EPISODE 480: This Sales Mindset Shift Will Make Your Customers More Successful with Brent Keltner

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Optimal Sales Mindset virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on January 23. 2022. It featured an interview with Brent Keltner, PHd, CEO of Winanalytics. Winalytics uses a unique software-enabled services model to help clients achieve their top growth potential by consistently positioning and qualifying around buyer at each phase of the buyer journey.]

Find Brent on LinkedIn.

BRENT’S TIP: “Commit 3% of your time, an hour a week to getting better at helping buyers anchor on value. Stories, value discovery strategies, that give-get at the end. Where do they see value? Commit 3% to write down your questions. Just get with a peer, ask your manager. If you commit 3% a week, you will be amazed at how quickly your selling velocity gets better.”


Fred Diamond: Brent, it’s great to see you today. We first discovered you on our good friend, John Asher’s show, and we’ve had a number of conversations since then. We’re excited today. We’re going to be talking about buyer empathy and buyer-defined value, your keys to deal velocity. Let’s talk about that. First off, it’s great to see you. You have a book coming out in April, so if you’re listening to this podcast after April, 2022, you can get Brent’s new book. It’s called The Revenue Acceleration Playbooks. Brent is the founder and president of Winalytics, it’s a go-to market and revenue acceleration consultancy. So, let’s get started.

Brent Keltner: Fred, thanks so much for having me. I got to say, first off, congratulations, that’s impressive audience development. Quick math says 400 shows, a million interactions, that’s 250 per show. That’s a pretty awesome outcome.

Fred Diamond: We’ve grown a lot. One of the key things is we do it all the time. We haven’t missed a beat. We might slow down over the holidays or something, but people are learning things have changed. We did half of our shows before the pandemic had started and it was a different format. We talked to sales leaders about their career journeys, mentors, et cetera. And then when the pandemic kicked in, we started doing a show every single day, Brent. And it was about how do you get past today? How do you be successful today? Because one of the it interesting things which we’re going to be talking about today is it’s always been about the customer. It’s always been about how do you as a sales professional create value for your customer? And great sales professionals are value creators. The problem is it’s changed dramatically over the last two years, because everybody on the globe was faced with similar challenges.

It’s how do we get past this pandemic? How do we deal with the pandemic and then how do we get past it? Secondly, what are the financial implications that the pandemic has put on my industry or my business? And then coupled with that, of course, is The Great Resignation and the fact that people aren’t just leaving your company to search for possibly greater life value, but that’s also happening at your customer, and it’s also happening at your customer’s customer. So the topic that we’re going to be talking about today about, understanding your customer’s journey and being empathetic with them and creating value for them to drive the revenue velocity is just perfect timing. Let’s get started with that. So we’ll talk about that for a little bit. Buyer empathy and buyer value. Give us an overview of what that means.

Brent Keltner: We ask folks, sales teams, could be marketing, could be customer success, go to market, one question. Do you know how you can make your buyer more successful? If you anchor everything you do and your go to market on that question, do you know how you can make your buyer more successful? You will become more successful, because as you said, we’re in an environment, the pandemic has been a very intense crisis for two years, all kinds of effects you described. But there’s honestly been a 10 to 15 year transition from sellers and companies, marketing teams controlling information to buyers controlling all the information. They have unlimited access to you and your product from peer review sites, from competitor sites, they know a ton about you. In that environment to engage buyers and accelerate your selling, you got to start with what’s in it for them. It’s not about you, it’s not about your product. It’s about how I can make my buyer more successful. You have to shift your mindset, which is the first thing I have to establish is why are they on the call? What is it they’re wrestling with I think I could help them with? And most importantly, what’s the future state, 60 days from now, 6 months from now, 12 months from now that I can help them with that makes their life better?

Fred Diamond: Brent, just a basic general question. We’re doing today’s interview in 2022. Why are we having this conversation? I guess the Genesis of that question is why do we still, do you think, have to let sales professionals know that it’s in this state right now that it’s really all about the buyer and their journey?

