Dylis: Hi there. This is Dylis Guyan from the Inspired Selling Podcast, the place of course where people who sell to other businesses, or to bigger businesses, disc
over really how to be inspired, to get in touch with clients and to give value – also to inspire the client to take action for them to be able to achieve their objective their goals whatever it is.
I’ve got another great guest for you today the inimitable John Smibert. John is a B2B sales specialist, change agent, challenger, coach, trainer, speaker; if you cut him in two that’s just what he’s got running through his veins. John works with companies who are striving to grow high margin revenue by retaining customers, creating value for customers and strategically acquiring new customers. I know John’s going to talk to us a lot about value and about ‘giving’ so I’m really looking forward to hearing more.
Before we move on to that let me just tell you a little bit more about John who has achieved twenty five annual sales clubs with I.T. multinationals selling to large banks, Telco, Federal and State Government and the manufacturing industry. He’s led sales teams to success over the past twenty years. This is in John’s words, and I just want to emphasise this is John words; he’s one of the most switched on old heads in a rapidly changing world of B2B sales. And I had to stress those were your words John, welcome.
John: I talk a lot about understanding your unique promise of value and I’m an old guy in fact I’m retired.
John: My wife doesn’t believe it, I’m retired and I’m doing things because I have fun doing what I’m doing. Somebody asked me ‘What’s your unique promise of value?” So I just immediately responded with those words and I went ‘uh’, that sounds alright. I wrote them in LinkedIn the other day. It’s interesting to hear them back to the first time.
Dylis: Yes, and I’m absolutely thrilled that John people will hear that you haven’t got a clear-cut British accent and that you’re joining me today from Australia so I’m absolutely thrilled and I’ve got a number of your colleagues who I’ve met through you, who are joining me on this podcast.
John: For your listeners out there Dylis let me tell you….Dylis had a holiday out here in Australia.
Dylis: It did, yeah.
John: I got a message saying I’m going to be in town. And look, if anybody is coming into Sydney and, you know holiday or whatever, and they want to talk sales just ring me up I’d love a cup of coffee or whatever. But you know Dylis and I had a great time, we got together and I interviewed you a few times in front a video camera which we’ve been publishing and with great response by my audience, thank you very much.
Dylis: Oh, it was a pleasure John. It was, if I dare say, the highlight of my holiday but keep that a secret from my husband. I met your wife Joan and we just got on like a house on fire it was such a really lovely holiday and then getting the opportunity to come in and have conversations with you around B2B selling which of course is a passion for both of us.
John: I guess we better get down to talking about something of value to your audience.
Dylis: Absolutely. So you’ve worked with thousands of sales people and as I said a tonne of experience selling B2B and you’ve created many top performing sales teams and sales individuals. So what would you say that these top salespeople demonstrate that the average sales person doesn’t, what qualities, what characteristics, what behaviours.
John: First off I’m going to just say they’re ‘givers’, they like giving to others. The worst sales people that I’ve ever worked with are the ones that are the takers. I’m out there to get an order from this customer and if that’s the primary intent in their mind I don’t want them in my team.
John: “Selling is about giving and helping. In fact for a lot of your audience, you may or may not know that the heritage of the word sell is an old English word ‘Sellan’ and an old German word ‘Sellen’ and the word sell derives from that and Sellan means ‘to give’.”
John: So, selling is giving and I hear a lot of people on their profile…described their role, and the word sales. or sell, isn’t there. Its ‘account manager’, ‘account executive’ – you know all sorts of things without the word sales. I am so proud of being a salesperson…
John: Because sales people give, sales people create value for others. It’s obviously not as simple as that yet if you get that intent and understanding and purpose behind what you do you’ll be a world class salesperson. Yes, it takes work, it takes practice it takes focus and so on – but that’s the intent.
Dylis: And I love that John because I hear very often, I’m sure you have too, people say; “Well I don’t want to be seen as a sales person”, particularly business owners who are doing their own selling. “I don’t want to be seen as a sales person.” Well actually, yes you do! And you’ve given a great description there of the word sell and how it is about ‘giving’.
