Hey, VP of Sales: Teach your People how to Influence, not Convince

As information becomes easier to access, a more educated and empowered class of consumer has arisen. As a sales person, if you aren’t helping educate your prospects throughout the buying process, they will go somewhere else for the information needed to make a decision. This might lead them to a competitor who has the confidence to guide them to the right resources, and leaving you scratching your head, wondering why your prospect “went dark.”

Marketing and sales sometimes disagree on how to bring prospects through the funnel. As VP of Sales, I believe sales people are more of the problem than we think and it’s time for sales to really wake up and smell the content.

Sales people believe that the more they communicate with a prospect, the more likely they are to close a deal, and it’s up to marketing to feed leads into the funnel for sales people to convert. But with so much emphasis placed on relationships, most sales rep don’t leverage the content their organization puts out to educate their prospects. This often means missed opportunities to influence the purchase by acting as an informer, and someone who can offer a truly customized solution to the buyer’s problem.

Sales, wake up! It’s time to provide real value to your prospects, and content can be the secret ingredient. Here are five advantages of content creation that will get even the most impatient, cold call lovin’, blocked-phone-number sales guy excited.

1. A Natural Way to Build Relationships

In sales we know that not all leads are the same. In fact, there are some that don’t even belong in the lead queue because they’re so far away of thinking of buying it’s not even funny. Yet, if you spend the time getting to know your leads you have the opportunity to truly nurture them until they’re ready to buy what you’re selling. Sales reps can use what’s available or even write appropriate content themselves and seek to educate rather than sell. By providing actionable insight and information designed to move them closer to purchase, you’ll take a lot of the “old school” sales tactics out of the book and move into a more modern approach to where the prospect is so informed they don’t need convincing.

2. Move from Convincer to Influencer

Pull aside one of your sales people, look at their outbox, and tell me how many “Checking in…” subject lines are there? If there’s more than one, then you’re not training your people well. The good news is that you can only get better with some new approaches! Content gives you sales team an excuse to touch base and their prospect in a way that puts the prospect’s needs first. A quick, “thought of you” email with a relevant blog post or white paper will dramatically set you apart from your competitors.

3. Be a Trusted Resource

Wouldn’t you love for your email and voicemail inboxes to be filled up in the morning with questions from your prospects? Seek to inform rather than sell. Who wants to engage with someone who just sells to them? The ability to answer complex questions with a “we actually wrote about this exact problem, you’re not alone” is a true indicator that you know what you’re talking about and paves the way to trust.

4. Be the Change You Wish to See on the Web

Do you ever wonder what your prospects are doing when they “go dark” on you? They’re Googling you, your company, your family tree, where you live… well maybe I got carried away, but they are Googling you and your company. The modern consumer no longer trusts generic messages from marketing or sales. They trust people and if you separate yourself from the “typical” messages they see and actually inform, you don’t have to try so hard to sell. Having a library of content gives sales an incredible amount of control and power over the sales process to influence the direction of it.

5. These Are the Leads You’re Looking For

The greatest payoff from a sound content strategy is getting more qualified leads for your sales pipeline! As prospects swarm your site to devour the latest blog, webinar, or infographic, they’re also getting to know your offer. It’s just like a storefront, only this time when prospects enter your store, they know exactly what they’re looking for—and how you can help them—instead of passing through and “just looking.”

There’s a lot of noise out there, and prospects are looking for the right content that is appropriate to them. Someone to guide them through the sea of bad content can be the modern sales person, who influences with content, and leave behind the old school sales guy who is looking to convince based on his well-honed selling style.

Ultimately, it’s about winning customers the right way, by adding value throughout the process. It’s time for you as a sales leader to teach these principles to your sales people and empower them to reach past the outdated selling techniques.

How to Build an Epic Team

I’ve been building sales teams for the better part of a decade and when I look back at my career, I realize I don’t really remember the times when I made the most money. I need my tax returns to remind me of the exact dates. What I do remember, is the epic teams that filled my career with depth, relevancy and amazing memories. These teams took time to craft and build but time together alone doesn’t create these epic teams but the quality of time you take with each member individually and as a team. Like anything special, the time and energy that takes to create someone meaningful will show and eventually lead to the success you were looking to achieve. I bet you if I compared my tax returns with these teams there will be a clear correlation between the two.