Brent Keltner: I think it’s two things, there are two mindset shifts. I’ll start with a collective and then go to the individual. Sales methodologies have failed the sales profession dramatically. If you look at sales methodologies, what do you read? It’s all about what the seller does. Do this, do that, do the other thing. The reality is we need a mutual process, not a sales process. At every step, my goal when I take an action as a seller is to get a buyer response that confirms A, they see value and B, they will take action to secure that value. So our sales methodologies have failed us, one. But two, if you think about our own individual mindset shift, there’s a ton of stuff out there about growth mindset.

Most people will say, yeah, I have a growth mindset. I’m open to innovation and improving. The reality is growth mindset is scary. My product is really well-known, so I know my talk tracks are on my product, I learn how to demo my product. What’s going to come out of giving the buyer the opportunity to tell me how I can make them more successful? Whoa, that’s a little bit scary, because it could go a bunch of different directions. So you have to be much more situationally fluent to solve that. There’s a fear factor to opening up the mic.

Fred Diamond: We talk a lot about authenticity and you bring that up a lot in in your work. What does an authentic conversation look like today and how does that relate to an authentic buyer journey?

Brent Keltner: I think about on authentic conversation, honestly, is simply put just pursuit of the truth. Is there a fit between the buyer and the seller? And so an authentic conversation should start by giving, let me spend some time understanding what you’re working on, what you’re solving for, what your biggest pains are. And I commit to only sharing my product and company information that aligns to that. I’m not going to bore you with generic product pitches. So that’s my piece, right? I’m going to give first, what are you working on? Are you working on anything we’re working on? Here’s how we solve that problem. Here are our success stories, but then I need honesty on the other side, do you see value here? Is there a critical problem I can solve? Would this make you a hero to your VP? Are we on track? And if we’re on track, what will you do about it next?

Fred Diamond: Let’s help some of the people listening to today’s podcast, what might be some examples, true example, authentic examples of what customers are really dealing with today? Again, I mentioned in the beginning conversation that everyone’s dealing still with the shifts from the pandemic, which are going to continue, and then also the financial repercussions of what that might be. Some industries have been very slow to come back. Some industries have been completely flipped. We’re doing today’s interview in January of 2020, there’s been another surge of the pandemic and there’s a lot of impacts with that. What might our sales professionals listening to today’s Sales Game Changers podcast, what might be some authentic challenges that customers are facing today based on the hundreds of conversations you’ve had with buyers?

Brent Keltner: You nailed it, disruption. Disruption, distraction, overwhelm with information makes it all that more important. Your buyers are going to forget in about a minute after your call why they’re talking to you if you don’t keep reminding them. Let me just tell a story of a client. We work with NECI Energy, which does engineered manufacturing solutions, they’re based in the Northeast. I love this story about Wasai, who was one of the members of this team we trained and he came back to one of the team calls and shared this great deal about, he had gone out to help him fix a pump. It’s a 20K deal, but he had in the course of this surfaced 200K in opportunities with that customer and everybody was like, oh, what did you do? Was your pitch great that day? Did you did you just share a bunch of sell sheets or did he know somebody else we were working with?

He said, no, I just ask him what else he was working on related to that pump. Was he thinking about how that pump could connect to preventative maintenance or reducing energy costs? And he just started talking and then he sent me an email right afterwards. I had engaged him with the pains he had in the day, let him talk about it in a way that drew him in and guess what? Rather than most of these deals drift, I got a call, a meeting two weeks later with him and his plant manager to talk about what are some of the other areas we could work on. So it really is, our buyers are overwhelmed and distracted, and our product to them sounds like blah, blah, blah. They’re not going to track it. When they have verbalized to you why they’re excited about talking to you and you write it down and send it back to them, now you’ve got their full attention.

