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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the WOMEN IN SALES Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales and hosted by Gina Stracuzzi on September 29, 2020. It featured co-author of “Selling with Noble Purpose, Second Edition” Elizabeth Lotardo.]
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EPISODE 279: Elizabeth Lotardo Explains How Having a Noble Purpose Will Take Your Sales Career To Heights Not Yet Seen
ELIZABETH’S TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “I’d encourage everyone to ask how your customers are different as a result of doing business with you. Carry that story in your heart, carry that story into your conversations with customers, carry that story throughout your colleagues and your boss internally and you will be amazed at the self-fulfilling loop of fulfillment, of connection and ultimately performance you create for yourself. If you are a new sales professional and are selling a new product, ask for stories about how it made a difference to customers. Start sharing those, you’ll ignite your own frontal lobes and the frontal lobes of your customers.”
Gina Stracuzzi: Hi, everybody and welcome to Women in Sales webcast for your professional development through these crazy times. I just want to say before we get started, we are starting the forum in October so please reach out to me if you’d like to be part of it, you can be anywhere in the country, this is a game-changing experience. You will love it and I will send you all kinds of information. You can reach me at email@example.com and throughout October I have some outstanding guests coming to be part of the webcast so make sure you keep Tuesday at noon on your schedule and join us each week.
Now, I’m really excited to bring my guest, Elizabeth Lotardo on to tell you about Selling with Noble Purpose. Welcome, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Lotardo: Thanks, Gina and thanks, Fred. I’m excited to be here, welcome to everyone who is on the call, you can see the airbrushed version of my face on the slide here and the live time version on the side of your screen.
Gina Stracuzzi: Please tell us a little bit about yourself, Elizabeth, before we get started.
Elizabeth Lotardo: I’m Elizabeth Lotardo, I’m the co-author of the second edition of Selling with Noble Purpose and I work on Lisa McLeod team, the founder of McLeod & More and the original author of both Selling with Noble Purpose and Leading with Noble Purpose. The foundational practice of our firm is to help organizations and individuals harness the power of purpose to drive revenue and do work that makes them proud. We hear a lot about purpose in business now from marketing to corporate philanthropy but the place we see it absent is in sales and that’s exactly what we’re trying to change because we do believe sales is a noble profession. When you sell things, you make a tremendously positive impact on the lives and businesses of the customers you serve, and when that becomes the north star of the business, employee engagement, customer advocacy and ultimately sales results follow.
Gina Stracuzzi: Elizabeth, why don’t you start talking to us about what Noble Purpose means within a selling organization?
Elizabeth Lotardo: I’ll take you back about 10 years to how Noble Purpose was founded, it was founded of all places in a biotech company. What this biotech company wanted to understand was the difference between a good performer and an exceptional performer so they hired our firm to figure that out. If you’ve been in sales for any amount of time or had salespeople call on you, you know the difference between a good salesperson and a bad salesperson, that’s pretty obvious. Good salespeople make sales calls, they ask questions, they do their homework, they’re really relatable to their customers but the difference between good and exceptional is harder to quantify, it’s harder to pinpoint. They brought our team in to help figure it out but here’s the kicker, being a very scientific based company, they didn’t tell us who was good and who was exceptional. They sent us out with hundreds of reps and it was our job to determine not only who the top performers were but in that determination, what made those people top performers.
You think it’s probably really nuanced and it turns out it was, but there was also a secret that we uncovered through our research. We go out in the field and you can imagine all of these salespeople are thrilled to have consultants following around taking notes for days on end. We’re asking a series of questions, “How many calls do you make? Where do you capture your notes? What kind of questions are you asking? What negotiating skills are you using? Is there anything different about your body language?” All of these different points trying to uncover who the top performers were and why, and the breakthrough moment in the study came from Lisa McLeod when she was with a rep in Phoenix, Arizona.
