EPISODE 058: Sales Performance Improvement Guru Tom Snyder Shares Strategies to Ensure Funnel Clarity
Tom Snyder is the founder and managing partner at Funnel Clarity.
He’s a sales training and performance improvement expert and has helped companies around the globe with their sales performance improvement.
Tom’s also a published author of several McGraw-Hill bestselling business books and has spoken at the Institute for Excellence in Sales several times.
He has also mentored thousands of sales professionals as it comes to sales improvement topics, prospecting, account development, and sales strategy.
Find Tom on LinkedIN!
Tom Snyder: The most important thing to convey about me is that I have an incredible passion about the profession of sales and if you’ve ever heard me talk one of the things I emphasize over and over again is that I feel like too few of the folks in our profession have pride in the profession and I’m trying to be one of those voices in the world that says, “This is a profession to be absolutely proud of.” Being proud means doing it to the best of your ability.
Fred Diamond: Tom, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you sell today and why don’t you tell us what excites you about that?
Tom Snyder: Funnel Clarity is the name of the company, we sell sales training and sells performance improvement. Now, that is a very crowded field and if you’ve been in sales for more than 5 minutes you’ve probably been through training and I will tell you a little secret about my industry. My industry is larded with charlatans! Most of the people in it will claim that they know what great selling sounds like, looks like, the process of it and most of them had made it up.
Our company has the pedigree in content where nothing we teach people comes from the self-anointed wisdom of any of us. What we teach comes from the hard won results of field research, collecting hundreds of thousands of examples of the interactions between sellers and customers, dissecting that to determine what’s a statistically valid best practice and that’s what we teach people. Fred, the thing that I love about it most is we change people’s lives. Not a day goes by that I don’t get emails from people who’ve gone through our training and the process that we use after the training’s completed to tell me how much their life has completely changed, joy of the profession, amount of money they make, promotions, etcetera. That’s what gets me excited.
Fred Diamond: I really need to tell you that one thing that you’ve helped me understand is the science behind selling. A lot of the data that goes into the process and a lot of the process along the way and how that mobilizes how sales professionals can be professional and can take their career to the next level during challenging times.
Tom Snyder: No question about it. That science is actually something that started in the 1950’s at Harvard University. The research baton was handed to various researches as time has gone on and in 2004 was handed to me.
Fred Diamond: Tom, why don’t you tell us a little bit about the beginning of your career? How did you first get into sales as a career?
Tom Snyder: It’s a funny question. I got out of graduate school and I was determined that I would make a contribution to saving the world, nothing arrogant about that. I went into politics and I ended up working for the president of the United States at the White House, on the White House staff for nearly a decade. I learned quickly it was the worst job anyone could ever have in the history of mankind, left there and became a serial entrepreneur.
I started and sold several companies and became really focused on the question of why sales seems so difficult, having a background in the sciences I was sure some scientist had studied the subject. That led me to a search that I will dispense with the details but ended up some 22 years ago landing me in this world that I love so much, the world of improving sales performance.
Fred Diamond: You have a company called Funnel Clarity, it’s a very successful sales performance improvement company. What’s changed in sales over the years?
Tom Snyder: There’s a couple of things that have been significant, I call them more or less the tectonic changes in sales. Starting about 20 years ago, maybe a little longer than that, the target of what great selling looks like changed. It used to be that you would win by being the best talking brochure because the only place people could get information about your product or service was from a sales person.
The internet changed all that and the bar got raised. Now, to be an effective sales person you have to actually create value for the customer before they ever buy anything from you. That’s one of them. The second tectonic change that has happened in sales is the explosion of technology has allowed the world of inside sales to grow exponentially and it’s actually begun to eat into the growth in field sales. Inside sales many years ago was something that was the domain of time shares and magazines, today there are extraordinarily complex solutions in business to business being sold entirely over the phone.
