managers and their leaders do is try to coach the metric. You cannot coach an outcome, you can coach a behavior. The metric becomes the thing you are coaching and essentially, you are no longer coaching. You are managing by YST, which is yelling, screaming and threatening, which doesn’t necessarily make good salespeople.
Talk about the stalled deal, especially as it pertains to the prospect having the proposal in front of them. What sales techniques do you recommend from preventing stalled deals from happening but also getting these deals to move forward in the sales process?
When I go in as a consultant. When people hire me to come in I have two things that are 80% of the problem. One is prospecting. The easiest ways to fix stalled deals is to add more deals to the pipe. You add more deals to the pipe, you don’t have time to sit around and chase people. It moves stuff out of the pipe that is never going to close.
A lot of stuff that we called “stalled” is never going to close to begin with. It stalled because they were never going to buy; your competitors already beat you to it; you did a terrible job; you are talking to the wrong person, whatever the case may be. So, the number one thing is to put stuff in the pipe. Usually, if you have stalled deals and you go and look at the salesperson, the salesperson has stopped prospecting and they started prospecting the pipe. In other words, they are calling the same stalled deals over and over again trying to get things started again by just checking in.
The second thing that solves the problem is next steps. If you take the next logical step, say you have someone that is prospecting, prospecting, prospecting, but deals are stalled, they are leading meetings and it sounds like this: “Well, it was a really good meeting today.” “Well thank you very much, Mr. Salesperson. I really appreciate that too.” “Great!” “Well, I guess I should call you sometime next week.” “Yea, give me a call next week and we can get together for a proposal or something.”
There is no next step. They are not asking explicitly for the next meeting. You’ve got to, as a salesperson, constantly ask for and get to those next steps. As a sales leader, you have to manage that and coach that.
What are the next steps? What are the micro commitments you are getting? The great salespeople are always testing engagement. They are always testing further qualification with the next step because if a person is not willing to agree to the next meeting or the next step, they are telling you they aren’t that into you. You need to either change that situation or get another prospect.
The reason why salespeople don’t ask for the next step is because when you ask for the next step, you might get rejected. The person might say no and because the person might not be putting enough stuff in the pipeline, that takes one thing away from them and now they have to go back to prospecting.
All of this works together. When you have a full pipeline, you feel more confident and when you have more confidence you are more likely to ask for the next step. When you are asking for the next step and you are confident, the probability of the person saying “Yes” to the next step goes up exponentially.
If you fix asking for the next step and prospecting, you fix 80% if your stalled deals. Everything else is academic. If you have deals in there that weren’t partially qualified, that is typically a rookie mistake and we can fix that. If you are dealing with the wrong people we can coach that. If you have a deal that is legitimately stalled because something changed, we can bring in a heavy hitter. We can bring out the big guns. Sometimes, we just need to walk away from a deal, period because they are just toying and playing with you. But if you fix asking for the next steps and prospecting, you fix most of your pipeline problems.
GN: Although salespeople spend an average of four hours a week manually updating their activity data into their company’s CRM, according to Salesforce.com about 70% of CRM data goes bad or becomes obsolete annually. IS CRM hurting more than helping?
JB: I think the most important and viable tool for a salesperson is the CRM. It is your database. It is your gold mine. You can treat it like a gold mine or a trash can. Most salespeople treat it like a trashcan. The reason they treat it like a trashcan is because they feel like they are doing it for “the man.” “The man” is watching them, and they have to put [data] it in, and have to put it in. You know how they say, “If it didn’t go into Salesforce, it didn’t happen?” I was in this meeting and the sales leader said that “If it’s not in Salesforce, it didn’t happen,” and a rep held up a signed contract and said, “I guess this contract is just a mirage,” [laughs]. He’s like “Look, I signed the damn contract. Get off me.”
The problem is that when salespeople think they are doing it for “the man,” then they don’t put good information in or they don’t put any information in. How can a sales organization solve some of this problem? I have a sales organization that is using their CRM to count activity. This sounds sacrilegious to most sales enablement professionals, but, seriously, quit doing that.
I’ve used Salesforce and I have a phone system that counts every dial, everything my salespeople do. That is not how I count activity. I have my salespeople self-report. I just say, “Tell me every day what you do.” I don’t beat them up for it. I just want to know what did you do today. How many dials, how many “this”, what’s did you put in the pipeline, what’s going on? We manage our pipeline inside of Salesforce. That allows me to pull a report, see how many opportunities there, ask questions. In my CRM, I have one thing I look at it. It is an open field and where I ask the salesperson to tell me the next step. If there is not a next step or a good next step then, or there is one there, or it isn’t changing, I understand I can change that.