I always talk about when I’m working with an audience or an individual company that your mind will move to the most dominant thought whether it’s positive or negative and your actions will follow. So if you are going in to see a client and your mind is set on “how can I achieve my target?” “How can I get them to say yes today?” “How can I convince them that we are the best”? Then your actions will follow that, you will be seen to be more pushy and so on. If you can switch that thinking to one of customer focus; how can I help my customer to achieve their objectives?
John: Let’s also talk to the sales managers out there. Sales managers have enormous impact on that mindset of their people and the thing that I hate hearing sales managers say, and every sales manager has got to put a forecast together, and they always wanting to know two things; is it a deal and when’s it going to close?
John: What question do a lot of sales managers ask their sales people, exactly that question. How big is it and when’s it going to close?
John: What does that depict in the behaviour, how does a salesperson react to that? Well the sales people that are not real givers or haven’t got their minds set of course they’re going to go out and what are they going to say to the customer? How big is it and when can you give it to me?
John: Right and that’s all their behaviour, so the behaviour starts at the top and works down but if we’re talking to individual salespeople right now it doesn’t matter what your sales manager says or does, you need to get your mind set right and that’s all around the customer and how you can help the customer – how you create value for the customer from their perspective. It’s not the value you think you bring to the table, it’s helping them go through a thinking process to ultimately get to an outcome that creates value for them.
We create value in every conversation if we’re a good salesperson. So, you talk about a measure of a good salesperson; every good sales person I know absolutely are committed to; “how do I create value through the conversation I have, every conversation I do have”.
Dylis: Yes exactly.
John: If you’ve got the wrong mindset you’re behaving in a way that I’m trying to ‘get’ and the customer will immediately say I’m not getting value out of this conversation.
Dylis: The buyers are much more discerning these days, aren’t they? They’re looking for much more. You know, gone are the days of the encyclopaedia salesperson who had to go around with the case full of encyclopaedias to be able to demonstrate because there was no internet, there was no facility for people to be able to have a look at products and these days, they’re not waiting for you going along to demonstrate product.
John: Absolutely! So in the world of – and you just started touching the subject – the world of sales is dramatically changing and unfortunately too many people aren’t recognising it. There is a tsunami of change coming through and it’s not just in sales it’s in our whole world. I talk to futurists all the time so we talk about what society is going to look like when we have autonomous cars, driverless cars.
Dylis: Yeah, yeah.
John: They think in twenty or thirty years or forty years that may have an impact, well guys I think that’s happening much more quickly than that and you know other things are happening around the world that are really going to reshape the way we think, the way we work, and so on. The impact of all of that on how people make decisions, how organisations make decisions, and what drives those decisions are dramatically changing and that tsunami is coming through we’ve got to learn how to ride that tsunami.
Dylis: Can you give us some examples there John because this is a really interesting subject that actually a lot of people don’t even address.
John: Lots of examples. There are some numbers flying around at the moment, research numbers about how business to business transactions occur. Now, a lot of sales people really have been transaction managers, and the reality is very quickly any transaction that’s happening is happening automatically. Technology is handling the management of transactions, so if I’m sitting in a job where a large proportion of what I do is say to the customer “how many today” and fill in a form or put it into an iPad or whatever and send the order off, your job is gone. In fact, a lot of those jobs have already gone.
So, it really comes down to if you want to survive in this world you need to move into roles where it’s really important that we create value for the customer through the conversation. From an example point of view there’s lots of examples, if you talk about the pharmaceutical industry, you talk about anybody, a lot of the medical industries that we sell to these days.
In my area in technology, software, we used to have to sell these big software packages and you’d get the license right up front and it’s all cloud based now, it’s all subscription based and so on. So, we can’t walk in the door, sell a software solution and expect to get ten, fifteen, twenty million dollars upfront. Well we’re probably only going to get a few thousand dollars now and a few thousand next month and a few thousand the following month.