Fred Diamond: Brent, one thing we talk a lot about is you got to get yourself in the position to bring that buyer value that we talk about. Give us some of your thoughts on how the sales professional listening to today’s podcast can be prepared, because it’s not just about the question. One thing we’ve talked a lot about, Brent, over the last two years is the fact that everybody is really faced with what’s in front of them. Like we mentioned before, how do we get past the last two years and financially how to deal with that? And the third thing that we talk about is the personal things that you’re dealing with, maybe your company is challenged. Maybe you have something in your life that you have to deal with. Talk about how the sales professionals can prepare to be in that position, to ask that question and then be ready with some of the suggestions to add to the buyer value.

Brent Keltner: Number one thing any sales professional can do, don’t need their manager, don’t need the marketing team don’t need anything is learn your personal customers stories. Every good seller, as you know, Fred, they have their reference accounts that we use as referrals to get our next deal, happens in every industry. If you have a relationship with those people, go ask them, why did you buy, what was your situation that we solved and what kind of results are you seeing? And honestly, that’s the best way. You just have a handful of those for the different industries or buyer personas you sell into and telling those stories, easiest way to engage a new customer. So I’ll go back to NECI to give an example where Wasai again had great success at MIT. They had an issue with their old boilers that were different old grade and they had to get a special mechanic to fix it. They went to out a lot, so the uptime problem. He just knew that story.

So when he goes to Brown, he’s brought over on something that has nothing to do with the boilers, but guess what? He says, hey, your facilities engineers, do they have a redundancy plan for your boilers? Have you thought about that as a plan issue? Boom, he’s got another big conversation. It’s what we know or how we’re making our customers successful. Just using that as a very simple way to introduce a conversation point. It doesn’t feel like selling, it feels like value added. Have you thought about this? This is how other people work with us. And invariably will elicit responses. Sometimes it’s, no, we’re not working on that. Great. But that’s the easiest way to bring that into conversation.

Fred Diamond: If you’re listening to today’s Sales Game Changers podcast after April, Brent’s book is out, it’s called the Revenue Acceleration Playbook. Let’s talk about playbooks for a little bit here. Why are shared playbooks and team-based practice so important for revenue acceleration?

Brent Keltner: We always ask this question in team calls. We work with a lot of senior sellers and there’s some arm folders, not surprisingly, you do training. And I’m sure you’ve seen people that their boss ask them to come and they’re like, hey, I know more than everybody in this room. We always just say, hey, you probably follow a sports team. Maybe it’s hockey, maybe it’s baseball, maybe it’s football, maybe it’s college football. If that sports team didn’t have a playbook, how serious would you think they were?

Fred Diamond: Not very.

Brent Keltner: If that sports team had a playbook, but didn’t practice or let the top performers opt out, how serious would you think they were?

Fred Diamond: Not very.

Brent Keltner: Not very. A playbook is basically, this is how we run a play. Ton of audibles, but this is how I do discovery, this is how I end a buyer call, this is how I build stakeholder alignment and priorities. This is how I do my pricing discussion, making an investment. This is how I hand off from sale to success. You’re just writing it down so now people can compare what’s working and what’s not working. It’s every single buyer or customer interaction. What is our best practice? Everybody has their own voice, their own, their own way of going at it. But until you have a playbook, you can’t actually get better because everybody’s individual. And so we say, write down your playbooks and then commit to practice.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about exactly what a playbook looks like. We’ve spoken a little bit about it and some of the sales organizations that we work with do have playbooks, and I know I are a fact that a lot of them don’t. So talk a little bit about what exactly does a playbook look like and from your expertise, what are some of the best practices to ensure that it’s not just a book that sits up on a shelf somewhere and never gets opened again?

Brent Keltner: Let’s talk about it. Our sales playbook and, and we think there are five or six important parts of it. One is that everybody has a way of opening meetings, an agenda and a 60-second commercial. So how do I position our unique value? And that’s a one-page document and everybody can come up with their own version. The second is what’s our value discovery strategy? What are our best questions to get to that buyer success statement? That’s a one-page document. You might have a couple by value plays. And then we do a one-page, what’s a good discovery call checklist? What are the phases that you go through in that discovery call in terms of doing discovery on the buyer value, getting to a success statement, positioning our capabilities and what’s unique about them, aligning those and then getting commitments to the next meeting and the next actions.

