What it takes to succeed today in selling is blending old school and new school together. You know there’s this amazing paradox in selling at the moment in that it is never been easier to sell on one hand and yet there’s never been a higher failure rate for sellers in B2B selling in the history of the world.
Dylis: Hi there and welcome to the Inspired Selling Podcast with Dylis Guyan. This is the place where people who sell to bigger businesses discover how to attract, convert and retain more of their ideal clients without any of those nasty, sleazy, pushy sales tactics. Once again I have a fantastic guest for you today, the one and only the inimitable Tony J Hughes and I’m thrilled to have you with us here this morning Tony. I know its evening for you there in Australia. Let me just give a little bit of your background so people have got context of who you are and what you’ve done.
Tony has thirty years of sales leadership experience and holds personal and team sales records that have never been broken. That is a huge achievement and a great accolade to Tony. He’s ranked by Top Sales Magazine as the most influential person in professional selling in Asia Pacific and he teaches modernised selling within the M.B.A. program at the University of Technology in Sydney.
Tony is also an award winning blogger and the most read LinkedIn author globally on the topic of B2B sales leadership. He has more than two hundred thousand followers of his blog and Tony’s first book is a business best seller and I just happen to have it here. ‘The Joshua Principle’ and I’ve got to say that this is one of my top five best sales books that I have ever read so thank you for that Tony. And his next book in fact to set for publication in…is it the beginning of January 2018 Tony?
Tony: Yes so this Christmas January 2018 and it’s called ‘Combo Prospecting’ and it’s being published by the American Management Association.
Dylis: Fantastic and I know Tony has a really great list of clients which include Salesforce, Oracle, LinkedIn, Findx, Schneider Electric, BAE Systems, Red Hat, New Zealand Government and I could go on. He speaks at conferences internationally in London and the USA for Salesforce World Tour in 2017.
In fact Tony, it was the Top Sales World conference in London where we first met last year and we had a great conversation. I’m absolutely delighted to have you with us today and I know that one of the things you talk about is moving away from this interrupt and push method of selling to attract and engage and you kind of encapsulate this in “modernise the way you sell”. So could you just put some context around that, tell us what you mean by modernising the way you sell and why that’s important.
Tony: Yes thanks Dylis and I feel like it’s all downhill after an introduction like that. So I mean to me what it takes to succeed today in selling is blending old school and new school together. You know there’s this amazing paradox in selling at the moment in that it is never been easier to sell on one hand and yet there’s never been a higher failure rate for sellers in B2B selling in the history of the world.
It’s really incredible because when you think about it we’ve got the most powerful self weeding garden as an online database for prospects in the form of LinkedIn. So our ability to research organizations, identify the power base, find those individuals, even get their mobile phone or cell number to find a warm path to them through an introduction with somebody else. So our ability to research sellers and identify the right people and get to them has never been easier and yet people have never been failing at such higher levels.
One of the reasons that this is the case is that buyers are increasingly deadened to all of the outreach that’s being run by sales and marketing organizations. So to me what modernizing our approach really means is honouring timeless principles that have always been needed to succeed in sales.
As an example of that, we know that relationships are important and we know that all business is done at the speed of trust so we need to be able to build trust and we can start that process online and the reason that’s possible is three quarters of potential buyers that we run outreach to, three quarters of them will research us before choosing to engage.
So for example if we set our LinkedIn profile up, instead of being an online CV, that instead being a personal branding microsite where we really start to set the agenda around the conversations that we can have with people and the value that we can provide, we can blend old school and new school together in providing value for people. That’s how people can modernise and really start to live at the level of efficiency that they need to sell because some of the trends that are going on out there is that average deal size is getting smaller for organisations and yet the effort required to sell is really the same or even worse.
The number of people involved in bigger organisations, for them to achieve consensus to make a buying decision is increasing not decreasing. So for sellers to really cope with that their sales quotas goes up every year yet average deal size is going down. They must get good at being able to break through with organisations, it’s the only way that they can be successful.
Dylis: Yes, indeed. Are you finding that we still have the situation? You know you’re talking about, it’s never been easier to find information about clients to be able to research the clients and yet I’m finding personally that people are still not doing it. They’re not researching, they’re still going in leading with products.