I have companies that I work withstand we fight these battles where they have the salesperson logging “I left a voicemail.” That adds no value to anybody. Who cares if they left a voicemail, it doesn’t matter. The salesperson just spent 30 seconds putting that in, but if you add that up, over 30 calls times 30, that’s a lot of time that you are spending putting information into the CRM that is useless.
What should be in the CRM? Your notes on your last meeting. Why should that be in there? So, you don’t have to remember it for your next meeting. What should be in there? Information on the different stakeholders on the account. What should be in there? Deals that turn into opportunities that you can put in the pipeline.
Another one, sales organizations that call everything a pipeline deal. As soon as you have a meeting with them, it is a pipeline deal. Then it goes into won, lost. That is stupid too. Just because I met with you doesn’t mean it is a pipeline deal. It is only a pipeline deal if myself, me, and my prospects agree to move into the pipeline. If we don’t agree to move into the pipeline or if I don’t want to move them into the pipeline because they are not qualified, or I don’t want to put them into my pipe, that is a problem.
What you end up having on the backend of that, also, are companies who are measuring close ratios so tightly that those people don’t put anything into the pipeline until they know exactly when it is going to close.
So, most of the woes and the ills we have with CRM are not driven by salespeople, they’re driven by leaders who don’t understand the consequences of what they are asking. The leaders are asking this information because they find it a whole lot easier to stare at a computer screen than actually have the courage to go out and lead and coach and manage their salespeople in real-time. And accept salespeople are going to be valuable, and so are the numbers at some point. Just do things that make sense and your CRM will have the right data in it and the right information. That doesn’t mean as a leader you can advocate your responsibilities for making sure things get into the CRM.
You’ve got me on my soapbox. I am about to become unglued. Companies just go and overcomplicate the crap out of the CRM. They overengineer the CRM so some executive can have some number they want and nobody thinks about the time the salespeople are spending stuff into their CRM and how much of that is information that just doesn’t matter.
If you focus on the things that matter and you do things that make sense, you should have no problem getting the right information into CRM to keep the ball rolling down the road.
That is just my opinion. There are a whole lot of people that are not going to agree with my opinion.
GN: What can a sales manager do to look at the CRM and try to make an accurate forecast?
JB: Number one, stop looking at CRM and making forecasts. That is the worst place you can go. Let’s just say you did everything right: you’re a great leader, you’re a great coach, your salespeople are putting the right things into the CRM and you try to build forecast on what your salespeople are telling you. Then you are going to lose because salespeople lie. They are liars because they are good at telling you what you want to hear at the beginning of the period. Then at the end of the period, you miss forecast and the only person that suffers from that is the sales leader. The salespeople don’t suffer from it, it’s their quota. So, stop doing that.
What you should do is what the great sales leaders I’ve worked with do, and this is what I did as a sales leader. I sit down with each salesperson and I go through their accounts with them, and I have them walk me through that and I look them in the eyes. I get to know my salespeople. I know when they are pushing a little too hard. I know when they are lying, and if I need something for a forecast, I’d rather have them tell me the truth. That’s the other piece of this. You have to create an environment where salespeople can tell you the truth. In other words, you want your salespeople to write a check to you that doesn’t bounce.
Sometimes that means your boss is asking you for forecast and what your salespeople are asking or telling you what they are going to close for sure is below that forecast. I would rather know that at the beginning of the period, because at the beginning of the period I have a chance to change the future. What usually happens is, you put pressure on your salespeople to give you a number, and you take that number and give it to your boss, and you miss forecast. That is why almost every company, everywhere, misses their forecast almost every period. It is disgusting. It is terrible. It is the wrong way to running an organization.
If you want to fix all this, sit down with your salespeople and take every single deal, look them in the eyeball, and build an accurate forecast of what you know is going to close; what you know is going in at the beginning of the quarter. Then do everything possible to improve that forecast over whatever that forecasting period is. If you do that, you will never lose. The problem is if you are a sales leader, you probably work for someone who is looking at you and saying, “Hey, that forecast is not good enough.” I have seen a ton of these guys get fired because they tell their sales leaders “That’s not good enough. That’s not good enough. That’s not good enough,” and then they just give them any number. The salespeople give the sales leader any number and then everybody is wrong.
Create an environment where people can tell you the truth. Expect the truth and then go change the truth. That is how it works. But, if you are trying to build forecasts of what’s in the CRM, you are out of luck. You will always lose. You will keep losing and I think Einstein said this, that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That’s exactly what’s happening. It is happening in sales organizations everywhere.
GN: You said in a recent interview that engagement rates when using the phone are higher than response rates on email and social selling by between 15 and 18%, depending on the industry. In your opinion, what metric should sales managers use to measure the phone-based performance of sales reps?