At the end of the call, debrief with your boss. What did I get? What didn’t I get? What do I have to get in the next call? And then we build playbooks around a follow-up email to a discovery call. It’s amazing how quickly you can see the quality of that call. And then we build playbooks for what should a, we call it an authentic sales deck that leads with anchoring on your buyer value and ends with their commitments, a proposal-ready call, how do we it to building a path to partnership? So the sales deck and then a proposal outline. Those are the elements of the playbook. You write them down and then what we do is we just say, okay, we introduce it in a team call, go use this value discovery framework in a first call. Record it or share us the follow-up email. We come back as a team. How did we do getting to a buyer success statement, getting to next steps? Where were the gaps? What worked, what didn’t work? Let’s revise it. Let’s see a sales deck. Did you recap discovery to deck? Did you get all the stakeholders agreed and prioritizing? Et cetera. So you build it, you write it down, you practice it, and then you collectively share stories from the field and revise it.

Fred Diamond: I have a question for you. We have a lot of junior sales professionals who listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast. One of the struggles that a lot of the younger or junior sales professionals face is that they don’t know as much about the customer’s industry. Not because they don’t try, just because they’re new to the marketplace. Maybe it’s their first or second job in sales, typically in the beginning of your sales career, you’re taught how to use the script and how to call and what is our company’s value for the marketplace, if you will. But a lot of cases, you really don’t understand the customer’s industry until you’re 5, 10, sometimes 15 years in. What would be your advice, Brent, for junior sales professionals to get to that point? What are some things that they should be deploying on their own to ensure they can get to that place?

Brent Keltner: Great question. I’m going to go right back to the customer stories and what I’m going to encourage them to do is go to the senior successful sellers on that a team, and just say, hey, could we spend 30 minutes? I would just love to hear some of your top customers that you use for referrals. What value are they getting from our product? One of the things we do with teams early on is build a customer story library by value prop, use case, by just because everybody’s got a couple of their own, but you want to be able to leverage your teammates’. And so, I would encourage them. I mean, it’s a lot easier than reading industry reports, they should definitely get on the emails and just, you pick stuff up by osmosis and they get on the LinkedIn groups, hundred percent. But the quickest thing is just go to your senior sellers, go to your manager, where have you seen our product or service have the most impact? Can you tell me some customer stories?

Fred Diamond: I have a little bit of a follow-up to that. Do you talk about our customers and wanting us to be successful? We spend a lot of time talking about how we can bring value to the customer. That’s the main topic of today is buyer empathy and buyer-defined value. I’m interested in your thoughts on what our customers want to do for us. Do they want us to help them? Do they want us to be successful? Do they want us to provide value? One thing we talk a lot about is that the customer’s dealing with so many challenges right now, and the customer’s dealing with so many things to keep their business afloat depending on their industries and you know, everything else that’s going on.

We had a conversation with a couple CIOs a couple of months ago, and I asked that question. I expected them to say no, we’re here to be sold to if there’s some value. And they said, we’d love for you to tell us about how to work with your company better. We’d love for you to tell us about an insight that we might not know about. Give us some of your insights on a little bit of a twist of a question, but our customer, what do they really want from us for us to be more successful to help them? Is it a mutual relationship? I’m curious on your thoughts on that.

Brent Keltner: It’s a great question, Fred. It has to be a mutual relationship. We talked a little bit earlier about how sales methodology has failed, because it focuses on a sales process rather than a mutual process. One thing we always say is you give first. Where’s my buyer today? How can I be of service, of value to them? How can I help them think about how to make them more successful? But then you need to get back and the get back is, do you see enough value to continue? There’s a story we tell on our book, Rogier van Erkel, Chief Commercial Officer at Research Solutions. He trains his team at the end of the call to ask the buyer, should we continue? And people said, you’re crazy, right? He’s like, I only want qualified customers, so should we continue? If so, who else should join?