Tony: Yes that’s very true and one of the reasons is people just have a need to drive a huge level of activity in their own minds for them to be successful and yet the reality is we don’t have a shortage of prospects, we have a shortage of hours in the day to be successful so we need to get good at researching and going deeper, finding a way to create greater value for clients and drive up average deal size.
It’s critically important…it staggers me the number of sellers that don’t do basic research before they meet with somebody. Even when they go for sales interviews for a new role; I’m on a number of boards and I’ll often say that the line manager that’s hiring a salesperson I’ll say let’s get into your own LinkedIn profile and let’s see which of the people coming today to be interviewed have done their research on you because if they’re not going to research you as their potential new employer, how in the world can we expect them to research the people they’re going to try and go and sell to when they’re working for us?
Dylis: Yes exactly. Could you give us some examples Tony of relatively easy ways to do research, that will arm our sellers and position them as the trusted advisor, so the potential buyer can see that they understand them as a client, they understand the world in which they operate.
Tony: Yes so when we do research we need to do pragmatic research, a lot of people get bogged down in researching. It’s like when you say to them you need to embrace the principles of social selling, they don’t say this out loud but inside they go, great now I can be busy all day not have to make any phone calls.
Tony: Which is a giant mistake the phone is critically important today still and in the same way if you say you need to do research before you call people you find them endlessly researching again rather than jumping on the phone and driving outreach.
So when we research it really needs to be in three areas, we need to research the industry of the customer, the customer organization itself and then the individual. That’s one of the reasons it’s very important for anybody in business to business selling, if they’re large enough to structure this sales organisation around Geo verticals because if you have a level of demand expertise around the industry you just need to do that once and then you’ll know that there are common problems the companies have in that industry then you just do some easy, simple, pragmatic research on the business and then research the individuals you’re driving outreach with.
Dylis: Yeah and of course this can all be held in a central point it could be put into a hub couldn’t it if you’re talking about industry research so that everyone in the company can access that.
Tony: Yeah I mean every organisation should, in my view if they’re in B2B selling should absolutely have LinkedIn Sales Navigator because that’s a great tool for building sales funnel for research in the individuals you’ll drive outreach to and then they also need to make sure that they have a C.R.M. so create a single source of truth about customers and prospects and then obviously with collaboration tools where they can share information easily. You can put up pages the create that level of the main knowledge, you make sure you know who your case studies are so you can provide real examples of where you’ve delivered actual business value.
Dylis: Another issue that I see is and you just mentioned it, it’s critical that they move to the phone and use the phone for outreach and I think that’s declining massively. People are busy as you’ve just said doing the research or they’re on social media and it’s nearly like an excuse for them not to pick up the phone, it’s as if it’s become a red hot brick. You know it’s like I can’t, I just can’t do this, I can’t do it.
So what’s behind that Tony what is stopping people? Is it because they’re becoming…and I say this with love, but busy fools and kidding themselves that they’re doing the right thing. Or is it because they’re not confident with what to say?
Tony: Well human nature is such that none of us like rejection so everybody worries about being rejected no matter how much bravado they push out there and then you add to that, that we’ve got a lot of millennials coming into the workplace and you know they think that they’ve grown up to be digital native and their natural instincts are to message people on social platforms rather than actually call them. But here’s the thing, the fact that everybody else is jumping into social using email, using social to try and drive outreach is the very reason we need to go back to the phone, everybody has at least one mobile phone or cell phone.
I was on a train this morning going in to see one of my clients today and just standing across from me on the train was a gentleman with his mobile phone and so he had it there and he was looking at it in his top pocket in his suit he had another mobile phone. Clearly he has one for work and one for personal.
I actually use a plug-in for LinkedIn called Lusha L-U-S-H-A, it’s an Eastern European word that means grandmother. The idea is the grandmother in the village always knew who you needed to go talk to but it’s a great tool just for sourcing cell phone numbers. So getting back on the phone is how you can reach people because they just…they’re bombarded on social platforms and in emails.