Fred Diamond: What does that look like? Who’s selling over the phone today? You mentioned 20 somewhat years ago, someone who’s successful in their sales career, let’s say they’re in their 50’s, 60’s potentially, are they also going inside? What are they doing today to continue to be successful?
Tom Snyder: The funny thing is the dividing line between inside and field sales is very blurry. If you think about it, there isn’t a sales person in the world who’s not on the phone for a significant portion of the effort in any given opportunity. There’s also a broad use – again even in field sales – with screen shared technology, conference call, video conference technology so a lot of it is not just phone versus field.
Even those that are, I think, well tenured in the career and enormously successful have begun to find the advantages of not always doing things by flying to a city or being on rubber tires but the ability to be highly efficient with their time using these technologies.
Fred Diamond: Tom, let’s get audience a little more knowledge about you, specifically. Tell us what you are an expert in. Tell us a little more about Tom Snyder’s specific area of brilliance.
Tom Snyder: [Laughs] Areas of brilliance? I don’t know if I’ve got any of those.
Fred Diamond: Hey!
Tom Snyder: But I would say, area of expertise, my expertise lies in the science of persuasive conversation. Now, I need to emphasize when I say that it’s not about trickery, it’s not about chicanery, it’s not about falsehood or manipulation. The persuasive conversation is really about how can we as sales people have dialogues with our customers that lead the customer to make a decision that’s best for both of us.
There are a lot of aspects to that, both the planning of that, the memorializing of that and the conduct of that. I would call that the area of both my passion and my expertise.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us something that we don’t know about that? I know you could talk for – matter of fact, I’ve actually brought you into some of our members and we’ve done day long seminars on this topic but – why don’t you give us a little insight for the Sales Game Changers listening around the world? Give us a little more insight into the concept of the science of persuasive conversations.
Tom Snyder: Sure. Let’s think about this for a minute, the research that I spoke of earlier, the 70 years of continuous research into the interaction between customer and seller, one of the fundamentals that was revealed there we call the collection of rules of conversation. The best summary of them is to say that rule #1 would be customers put a much higher value on what they tell a seller and what they conclude for themselves than they will put on what a seller tells them. The second rule is that customers will put a much higher value on things they ask for than things that the seller freely offers.
Now, if you stop and think about that for a minute, it runs counter to what most people naturally do in the sales profession. We tell the customer what’s important, we tell the customer about the benefits, we tell them about what our solution will do and we offer freely proposals, demonstrations, opinions, insights not being asked. We actually have a tendency to work exactly opposite to what that science says would be in our own best interest and in the best interest of the customer.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us two things that the Sales Game Changers listening on today’s podcast – and I know I’m selling you short here because I know you’ve forgotten more in the last 10 minutes than we’ll ever know about this – give us two or three things that Sales Game Changers listening can do to get better at that particular concept.
Tom Snyder: I’ll give you two pretty easy ones to adopt. One, among the many behaviors that strikes rapport the fastest and builds rapport continuously is what we call testing understanding. Testing understanding is exactly what it sounds like, it’s something as simple as saying, “You know, Fred, let me make sure that I’ve grasped the key points to what you’ve just been talking.” And I offer back to the customer a summary of what they’ve said looking for either validation, clarification or denial. Now, we obviously will naturally do that when we are confused but it’s important to do it occasionally even when we aren’t confused because the act itself creates in the person we’re addressing a sense like, “This person is really trying to grasp what’s important to me.” It is the single fastest pass to rapport.
I’ll give you another one, everybody in sales – I mean, you’ve been in sales 5 minutes, you’ve been taught a questioning model. It’s important to recognize that if that model has any legitimacy, all it is is a taxonomy of every possible question in the language. Spin, Richardson, I don’t care which one you’re using, there’s simply a way of organizing all the possible questions one person could ask another. The magic lies in understanding who am I going to ask that question of, when am I going to pose that question and what evidence do I have that the answer will be valid. There’s no magic in the questions or the model, there’s magic in those items that I call the connective tissue.