JB: It is simple. How many dials you make. How many contacts you make and how many appointments you make. Then, how many pieces of qualifying information you are able to get in.
If you are in inside sales then you are selling directly over the telephone. It would be how many dials you make to contacts to how many sales you make. It is that transactional. That is basically it. It is not that hard.
All of my salespeople have a call sheet in front of them at Sales Gravy, and they just put a little check mark every time they make a dial, every time they make a contact, every time they get a voicemail, every time they get a call back, every time they set an appointment, every time they make a sale. We run it that way and it works. So, I don’t mean to overcomplicate this, I just need to know those things.
I was working with a group last week, I know this is crazy but on our first phone block, we had 57% contact rates. Why? We were working off great lists. But I had a couple of salespeople who had really low contact rates. They were working off really bad lists. I went to their sales leader and said “You are setting yourself up for failure. Fix this.” Then, the next phone block, a lot of people had better lists, the contact rates went up.
When you understand those things, then you can begin to coach your salespeople. One thing for sales leaders, when you are running phone blocks, don’t run an hour long, three and four-hour long phone blocks. I run 15 minute phone blocks. 15 minutes, 15 dials to set one appointment. You would be amazed at how much you can do in a shorter period of time and it definitely works better with the millennial mind. Sometimes I will do 20 minutes, sometimes 10, sometimes 30. Every once in a while, we will do a power hour for the whole hour. But, the reality is to do short periods of time, know what’s happening and watch what’s happening, and figure out where you need to coach. Sometimes you need to coach asking, sometimes you need to coach confidence, sometimes you need to coach managing your emotions, and managing your message. Sometimes times you need to coach your list, sometimes your list comes from your CRM, so the better information you have in your CRM the better list you are going to get and so forth.
GN: Do you believe that sales reps are more likely to connect with a prospect over the phone versus email or social media?
JB: Absolutely. I think social media does wonders for building familiarity. So, if you were inside someone’s familiarity bubble and you called them, you are more likely to engage them. The probability goes up than if they don’t know you at all. So, social media is great for that.
Any situation where I am in on social media where someone says, “Hey I want to do something. I want to engage,” the next step is a phone call. We are talking. If you want to convert a LinkedIn connection into a contact, pick up the phone and call them.
Most people don’t respond well to direct solicitation in their email and their social media boxes. If you don’t believe me, just go check your inbox and the last time someone sent you a note and said I want to do business with you. Your response to that in your social media inbox was revolution. There is something about that inbox that is sacred, that your social media is more of a community where we talk to each other and we engage each other and connect but we don’t sell to each other directly. It is a really terrible place to actually sell. It is a really good place to gather information. It is a great place to build familiarity. Liking people’s stuff, they see your face sharing whatever they post, saying “Hello” to them—that type of thing—but a terrible place to sell.
Email is a beautiful tool but—I don’t know if you’ve seen this lately—but I get ten emails from the same person. The first email says, “I just wanted to…” which by the way “I just wanted to” was yesterday—reach out to you and then it’s all about them. Then the next one says, “Did you get my last email?” Then the next one says, “I’ve already sent you two emails. Are you still interested in me?” The fourth one says, “I am not going to send you an email anymore.” The fifth one says, “I was just kidding. I am going to send you another email,” so what people are doing is basically ignoring the outbound emails because they are meaningless and are not relevant. That doesn’t mean people don’t respond to them. I spent $24,000 two weeks ago that was initiated from a really, really good email prospecting message. BUT it was hand-written for me by a real person and it was totally relevant and caught my attention. I wrote back and said, “Call me,” they picked up the phone and called me, and we did a demo of their product and I bought it. Just like that. But that was one 1 out of the 2,000 emails I have gotten over the last 18 months.
Your response rate to emails is only 1-2% and most emails are being sent by machine anyway. But phone—just last weekend we were calling insurance; business-to-business insurance and we had a 57% contact rate. I am used to getting 25-35% contact rates on outbound calls in sort to mid-cycle business-to-business. When you start calling into enterprise-level accounts and into the C-Suite, your contact rates are going to go down exponentially so you are probably going to be in the 9-15% rate. But even then, if we are talking about a $10 million, $20 million deal, you don’t have to make that many contacts in order to hit your numbers. So, it is going to change. I have a couple of industries where the pick-up rate is 80%. The telephone is the easiest, fastest way to engage with another human being. It is going to give you the best conversion rate of any tool you use period and it just plain works.
One of the reasons why it works is because phones are attached to people now, not desks. So, it just works. The thing is, for salespeople, you just have to go pick up the phone and use it. You have to get rid of all this noise that says the phone doesn’t work.