So yes I agree I need to get back on the phone and I jokingly say people treat the phone like it’s covered with spiders. So here’s the reality, in my view we need to adopt combinations of outreach. The phone on its own is really low yield, email on its own doesn’t break through and social on its own definitely doesn’t as well.
So what we need to do is people need to time block the best times to call senior executives is seven forty five in the morning to nine A.M. so before people disappear into meetings all day long and call their cell phone and then from four P.M. up until about six P.M. is when I would recommend the people call.
Thursdays is probably the best day of the week but the truth is any day that ends in Y where people are working is a great time to call people. So what we need to do is we need to phone, leave a voicemail and we then need to instantly send an email and that’s the basic combo of the triples; a phone, voicemail, email.
I’ve had C.E.O.s say to me Tony do you know what, you’re right. If someone just leaves me a voicemail message I easily ignore it, if they just email me, I easily ignore it but if they voicemail me and email me I feel like I at least owe them a response to the email and if you want you can even add to it, text the person and then even direct message them in Twitter if you actually have the details there and by all means send them an in-mail.
So on the LinkedIn platform you can only message people if you’re a first degree connection but if you’ve got Sales Navigator you can still send email messages to people as well but the thing you want is you want people to think wow this person is determined, if I don’t call them back they’re just going to keep calling.
Tony: So you have the right narrative, if you’re trying to call people and say, let me tell you about me and my company you are going to be perceived as a sales pest so the first rule is people need to move away from talking about who they are and what they do and instead talk about why a conversation should matter to the buyer.
Tony: So you know, I was working with an organisation today and one of their people sells into the travel industry saying you know if you’re calling a travel agent you need to call them and say you know;
“Hey it’s Tony from XYZ here I know you’re busy but the reason I’m calling is I’m working with other travel agents and I know that the metric of customer satisfaction is really important because it drives referrals and it drives repeat travel business with your travel clients.
With some of my clients they’ve been able to move the needle on the net promoter scores from here to here. I’m not sure whether you could get the same kind of results but I’d love to get together and to share how some of those organisations are approaching that, how is your calendar for Thursday?”
Tony: If you have that kind of conversation there’s value for the person in talking with you well in advance of them ever deriving value from actually becoming a client, so if we feel we provide value then we’re going to be emboldened to drive all of that outreach because we’re going to feel, do you know what they should thank me for calling them because they’re going to get something out of the conversation with me.
Dylis: Yeah and that’s a great example of having done your research that you understand the market and you’re demonstrating in your narrative when you’re actually speaking to them or you’re writing to them.
Dylis: I in fact add in another method of outreach within of course that process that you’ve mentioned, I like a direct mail piece too because there are so many people now who don’t receive letters.
Dylis: Or even a postcard, you know, something that just differentiates, something that makes you stand out so it also meets all of these different senses so you’ve got the phone, you’ve got this virtual on your social media and you’ve got the messaging and you’ve got a hard piece of a marketing.
Dylis: I remember years ago and I speak of this often just as an example, I just out of the blue got an email from…It was Don Kennedy I don’t know if you’ve heard of him a big marketing guy in US and he was inviting me to a three day marketing event and of course with one email, just one touch, one interaction. I was never going to say yes to going from the U.K. to US.
What followed that, and this is a number of years ago so there wasn’t these social media platforms in action as they are today but what followed that was then another email, a letter, I then got a postcard and then I got a telephone call and on the telephone call I said yes.
The reason I said yes, because each piece of marketing material that I had received was full of benefits to me, full of problems that it would solve and the benefits and each time I received a piece, I kind of metaphorically moved forward and was more interested and in fact in the end when I said yes it was for myself and my husband to go so it was flights for both of us. Hotel and all of the associated costs for both of us and I would never have done that on a one email or even a one telephone call.
It was that combination of interactions that moved me because I wasn’t even aware of it, I wasn’t someone who was looking for a marketing event to attend so it was like it was education based type of marketing that really moved the needle for me.
Tony: Wow that’s a really powerful story and so as today part of modernising the way we sell is sellers today need to also become good marketers no B2B sales rep out there on the face of the planet is going to be able to make their quota, make their sales target based on the leads that are fed to them by an inside sales team by marketing leads, everybody needs to be good at creating sales pipelines.