Fred Diamond: Tom, maybe down the road we could do a little more intensive podcast on that particular concept. I’ve actually seen you do this live in sessions with some of the companies that we’ve brought to you and it’s actually quite a fascinating process to watch people make the shift from understanding what sales is to what it truly is, is helping with the persuasive nature of the conversations. Tom, why don’t you take us back to an important sales career mentor for you, and how they impacted your career? Tell us about one of those people.
Tom Snyder: Sure, gosh, this is near and dear to my heart. The first real guru I ever met in sales – and I mean this is the real thing – is a guy by the name of Dick Ruff, R-U-F-F. Dick was a PHD organizational development graduate, significantly older than myself but just a guy who was absolutely spectacular. A rugged disciplinarian, it was hard to please him. #2 a complete master of this science. #3 a master of how to convey this science to sales people and a really in depth understanding of the organizational requirements to get these kinds of sales improvement things to work. I used to say, of every dollar ever earned, 50 cents of it should belong to Dick Ruff. I’m not going to give it to him, but it should belong to him.
Fred Diamond: Has he asked you for the money?
Tom Snyder: No, never asked me. [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: Tom, you talk to thousands of sales leaders on a yearly basis. What are two of the biggest challenges you believe that sales leaders face today to be effective?
Tom Snyder: There’s a couple of dynamics going on in the world of sales leadership. For one thing, the explosion of technology, applications built on top of the CRM has reached a peak and has begun to create what I would call either license fatigue or application fatigue. There’s just enough apps build on top, by the time the sales stack gets to five, six, seven applications on top of the CRM not only is that an expensive proposition per sales person but it also requires so much learning of just the system that it’s now stretching out to tying to productivity so one of the challenges is people are looking for a much easier path towards how technology can be a force multiplier for sales.
The second piece of it is that there is a real recognition amongst sales leadership that the idea of sales skills has been dormant for too long. By that I mean all of the money and attention has gone into the technology and infrastructure side and there is now a real concern about the quality of dialogue and the ability to have these conversations that sellers are having. Particularly people new to the profession. Nothing was ever more damaging than calling something the challenger sale and then having people never read it because somehow young sellers have gotten the idea, “If I just challenge you, I’m there for doing the right thing.” Which of course, wasn’t the message from the authors.
Fred Diamond: We’re going to talk in a few minutes about some of your tips but since you’re touching on that, if you meet or if you come across some young professional who really shows aptitude for sales, what are some of the advice you would give them to think about really hard, to have a ten, fifteen, twenty year successful career?
Tom Snyder: It’s interesting, Fred. There are data here in the United States that show that 50%, half of all college graduates in any given year regardless of nature will have their first job in sales. That means if you were poetry, history, chemistry, psychology, half of the graduating class of most universities end up in sales. Now, many of them that don’t sustain that career I think it’s a shame because I don’t think we give them the right opportunity.
First thing I would do if I were brand new in sales is I would read books because unfortunately there’s too few places where at a university level you can get the education.
Second thing I’d do, and I don’t say this to shill for you, I would join an organization like IES, there is none better, an organization dedicated to excellence in sales. There are a number of – maybe it’s just even a support group – of fellow young sales people but I would get to a peer to peer learning environment and the third thing is I would interview as many successful sales people I could. Not to ask them what they do that makes them good, but to ask them about the career steps that have brought them there. Forget them telling you what they do, they don’t even know what they do that makes them good, but I’m telling you to understand the career steps is a really important piece.
Fred Diamond: Tom, you’ve helped like we’ve mentioned over the course of the podcast thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of sales professionals being successful. We typically ask at this point what is the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. You can answer that question by talking about one of the sales performance improvement companies you worked for or perhaps even something where you’ve helped a client become successful and achieve a huge successful win.
Tom Snyder: I’m going to answer with two answers. First, I’m going to give you the sale I’m proudest of. We got a call from what turned out to be a customer who started the conversation with me by saying, “Tomorrow I am going to sign a deal with…” And he named one of my biggest competitors. To make a long story short, that conversation resulted in another hour-long conversation, several meetings and we ended up winning the deal for several million dollars despite the fact he started by telling me he was hours from signing a deal with someone else.