Different thinking required altogether. So how do we do that, it’s again coming back to how do we create value for the customer, well how do we help the customer create value for themselves? How do we do that? I keep saying that until the cows come home, but basically the top sales people today they have an absolute commitment to becoming an expert in some area of the customer’s domain and if you don’t, how do you create value for the customer? How do you bring unique insight to the table if you don’t understand the customer’s domain and understand what unique insight then would match to that domain and create value for customers through the conversation?
John: Domain expertise is absolutely critical and every top salesperson I know has great domain expertise.
Dylis: Yeah, now just for those who may not understand your reference to domain expertise what do you mean by that? I know but if you just explain that,
John: If I’m selling – if my territory is banking finance – let’s say I’m selling security solutions to banking and finance, software services whatever. A lot of us think I have to be an expert in my security software, in my security services. But can I suggest out there that it is one hundred percent more important to be an expert in banking and understanding the issues the banks are facing relating to security from their perspective.
Dylis: Yeah, exactly.
John: Right, and once you understand that then you can look for lots of opportunities to bring insight to the table. Now a lot of sales people say how do I ever bring insight to the table you know I’m talking to a banker here and try to make it on domain expert but where am I going to get the insight? Well the fact is, as sales people we have more insight that we see as a value to our customers than our customers ever will. We’re talking to, if we’re selling to the banking industry we’re talking to lots and lots and lots of bankers and all of them are talking about how they solve their problems.
John: Now I can bring some of those to this new banker I’m just talking to, get some insight and of course I’m not going to tell him all about it, I’m going to capture that in the way I ask questions. “I was talking to somebody recently who sounded like he had a problem similar to yours, and he was addressing it this way and the outcomes were like this, will that make sense in your environment?” Tell me how that might apply.
Dylis: Right, exactly all about them, all about them.
John: All about them, all about them. The best sales people – people are going to be floored with this – but the best sales people don’t talk about their product or service. Now the problem is if you never do now obviously you have to get to talk about your product or service but that’s right down the sales process.
Dylis: Certainly, absolutely
John: Way down, so in your approach in the way you engage in the early stages and then once you get a commitment to do a discovery, and really understand the customer and get in and do all your insightful questioning – and then through the process of developing your value proposition – not once do you discuss the product in any of those three stages of the sales process.
Once you’ve got agreement on what the value proposition is now you can start talking about well how can you achieve that value proposition with the customer and I’m using the word ‘proposition’ but it’s not proposing your product, it’s proposing how they can change their business.
John: Right and that’s the key.
Dylis: Yes, yes indeed and yet John we’re still seeing people going out there talking product right from the outset. You hit the nail on the head before because this has to come from higher, it has to come from the company down, and I’m seeing that is missing in I would say the majority of the clients that I work with, there is still this product dumping.
With the successful sales people and I’m just thinking of one in particular, a bank that I was working with and one of their top sales people. For the week that I was working with them he was in the lounge every morning doing a half hour of research on his market so not just the client but on the world in which they operate. And he was head and shoulders above all of the other sales people.
John: Right, I would suggest that person had developed themselves to be a domain expert, and the research would have been largely around his target customers and the industry they’re operating in, and what’s happening in that industry, and how I can bring unique insight to the table. Obviously how that might relate to the product or service that I’m able to bring to the table because if I’m going to introduce unique insight, where is that going to lead the customer’s thinking and can I help the customer then achieve the change that’s necessary to get that value.
John: So obviously that all ties together but the focus is first on the customer.
Dylis: So we’ve got the mindset which really is the foundation isn’t it?
John: If you’ve got that mindset then you’re going to research because you then understand the value of it right.
Dylis: Exactly this is what I was talking before about your mind moves the most dominant thought positive and negative and your actions follow, so having that right mindset of customer first.
John: I’ve got a friend, and he’s not as old as I am but he’s been around a long time, and he has been a salesperson for a long time. And you know every company he’s worked for; he’s worked for five or six companies in the last few years, have wanted to train him in their products. He’s says I don’t want to know but do you know why he doesn’t want to know about the product because the product training tends to change his mind set.
Dylis: Yeah, yeah.
John: Tell me more about your customers, tell me more about the challenges they’re facing, let me understand what some of your other customers are doing to address that sort of problem without talking about your product.