So you know all of those techniques of all multiple channels of outreach running the right kind of combinations, many people will just make two or three phone calls and then they will misinterpret non responses from people as rejection when the truth is they’re just busy.
Tony: So we it’s that seventh, eighth, ninth piece of outreach that will really create the success so the first big important thing is make sure you have the right value narrative with the person on the other end of the phone or the other end of that email is going to derive value out of an interaction with us.
You know we really need to believe that they should be grateful that we’ve invested time with them and if we’ve got that in place we just need to relentlessly, persistently and in a positive way never show our frustration, never remind people of our unsuccessfulness in trying to reach them. Never say hey this is the seventh message I’m leaving…
Tony: Never do any of that stuff just politely, persistently, just absolutely stay on message and just drive combinations but they’ve got to be done within tight time frames, it’s phone, voice, email, text get it all done within thirty seconds the person’s going to go, you know my beepers melting down with that man, you know I need to respond to this person or they’re just going to keep going.
Dylis: Yeah, so that’s interesting Tony so you would recommend then that all of your activity is done simultaneously?
Tony: Yes I absolutely do in and I’ve A/B tested a lot of this so the whole notion of, you know, I’ll send someone an email and then I’ll phone twenty four hours later, I’ll leave one voicemail but I won’t leave more voicemails because then it makes me sound like I’m desperate, you’ve got to let go of all of that. You just need to realise my buyer is busy and stressed they’re not lonely and bored and looking for a new friend, right.
So trying to friend them as a strategy is a giant mistake don’t call people up and say how are you, are you having a nice day? Forget all that just say Hey John its Tony I know you busy but the reason I’m calling is…so get to the point for them and respect their time but you just got to relentlessly drive combinations to breakthrough because it’s what it takes today.
Senior people will respect our persistence if we’re carrying the right narrative. If we’ve got the wrong narrative, if we have the wrong techniques that will work against us so for example one of the things to avoid, is never connect…never send a connection request to somebody in LinkedIn and then the moment they accept the connection request you then try and sell to them you know you’re blasting and spamming them with your message that’s a giant fail.
We provide value before we try and sell but we need to get back and focused on the phone as the initial goal, we want to telephone conversation with that person and text and social and email is…all of our activities are designed to get us a phone call. If we send an email and they reply to the email we should jump on the phone.
Tony: If they reply to the text message we should jump on the phone.
Dylis: Yeah yeah.
Tony: Just every chance we get just have conversations, get human interaction back into the equation with people.
Tony: So let’s just go back a step then to connecting with someone on social. So let’s say it’s LinkedIn, someone’s accepted your invitation to connect what would your next step be.
Dylis: You don’t want to start pushing for the appointment at that point.
Tony: Yes so the reality today is nobody should be making cold calls and everybody should have at least one hour, ideally two hours a day on the phone if they’re serious about sales and yet they should never be cold calling.
Tony: If you say it’s a contradiction well no it’s not because today it’s very easy to warm a call up, so for example if I was going to take a Geo vertical approach to how I’m trying to build sales pipeline I pick a city or a region, I pick a vertical industry, I talked about travel agents previously in sales navigator you can identify all of those in a geography relatively easily.
You save the accounts, you say people of interest in those accounts as leads, LinkedIn is now being a trigger event database for you its going to let you know when they publish content, when they promote it, when they change roles but then what you do is you time block and you phone people and I personally wouldn’t send the connection request to somebody that I don’t know. I think some people can go negative about that but you can send a message to them in LinkedIn if you’re on sales navigator.
So what I would be doing I would Phone, voicemail, email, phone voicemail, email. I’d go and look at their LinkedIn profile if they look back at me you use that as a trigger event. You simply call them and say hey I noticed you had a look at my LinkedIn profile. Now I may be thinking well of course I did I saw that you looked at mine. At least you got some contexts for the phone call. Hey Frank I noticed you had a look at my LinkedIn profile the reason I was wanting to have a conversation with you is…right. So we need to get on the front foot, we need to keep the conversations tight but just will relentlessly drive combinations it’s absolutely the key.