In terms of outcome, I’ve got so many but there’s one that jumps to mind. There’s a firm that we’ve been working with now for several years, we’ve taken the sales force from a point where the hundred and forty odd sellers, only 22% of them were making quota to where at the end of 2017 more than 90% of them had beat their quota, even though quotas had gone up. That is a pretty extraordinary result and was a lot of fun doing that.
Fred Diamond: Tom, I need to go back to the first example that you just gave, because this comes up all the time. Customer comes to you and maybe they return your call but they finally say, “We’ve decided to go with company B, thank you very much.” You just told us that one of your greatest successes was that scenario where the customer said, “By the way, we’re going to go with your competitor.” You were able to turn them around and get them to become a multi-million dollar customer. Give us some ideas on what the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast can do in that situation.
Tom Snyder: Remember that the scenario included the first time I ever talked to the person, they called us. That’s important. And they started by telling me that they were about to sign the deal with someone else, those are important in my answer to that question. I guess I started by saying, “First of all, love to hear folks call us in. How’d you find out about us?” I got the answer and I said, “Well, what concern brought you to talk to me if you’re about to sign the deal tomorrow?” He mentioned what that was and what I was listening for is to see if he was just checking the price discipline of the person that they were going to sign the deal with or the company. That was not part of the answer.
My next piece of it is something that we train people on, I took him back to help me understand why the whole initiative got started in the first place, what change in his business caused him to look into this kind of an initiative. I then walked through a series of steps, “Gosh, once you solve that initiative, what are you going to measure as success? What’s good going to look like?” Once I had that definition from him I then began to ask questions about how the solution they were about to buy connected to that and I began to probe with questions around, “What concerns do you have? If this trend happens, what?” And that was what resulted in him then saying, “This is interesting enough. I’m not going to sign the deal, let’s have another phone call.”
Fred Diamond: You’ve helped thousands if not tens of thousands of sales professionals perhaps even many listening on today’s podcast take their career to the next level and achieve a greater degree of satisfaction and happiness in their lives. Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s just too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Tom Snyder: Well, anybody that tells you they never had that moment of doubt is probably in my theory lying. Sure, I think there are times of frustration. Let’s think about what those frustrations look like. You work your tail off, you do everything right, it’s a big sale, a complex sale and at the eleventh hour the customer picks the alternative even though maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do. There are times when you’re walking through a decision cycle with a customer and their organization changes. You can’t be in this profession and not have frustrations. Was there ever one of them that got me to reconsider the career?
No, there were several that got me to reconsider whether I was doing well or not and there’s always lessons to learn, there’s no single sale that gets done perfectly and there’s never a time you can’t learn lessons. But no, I guess I never really doubted the career. I got frustrated, I got tired but man, all you have to do is hit that one good sale and it’s the most invigorating thing in the world.
Fred Diamond: What would you tell someone today, someone who’s had success, who’s been in sales for twenty years who wants to stay valid for another 15, 20 years?
Tom Snyder: That’s great. Again, you know me, Fred. I’m going to have to divide the answer in various sections. If you are a sales person who’s been in the career for 20 or 30 years and you’ve worked in anything from mid-size to fortune 1000 size companies, the likelihood is you have moved into management. One of the great mistakes in sales is we take great sales people and hand them the keys and say, “Congratulations, you’re a manager.” If that’s the case, I would certainly study recent research on the world of sales management because it is not intuitive, there is a science to it and it’s something that I think you would be well served to study.
But let me take the spirit of the question which was, “What if I’m a sales professional, I like this career, I’ve had some success, I’ve been in it 25 years, what do I need to do to change?” Ironically, Fred, I get these calls a lot and I always tell people, #1 you have to recognize that the fundamentals of the science of communicating as a sales person has not changed an iota but the context of those conversations has changed enormously. Today, customers can find out tons of information without ever talking to a sales person. However, that information can be incredibly confusing, misinterpreted, misused.