John: If he understands that he’s going to talk to the customer bring unique insight to the table when he identifies where all the challenges are and how they might be able to change to get the value then he’ll go back to his company and say ‘hey, have we got anything to help the customer achieve this’?
John: He’s done the sales job now he can bring the product expertise in.
Dylis: Yeah, yeah and John you know if you look at a typical company who’s employing salespeople, it’s no wonder that they talk product because they become employed and they get this much product training, they get that much sales training and they get that much in prospect training. Then they get a target, they don’t achieve their target because they haven’t been…they’re so full of product and talking about…
John: No wonder why the customer doesn’t want to talk to them, yeah.
Dylis: Exactly, they don’t achieve their target, they get despondent the manager gets heavy with them, they lose their confidence, they start and become negative and eventually they leave. I read some statistics recently that said eighteen point six percent of sales people will leave the company every year and that is tragic.
John: The stat I saw the other day is the average tenure of a salesperson is one point seven years and if companies are running that way obviously, there’s no value for their company, let alone their customers.
Dylis: Yes indeed.
John: Particularly in the more complex sort of selling that I work in, you can’t bring a salesperson in – even if they’re very experienced salesperson – you can’t bring them without helping them understand the customer base, the unique insights to bring to the table, help them be a domain expert and all that sort of stuff, and get them productive – particularly when lead times tend to be six or twelve months in seventeen or eighteen months. They might be getting their first order through the door and they’re out the door and going to the next employee.
Dylis: Exactly, and they’re going out very often feeling negative towards the company they’ve been employed by, and because they’re a salesperson by profession they join another company but they go through rinse and repeat.
John: Yeah, it’s really unfortunate. Despite all that research I’ve got to say I know some very good companies that are very competent and they do get a much longer tenure on average with their sales people. So, it can be done and it must be done for those to survive. It’s really important to develop a ‘culture of purpose’ in the sales organization – well in the whole organisation – but in the sales organisation that culture of purpose has to be focused on the customer experience.
John: That’s what it’s all about. Now those are very easy words to say, “Have we got a culture of purpose that’s focused on customer experience?” Everybody says “Yes, it’s on the board wall” but the reality is to change the organisation, and the mind-set of the individuals in the organisation, it’s a long process. If you have typically been a product sales organisation it’s a long process to change that culture of purpose. But if you haven’t started, start now, because the organisations that don’t have that culture of purpose – the customer experience – will not survive as the tsunami washes through it.
Dylis: Yes completely.
John: Customers have no interest in dealing with people that want to talk about their products.
Dylis: Yes! And it’s about keeping that message – I call it keeping the red paint red – it’s about keeping that message of customer focus running through the company like life blood really and everybody embracing that that same message.
John: Calling out bad behaviour.
John: Calling out bad behaviour up, down and across the organisation. In the many change programs I help put in place I encourage the sales teams, one, to get their mind right first and two, call out bad behaviour of their sales manager.
John: Because the sales manager is getting this push should be getting the right culture building into the team and if they start asking questions like I mentioned before; “How big is the deal, and when is it going to close?”, it’s wrong behaviour. “Mr manager, sorry I’m not going to answer that question. I’ll answer a few other questions you want to ask me like; “What value is a customer going to get out at the end of this process?”, “How is it going to make a difference to their business?” “Why is it important to them?” “What’s their timeline for achieving that and when do they want to see the value flowing out of the implementation – let’s work back from that from when they make the decision?”, and “What are the steps they’re going to go through in their buying journey?” – they’re all great questions.
John: They’re customer oriented questions.
John: But “how big is a deal and when are they going to close?” is a supplier oriented question and demonstrates the wrong behaviour and their wrong mind set.
Dylis: Yes, you’ve just brought up a great subject there John. I’d like to just explore that a little bit more in terms of the ‘buyer’s journey’ and the importance of aligning with that buyer’s journey. So talk to us about that and let’s get a little bit deeper into that because it really is so important isn’t it to align with that.
John: Its part of being a customer oriented and driving towards the best customer experience. So a lot of old sales people that are very committed to a sales process, and sales process is good – I’m not saying it’s not good – but they’re very committed to process they feel they’ve got to take the customer through their process.