If we go linear if we just go one person in the organization or one channel of outreach it’s not enough we either don’t get any traction, or when we do start to get traction, one person tries to block us and the rest of the accounts and you know one of the trends in selling is there is anywhere from five to seven groups of people or individuals in a in a larger organisation it’ll all need to gain consensus before they’re going to buy anyway, so we need to start building that consensus right from the beginning. The way we open a sales campaign with an organisation is actually more important than how we seek to close the business.
Dylis: So you would identify a company and then you would look at the various people within that company and connect with them all and carry out that multiple touch if you like in terms of your email, voicemail phone call?
Tony: Yeah we want to be multithreaded into an organisation, we don’t want to be single relationship dependence and then we want to use multiple channels of outreach to break through you know there’s some people I’ve often identified a key person that I’d like to get to that’s a potential client, looked in LinkedIn and found I know a few people that who have a common connection with that person and you know I’ve called them.
I’ve just phoned then and say hey Bill how well do you know Mary over at this company? Actually I know her really well. I say, hey great would you mind if I mentioned your name when I give her a call and what can you tell me about her? You say well actually the thing about Mary she doesn’t respond to email but she will respond to text messages. I say great have you got a phone…have you got a mobile phone number right then all of a sudden I’m the one person that’s driving outreach through the channel that she prefers and responds to.
So I’ll simply send a text hey Mary its Tony I was speaking to Frank earlier today. I’ve sent you an email really looking forward to catching up. Again I’m not trying to sell my message in a text message I’m trying to get her to read that email.
Some using multiple channels to get the person to have a look, a lot of people make the mistake of sending an email that’s a substitute for the conversation. The email should be securing the conversation.
Dylis: I always talk about this that you know to follow the rule of your initial contact is to sell the appointment; it’s not to talk about product, the product comes out way at the end.
Tony: Yeah, I absolutely agree.
Dylis: Something else talking about the rejection and I think you’re absolutely right that people avoid the phone because they don’t like the rejection and none of us do but if you can reframe that in your thinking, rather than it’s no forever, it’s not, it’s just no not right now and it’s easy then and if they say no to you to just stop to keep the relationship going, that’s no problem.
You know I’d love to keep in touch would you be open to receiving my tips and strategies or can we have another call in three months time, whatever it is, keep the doors open and keep the relationship going and I think people miss that. They think it’s no forever and its no not right now.
Tony: Yes so I agree with that one hundred percent the other thing I’d add to that is the thing that just staggers me with salespeople is they say things like, well I really don’t like making phone calls and my view is who cares whether you like it or don’t like it, are you committed to your own success or not?
It’s like a plumber saying they don’t like putting their arm up a sewer pipe to clear it I mean of course they don’t like doing that but I know plumbers who make way more money than doctors, dentists, lawyers and accountants right, they make a brilliant living and they just get over the fact that there’s some unpleasant aspects of their job and just go ahead and do it anyway.
I mean nobody likes rejection; nobody likes feeling like they’re interrupting someone’s day but if we passionately believe that we’re making a positive difference in the lives of our customers and that to me I really feel that selling has lost its way in recent years. People are talking like selling is about you know crunching prospects and crushing quota and slamming deals and the truth is no.
It’s about helping other people achieve a far better state of affairs in their in their personal and professional life and in their business and if we passionately believe that we can help people and that we can provide value for them in a conversation whether they buy from us or not then we should be fearless and feel really positive and we just got to get over the fact that we don’t like making the call.
There’s lots of things in life that we need to do that we don’t like and when it comes to diet or raising our kids in relationships, there’s things we need to do to keep ourselves in a healthy state in life and a in sales if you’re not on the phone you are heading, you are suffering from a obesity you’re heading from a heart attack you’re probably going to die.
You’ve got to be making those phone calls every single day and we’ve got to go past the sort of discipline in doing the calls to just having the habit. We’ve got to think you know what I’m going to be the first person in the office and I’m going to spend an hour, an hour and a half on the phone before all of the other snoozers that I work with turn up and check the email and drift down for coffee and chit chat.