Oh, by the way, inbound marketing: it is good, it brings a lot of leads in but there is good news and bad news. The good news: it brings people in. The bad news, it usually brings the wrong people in because the people that are responding to your inbound marketing landing pages, webinars, gifts, memberships… most of those people aren’t the decision makers, they will be called seekers. You end up having to go through someone to get to someone anyway, and this is what’s really sad. More than 50%of inbound leads never get a call. If you are in marketing that will just make you want to puke because the salespeople are still afraid to call.
I think you have to work both sides of that. I think you have to work both inbound and outbound. You put strong inbound campaigns together with strong outbound campaigns, you are unstoppable and unbeatable.
GN: What do you think about contacting the CEO directly, or into the C-Suite and what are your thoughts on the best way to handle that given those tools that are out there and the etiquette?
JB: I don’t know that there needs to be an etiquette. I think if you are in Germany or Japan, which are places where there is a really defined hierarchy and there are some other countries as well, that you probably, from a local standpoint, have to look at the local norms, but in the U.S., we don’t have those local norms.
There is no reason why you can’t reach out and call the CEO directly. But, here’s the thing: most people in business-to-business sales are calling somewhere in the middle of the organization because that’s where the decision is made. If you are calling a small business, you are calling a business owner, like me, and in those cases, it is ok to call me, but I may have another person in my organization that you are going to deal with. I am going to send you down to that person. Sometimes I am the person that makes those decisions directly, it just depends on what it is.
The thing is though, when you start to move into larger organizations, where the CEO role is bigger and much more strategic, and that isn’t just the C-Suite, CEOs, CFOs, CSOs, CMOs—any of those jobs including Senior Vice President and Executive Vice Presidents—when you look at that, when you call and you reach that person, you are going to get one shot. Maybe you get a mulligan but you are going to get one shot. So different cycles I am calling in, trying to get in, I am trying to set an appointment, I don’t have to be perfect. I can talk to a director or a manager, I’ll be fine. You call a C-Suite you have to be good, which means you need to get on LinkedIn. You need to do your research, you need to understand the company. You need to show up with a relevant reason why they should give you their very precious time. When I am making those types of calls I am planning way in advance. I am thinking about what I am going to do and I am typically in those cases calling at the top and calling at the bottom, and I am both at the same time. I am using a top-down, bottom-up strategy to find exactly the right place in the organization to get the decision made on my behalf.
GN: You talk about pitch-slapping. You say people buy for their reasons, not yours. Can you explain what it means to be pitch-slapped and how salespeople can differentiate themselves and their products?
JB: I think there is a little bit of a difference. When I am calling to set an appointment, I am trying to get the “Yes”, “No”, or “Maybe” as fast as I possibly can. Even if I am calling a CEO I need to have a relevant message that is going to get their attention, that is going to give them value for meeting with me. That is not pitching. That is a quick message to get on and off the phone fast and get my meeting. I just need to be super relevant in what I say.
Pitch slapping only comes into play once I get that meeting in place. Let’s say the CEO agrees to meet with me. I’ve given him a great message. I go in and sit down in front of the CEO and the CEO says, “Alright, Jeb, tell me what you’ve got,” and then I spend the next 45 minutes throwing up. In those cases, it’s teaching salespeople to back up and learn to ask the questions.
When you are on the phone asking for the appointment, it really isn’t about what you say. It is about the message you deliver that gives them enough value in that moment to say “Yes” to my meeting. “Yes” to my request for time. Once I have that time, I have to walk in that door and start learning to listen. In sales, we always think about being a closer and closing, and that that’s the sexy part of being in sales. The truth is that the sexy part of sales is discovery. It is the part where you are listening to your prospects. When you sit down with that C-Suite and you have to turn your mouth off and your ears on. As soon as you start talking your ears will turn off, and so will the CEO your sitting in front of.
GN: Statics show people leave their bosses, not their jobs. What do you think sales leaders can do to be more relatable to their employees, and what qualities should every great sales manager have?
JB: If you just think about the great leaders you had, they lead with questions. They ask questions. They emulate a lot of the same behaviors they want to see in their salespeople. They want their salespeople to sit down at the discovery and ask questions. So instead of yelling, screaming and threatening, and giving direction and orders, they’re asking questions that generate self-awareness, that get the person to think. That gets them to challenge the different possibilities for what path they might be able to take.
If I look back at all of my leaders, they were leaders that used the language of questions to lead, versus the language of words.
GN: What are the five books you’d recommend all salespeople read?
- Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
- Bob Burg’s “The Go Giver” (You can read our interview with Bob Burg here)
- Jeb Blount’s “Sales EQ” It is my humble opinion because I wrote it, but it takes the context of both of the previous books and really narrows it down to what is specifically is happening along the sales process.
- Mike Weinberg’s “New Sales Simplified”
- Anthony Iannarino “The Lost Art of Closing”