So the first thing we do is open the door and build report, second thing we do is, maybe they call it discovery whatever, where we do researching and discovery in the organisation. Then we develop a proposal, and then we do a demonstration, and then we negotiate and close, or whatever the process is, and “Mr Customer this is the process I’m going to take you through”.
Well, that’s not customer focused. So what do we do? A lot of these sales people are very worried – if we give the customer the reins, the customer will go and take us in the wrong direction. The customer has got to be honoured and respected that they have the authority. It’s them and their business and they’re going to go through a process to make a decision to address a particular challenge or opportunity they’ve got.
So why don’t I ask the question? “What steps are you going to go through in evaluating this challenge and working out how are you going to address it Mr. Customer, and have you got a timeline, and how can we help you through that process?”Dylis: Exactly.John: It’s a change of thinking, isn’t it?
John: It’s customer focused thinking. Now if talk about alignment, when we know what the customer is going through and what the timelines are, assuming we find that out, and once we’ve established rapport and we’ve established that we’re there to help them, and they sense that we’re not there just to get an order, they’re much more open to talking – “yes, well you can help me. Here’s what we’re trying to get through and here’s where I’ve got challenges in my part of that decision making – and I’ve got a committee over here with 6.7 people on it and I need to get that decision past through – so you can help me with this and that.’
So, that sort of dialogue it’s very customer focused and you find customers warm to you and become much more trusting in the fact that you’re a consultant here to help them through a process.
John: You’re a consultant to help them get to the right decisions. If your product happens to help them do that then maybe your product will be part of it. That’s the attitude. Now obviously I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time talking to a customer when my product is not going to be a part of the outcome, so managing that, and managing reciprocity, is a vital part and a vital skill that salespeople need. Yes, we need to be givers, but we need to manage reciprocity.
Dylis: Yeah and the successful salesperson will, you know, you talked about a committee which is often the case with the bigger more complex sales, they will navigate their way around that, they will understand the committee, they will understand who is involved, they will understand the benefits to each of those people within that committee.
John: Or in some cases they may not but they will work out how they’ll help – in the case of the Challenger Customer (CEB) – help the mobiliser cajole those people into a decision. So whether they’re doing it directly or they’re helping a mobiliser do it doesn’t really matter. Yes, they understand that’s where the challenges are and they know that they have a role in helping them go through that decision process.
Dylis: Yes and they’re very aware of these things. And what I’ve always found fascinating too if you look into teams, you’ve got silos of information and intelligence where they’re not being encouraged to share and so everybody’s got their own bit of intelligence but if the manager would create an environment where people would share these insights, share the knowledge they could actually grow the team but it’s often overlooked.
John: Part of this tsunami of change is happening of course for us to respond to it we need to be much better at team selling. It’s no longer the salesperson out there slaying the dragon all on their own dragging it into the company, it’s got to be a team approach and you’re right if you’re operating in silos and it’s very hard for information or people to move across silos then you won’t have the ability to drive a good customer experience.
John: So breaking down those silos and making it very easy for people to be formed into teams whether they are real teams or the virtual teams or whatever working together understanding and this takes a lot of skill by a lot of people to collaboratively work together towards getting an end result. Now the salesperson is a very important role in that but now the salesperson has to be a very good people manager.
John: Right and a very good leader in what they do and that’s a skill a lot of salespeople haven’t got so they need to develop it as the tsunami of change comes through.
Dylis: What would be your key points then in trying to develop that John?
John: In an organisational point of view or an individual point of view?
Dylis: Just sharing of intelligence you know so that we break down the silos.
John: To have efficient running of an organisation needs some level of structure, so you’ve always got that dangerous silos occurring, However you need from the top an empowerment happening, for people to be empowered. If I need something done for my customer, particularly if it’s for my customer, I should have empowerment to talk to anybody in my company that I think might be able to help me with that and there response should be I’m delighted you brought that to me right and I really feel privileged that you think that I can help you with your customer. That’s the culture that’s got to be developed but it’s an empowerment culture from the top down it’s got to be encouraged to say anybody can talk to anybody in this organisation.