I’m going to get a whole day’s work before they even turn up and they’ll probably be wondering why am I so successful what I’m doing the thing you need to do every single day to build a healthy pipeline.
Dylis: Yeah indeed and we are so on the same page and you use the word passion and I love that word. I’m like an evangelist, get it out there, you know I’m like the Billy Graham of sales and marketing and when people say to me but Dylis I don’t want to be seen to be pushy and often I have a marker pen in my hand you know, if I’m working with a group of people, and I put it down and I go, can I just share something with you?
I say, it is your duty to give people the opportunity to say yes or no not right now. You have no right to make that decision as to whether you’re going to be rejected or not you have to give them the opportunity and then I tell them the story about my father who went bankrupt when I was sixteen. Brilliant at what he did but he wasn’t brilliant at bringing clients in.
I mean it was absolutely tragic, he lost everything, he lost this business, vehicles, his employees lost their jobs, we lost the house and he was in such a state with all of this that it took him over the edge, he was a drinker anyway and it took him right over the edge and we ended up leaving a lovely house with a thirty mile view across the valley and going into what we call a council house here in the U.K. where we pay rent and he ended up in my grandfather’s garden shed for a week and a caravan for three years. Then him and my mother got back together and he died in bed next to her he had a massive heart attack at fifty two.
Now if someone had that passion in those early days of my father’s business to say let me show you how to bring in more clients into your business…
Dylis: And how you Ian (my father) can help people with the service that you have, you know let’s talk, but nobody did and so I tell that story when I am with my salespeople or business owners who are doing their own selling that you have to find that passion within yourself and have the mindset that says it is my duty to give people the opportunity to say yes or no not right now.
Tony: Yeah I really agree with you that is such a powerful story it’s such a powerful story and you know every seller out there, every entrepreneur, every person running a business they need to understand that the rate at which you can acquire new customers is the thing that’s going to fuel your business and unless you can acquire clients, unless you can do that effectively everybody else that depends on those sales coming in is going to be…is going to suffer whether it’s your family or the employees in the business. Selling is a critically important thing in business people need to take it really seriously.
Dylis: Yeah it’s the absolute foundation of success.
Dylis: With prospecting at the beginning of that, bolstering it all.
Tony: Yeah yeah and the last thing for me I know we’re tight for time is that that’s the thing I find most people I talk to around the world whether it’s in London with its in New York or Australia or places in Asia is most people think they know how to sell maybe they do maybe they don’t but the thing they say is they’re one and only problem or the biggest problem is they just don’t have enough sales pipeline.
Tony: Yet having enough sales pipeline is not a problem at all that’s a symptom of other things. They’re not executing those daily combinations of activity the right way, where they can smooth the peaks and troughs out of business and they can create healthy fat sales pipeline where then you don’t have to actually pressure clients you don’t need to try and force fit anything you’re just working with the natural rhythms of the customer and you’re finding the people where you are best fit and you prioritising your time with this really good alignment.
Selling becomes fun if you do that well so, for everybody listening to this if you can just suck it up and think I…every day I just need to be in the habit of being on the phone at least one to two hours a day, building my pipeline, not treating the phone like it’s covered with spiders just really embracing it, it will make every other aspect of business and sales really enjoyable because I’m taking the stress and pressure out of the whole thing.
Dylis: Yeah, Tony this has been absolutely fantastic and I hope you’ll come back and join us again another time and share some more of your wisdom but for those who are listening or watching how might anyone get in touch with you?
Tony: Yeah so the best way to find me is in LinkedIn so just look for Tony Hughes in LinkedIn. My website is R.S.V.P. selling rsvpselling.com There’s a link to my blog on the landing page there if you scroll down and search for LinkedIn and if you’re looking for a keynote speaker for an event I do a lot of sales kick offs and keynote speaking that website is tonyhughes.com.au thanks Dylis.
Dylis: Brilliant and also just to remind people about The Joshua Principle you know great insights in that book, Tony thanks again it’s been an absolute pleasure.
Tony: Thank you really appreciate it.
Dylis: Thanks bye.
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