So we need the buyer to take action, has to be a mutual process. People that are aligned will take those actions is one answer. But the other, I think, instinct to go to your CIOs is  when you’re talking with a CIO about things of value, and this could be in the closing process, or it could be early on or later is, hey, who else would care about this? How would they think about your success statement? Would they say it the same? Or would they say it different? Because every buyer goal, CIO, the VP of Marketing who’s buying this automation solution, the marketing manager, they would all have slightly different success statements. When you ask your buyer, say, how would your other people, other influencers think about this? What you start to do is build your influence map and you start to build your land and expand strategy anchoring on your biggest champions.

Our people we sell to, if they see something we can help them with, what they want do then is connect over to other influencers. I’ll give you just one example. We were working with a company let’s just call an industrial automation handheld. I don’t want to give the name. I was on with the Head of Account Management. We had a great run with his team building an expansion motion. He wants to get us connected to customer success, because that makes us stickier with his organization. So it’s not just about ABM campaigns and now deal velocity to close, but then how do we hand off the success to potentially train those teams? Good for him, Head of Account Management, because he gets more of us and his teams are also better in terms of working with success.

Fred Diamond: Brent, before I ask you for your final action step I have time for one more question here. You talk about a sales to success expansion process and you just alluded to that in your previous answer here. You say that can grow accounts quicker. Can you talk a little bit more about what it means to have a sales to success expansion process?

Brent Keltner: We have a revenue leader story with Ellen Mays who’s now at Ellucian, but was at Burning Glass at the time. She always says, you can’t eat an elephant in a single bite, which gives you a visual. Not everybody likes that phrase, but she is just fantastic. She’ll go broad on discovery, multiple people that she’s engaging with but then it’s, what is most actionable right now that we have budget and urgency for? Great, let’s lock them down, but she’ll build a mutual success plan. Let’s write down goals two, three, and four so we can come back to it in the onboarding. It’s, hey, I know we’re focused on this first, but here were some other things you talked about, Ellen, do I have that right? You come back to it in your 90-day quarterly business review. The beauty of buyer value plays and selling into buyer value is it directly connects your sales and your success organization. It also connects your prospectors to year sales organization. That’s another story. But when you think about, I sell, I implement, boom, throw it over the wall. When you think about different value plays you can run to your buyer, it’s a continuous process. The sales of success means I’m intentional about just writing down all of the things that we could solve for this buyer, and then I come back to it.

Fred Diamond: We used to ask the question, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We actually had a VP of sales for Ellucian on our Sales Game Changers podcast before the pandemic. Good to hear the reference there. Brian, first of all, I want to acknowledge you for your book, which is about to come out. Congratulations. I also want to thank John Asher, who was the IES Member of the Year in 2021. He’s a good friend of the Institute. He’s been our platinum sponsor for a long time and he introduced us and I’m glad he did because you brought up some fascinating points here about a topic that we talk about frequently, which is, it’s not about you, sales professional, it’s about your customer. And it’s about you understanding how you really need to prepare, how to be a professional so that you can bring them the value that’s going to tie them to you moving forward. Brent, I want to thank you. As we like to end every Sales Game Changers podcast, give us one action step. You’ve given us so many great ideas, but give us one more specific thing people can do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Brent Keltner: One more specific thing. Commit 3% of your time, an hour a week to getting better at helping buyers anchor on value. We’ve talked about a bunch of plays. Stories, value discovery strategies, that give-get at the end. Where do they see value? Commit 3% to write down your questions. Just get with a peer, ask your manager. If you commit 3% a week, you will be amazed at how quickly your selling velocity gets better.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great idea. If you’re a professional, you’ve got to do the things that are necessary for you to be a professional. Once again, my name is Fred Diamond. I want to thank Brent Ketner for being on today’s Sales Game Changers podcast. To everybody else, take care and we’ll see you tomorrow.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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