Since moving to software sales from staffing, it has become more apparent to me the opportunity that comes when hiring for your company. First, it’s a chance to sell that your company is growing and needs people to respond to this demand and grow even more. Secondly, it’s a chance to reinforce what’s important to your team so that the message that’s communicated externally is accurate and believed. Ultimately it surfaces your team’s identity from within as opposed to what you think your team stands for or even what you as a leader stand for.

  • Find Your True Identity

To build a truly great team, it takes an investment in team building and to take advantage of moments like this to seek out your team’s true identity to attract new members to join. It starts with you as a leader to take the reins on the hiring and recruiting process itself. I’m VP of Sales but I’ll always be a recruiter at heart. In my mind, if you’re not always recruiting you’re not leading all the time. If you outsource this to HR or another department it will only remove you from the process itself and creates more process to respond aggressively.

So before you sit down and try to figure out who the “ideal” “A Player” will be, look in the mirror and check yourself before you wreck yourself. Is your team filled with people that continually push themselves to be better every day and have a track record of improving? Take it further than that – do you? How have you grown as a leader in the last 3 months? Be honest with yourself because if you don’t nail your own identity don’t expect anyone else to “get you” and also be the “A player” you’re looking to hire. The difference between hiring an average person and an A player is that an average employee could bring millions for your company, but an A+ can bring in billions. How you interview needs to be attractive for the A+ players out there or you’re screwed.

  • Pick Your Interview Team

Everyone has different styles in interviewing and some people are just plain bad at it. As the leader of the team, you know who these people are – so don’t put them in the interview team! They might be very good at what they do, but they’re just not good at interviewing. Look at your team and ask who’s interested in interviewing first, then talk about the different styles that they will use when doing so. In a technical hire, there needs to be an element of technical questioning of course, but there also needs to be a balance as well. Don’t make up the interview team solely on “technical drill sergeants” but have some team members that can round out the process and make it attractive.

  • Define the Process

It should start with you to conduct the first pass. You are more serious than anyone on your team about the importance of the team culture. Why would anyone else care more than you? No matter how great someone is, if they don’t fit the team dynamic they’re not going to be hired anyway – don’t waste time, do this up front. If you end up sacrificing culture for skill, you will end up with a team of incredibly skilled nomads that will feel no connectedness to the greater purpose.

Make the candidate feel important from the start. If you can do a face to face first then do it, there are more nonverbal cues that you can look out for in a face to face interview that you cannot pick up on during a phone call – and the simple fact is that candidates don’t take the interviews as seriously if it’s on the phone and it comes off that you don’t as well.

  • Team Interview

After you initial screen, make sure you have an interview team set up to continue the process. This shouldn’t be everyone on your team, but the members of your team that are engaging and understand the importance of building your team the right way. Building an effective interview team is your responsibility and you need to make sure you’re meticulous about assigning the right people to help you out in this arena. Don’t pick the best biller just because they’re the best biller, they have to understand the importance of recruiting members to the team. There have been cases of the best sales person in the team scaring off talented recruits because they felt threatened by the candidate which is an entirely different problem with your culture if that’s the case but it still should be stated. It might actually be a good moment to take time and tell that “stellar” sales guy how they can grow into a leader and be attractive. Again – take every opportunity to invest more energy into your team to strengthen it even more.

Meet with the interview team ahead of time so there is a consistent vision that’s being communicated and go over what everyone will be covering. A consistent theme from your interview team shows organization and passion for what you stand for. How a company hires is typically how they manage – set the stage by being organized. This is your culture and as a leader, culture is your business so make sure it shows from the start.

Don’t do this…

  • Don’t drag process out. First interview to offer should take 5-7 business days or you will lose all the momentum that you worked so hard to gain in the process.
  • Don’t delegate the entire process. HR is a great resource, but you’re the manager. Be involved in the process from beginning to end, it shows that you care about hiring the right person more than the actual process.
  • Don’t let egos get in the way. In sales it’s not always black and white as to the way to do things. Granted, there’s wrong ways of going about solving problems but don’t have the interview turn into a technology pissing contest.
  • Don’t let maybe’s stay maybes. Every hire is a risk – some more than others. If you talk out some of your concerns with the candidate, you can either solidify or alleviate your concerns with them. You can be a hero – just for one day.