So #1 is be a learner, explore and examine what you’re doing. Understand is it in the context of the modern buyer. The other thing I would encourage anybody that’s been in the career for a while to do is to stay current with regard to the movements in the profession. Don’t get bedazzled by a whole lot of applications and technology but don’t be ignorant of them either. Don’t be worried about things like artificial intelligence, you’ll see all kinds of stories about how it’s going to take over the sales field, trust me, it’s going to be a long time before AI takes over. However, AI may take over a piece of the decision and so get very skilled and very informed on that would be my short answer to that.
Fred Diamond: Tom, what are some things that you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Tom Snyder: The most important thing is I’m coached so I’ve spent a career doing research, teaching sales, putting together sales programs, I’m in this field every single day. We eat our own cooking which means we execute according to what we teach but the most important thing is coaching. I always say, “Do you know any top performer in any discipline who isn’t coached?” LeBron James, the greatest musicians, the greatest singers, anywhere there is a execution aspect, not just knowledge, if you find a top performer, they will be coached. #1 is I am coached once a week and will be for the rest of my life.
The other piece of it is I try to make sure that I read articles and books. Some set aside period each week so that I’m staying current on what’s going on in the marketplace.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Tom Snyder: For the company Funnel Clarity that’s about moving towards a multimedia delivery platform. We now have our training available both online, in short video format, in classroom format, lots of things. But I guess the most important thing for us in terms of our current initiatives is to make sure we’re creating routine, inexpensive and easy to use processes of reinforcement so people don’t just learn what we teach them, they’re able to continue to hone their skills without too much cost or intervention.
Fred Diamond: Tom, we have a couple more questions here for you. You’ve given us some great information. If a sales professional were to get a great deal, a great success with a customer, what are some additional ways they could show their appreciation?
Tom Snyder: There’s a couple of things. I think one of the things that people in sales sometimes forget about is we land a big deal and we kind of get this sigh of relief and go on vacation and now it’s the company’s job to implement that. I think nothing shows a greater sense of appreciation to a client than staying very in touch with both the client and whoever is going to be on the client’s side responsible for implementation to ensure that everything goes just right. I don’t care about the confidence you have in the people in the company that deliver, this is about demonstrating – if only for optic’s sake – how much you care.
I think another thing to do is to be sure you’re checking back 30 and 90 days after the sale has been completed and implemented to ensure that things are going well, they’re getting what they expect. Beyond that, I think given the policies of today and the environment of today, the gifts and that kind of thing, they don’t really carry as much right as just demonstrating through behavior a concern for the outcome as opposed to a concern for your invoice and your commission.
Fred Diamond: Tom, sales is hard. People don’t return your calls or your emails. Why have you continued in the sales performance improvement space? What is it about sales as a career, when we started today’s podcast you talked about how your commitment is to raise the bar of the profession, to raise the professionalism of people who participate, to raise the level of the conversations. What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Tom Snyder: If there are no sales there is no company. No matter how fancy the Ferrari might be, without gas in the tank it doesn’t go anywhere. We’re the gas in the corporate tank. I love the premise, people don’t return your emails, they don’t return your calls. That’s our fault. We don’t have anything interesting to say, provocative or curiosity inducing. There is a science to how to do that. I get a lot of my calls returned, I get a lot of my emails returned. Without the training most people are just wasting the customer’s time so not getting the returns, for the most part, is the fault of the sales person. That gets to the root of it. Have pride in the profession and when you’re in that frame of mind, pride in the profession, you invest in getting better. Not in making a living, you invest in getting better.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us one final thought for the Sales Game Changers around the globe to help them get inspired?
Tom Snyder: I would say two things. First of all, this is a career built on one of the most noble things you can do, helping people make good decisions. See yourself as a decision coach, not as a person pitching product or service, and the world will be a better place.