As soon as you get behaviour that that goes against that, you’ve got to have a system where such behaviour is called out, in a nice way, because you get a head of a silo saying you’re too busy here I don’t want you talking to that person over there, because I need you would have delivered something over here. Well that person instead has to say, “Well okay, that’s obviously important as a customer thing. We’ve got the skill and the capability to help in that, how can I fill the gap or how can I help you do that, how can we backfill on this one, let’s work out how it can be done”. Because across the board it’s the customer that counts.
John: As soon as I start saying you can’t work on helping that, even though you’re the best person to do it, and helping that person drive value for that customer, we’ve got the blockage starting to happen in the organisation.
John: So its top down and it requires a change programme to rethink training and putting in collaborative systems and a whole host of other things but you still need strong leadership across all those there is to drive that change. And I’ve got to say, when you find people that don’t want to change, leaders particularly, I’m sorry they’ve got to go because you cannot….you haven’t got time to try and get a leader to change after three or four years. They can’t change at six months, and rethink the way they support the organization, I’m sorry they’ve got to go.
Dylis: Yes, and for me the leaders are the key components in the business because however they are, the team will be. So, if they are focused on self on them achieving their team numbers and so on that’s what they were created in the team. So these team leaders are key/crucial to the success of businesses.
John: If your team have a clear idea of where we’re trying to go, what we’re trying to do with their customers in achieving customer expectations and there’s clarity in that, our goals and so on, and then you empower them to do whatever they need to do to achieve that and support them in doing that, then you don’t have to tell them what to do, you don’t have to measure end results, it will happen.
You help them understand the tasks. Yes, sales is classic, there’s a whole lot of activities that need to be performed starting right early in the sales process. You need to be able to be working with your salespeople as the manager “so how are you going, you know, engaging with customers right the beginning, how are you going with discovery, let me ride shotgun with you in some meetings?” – and riding shotgun it’s not taking over right.
John: You need to define which roles am I going to have as a sales manager and what is your role as a sales person and you need to let that salesperson take the risk of failing.
John: We as managers don’t achieve the end result – all of our people achieve it.
John: They need to be empowered to do that, and we need to give them the respect that they deserve, that they’re going to go out and do their best to do that.
Dylis: Yeah absolutely, John I could talk to you all day I absolutely could, we must talk again at some point I love hearing your insights so if any of our listeners or viewers would like to get in touch with you John how might they do that?
John: Well there’s a few ways. One is I run a group called the Strategic Selling Group, so go on to LinkedIn and join the Strategic Selling Group. Particularly if you’re in larger B2B, complex B2B, this group is very very good in that area and you can have lots of good dialogue. I guess if you connect with me on LinkedIn. So find me on LinkedIn and just simply connect, anybody that’s a sales leader or sales manager I’ll accept. I mean if you’ve got nothing to do with B2B sales I’ll question why you’re trying to connect with me and if there’s anything I can do…I run resource centres I have a YouTube channel interviewing people like you Dylis and a whole lot of other brilliant people.
All of those resources they’re free of charge. As I said I’m in retirement and I’m trying to do what I can to give back. So there’s lots of stuff there just find me on LinkedIn and I think I’m probably the only John Smibert on LinkedIn and certainly the only one in Sydney so just find me and connect, that’ll give you my phone numbers and email addresses and so that’s the best part.
Dylis: Perfect and I would endorse all of that, your groups, your videos, the interviews you do it’s such a huge contribution to the sales field.
John: You’re so beautiful Dylis thank you very much.
Dylis: Oh, you’re making me blush.
John: It’s my delight. I love doing that sort of stuff and I really do hope that people get value out of it and if they want me to interview anybody in particular or want to know more about a particular subject where I have interviewed somebody just let me know and I’ll chase it up and maybe do another interview with somebody.
Dylis: Fantastic, have a great…well a great evening John I’ve got the rest of the day ahead of me but it’s been a pleasure.
John: Thank you very much Dylis I really enjoyed it, I look forward to the next time.
Dylis: Bye for now, bye.