She was with this woman all day, the woman had great sales calls, she was calling on doctors selling an arthritis drug that reduces some of the pain and inflammation in arthritis patients. She was really emotionally connecting with all of her customers, Lisa is dutifully making notes about how many questions, what questions they were, all of the tactical things we’re trained to look at in assessing sales performance. But she could tell something was different about this woman so she asked her a question that wasn’t on this giant spreadsheet of questions that we were supposed to be asking. She asked her, “What do you think about when you go on sales calls?” and the woman looks around like, “I’m embarrassed to tell you.” This is long before mindfulness, gratitude, purpose were at the center of business conversations. She looks around, she lowers her voice a little bit and she says, “I always think about this one particular patient. I was early in my career standing in a doctor’s office in my suit with my name badge back when we wore suits and went places.
This little old lady came up to me and she tapped me on the shoulder and she said, “Miss, are you the representative for this drug?” The woman looked down on her and said, “Yes, ma’am, I am” and the little old lady looks up at her and she says, “Well, I just want to thank you for giving me my life back because prior to taking this drug I couldn’t go out, I could not do anything, I had so much pain, but now I can go get on a plane and go see my grandchildren and play with them down on the floor. So, thank you for calling on my doctor and thank you for giving me my life back.” Now we’re in this moment of, “Where do you put that on the spreadsheet?” This was an emotionally engaging story and Lisa in her heart knows that this is playing into why this woman is so great with the doctor she calls on, but there’s not a place, again to pin it.
Gina Stracuzzi: Yeah, how do you quantify it?
Elizabeth Lotardo: Right, she has a story in her heart and again, we’re working for a biotech company, these are scientists and MBAs, they do not have a big emotional engagement culture and the aptitude to listen to what is this fluffy story in her heart. Lisa decides that she’s going to go backwards in the study and look at all of the interviews that we did before we started shadowing people. The interviews had one question in it that really stuck out and it’s, “Why do you do this?” What Lisa found was that not only did that one woman speak so emotionally about a particular patient, there was another gentleman who spoke passionately about the science the organization was bringing into the world. There was another one who spoke about doctors, how challenging it is for doctors to connect with the research and how he wanted to make that easier for them. All told, we throw all this other quantitative data aside and Lisa finds five people who alluded to this sense of what we now call Noble Purpose, who expressed an engagement and a calling that was beyond their quarterly target.We conclude the study after months in the field, Lisa walks into a panel of suited predominantly men at this company to uncover who those top representatives are. They ask the question, “Who do you think the top performers in the study are?” and she said, “I think it’s these 5” and she was 100% right. Out of hundreds of reps, the five people who expressed a story in their heart about the difference they wanted to make would be top performers in the entire organization and that one woman who she met in Phoenix at the doctor’s office who talked about the grandmother was the #1 rep three years in a row for the entire company.
Now Lisa’s in front of this panel of very prestigious doctors and MBAs looking like an actual wizard, like how did she get five people out of hundreds? They’re really curious, why is that? Is it a negotiation concept they went to? Is it questioning? Do they have better note-taking skills? What makes someone rise to the top of the pack? And more importantly, how can we replicate it with the middle of the bell curve? That’s where things started to get interesting. Lisa says to this very academic and scientific based team, “Those five people carried a different story in their heart.”
Gina Stracuzzi: I’m sure there was silence for a few moments [laughs].
Elizabeth Lotardo: You can imagine it’s a little bit awkward, they look around and say, “Okay, you did get the five right so could you elaborate, please, on this story in their heart?” So Lisa starts telling the story of the grandmother and this other guy who wanted to make life better for the doctor and it fell apart a little bit. She tells this story herself because at that time, purpose and your mindset and your reason for being were not talked about in business and especially in a very scientific, quantitative company. It was so abstract but it didn’t stay that way, she knew she was onto something so she founded the firm and spent the next 10 years diving into what does this sense of purpose mean? What does it enable people to do? And most importantly, how can we replicate it across an entire sales team to make a group of what we now call true believers? People who believe that their Noble Purpose is to make a difference on the customers they’re serving.
What we later went on to see and were able to quantify in a really academic way prior to the first anecdotal experience is that this story in your heart about why you are doing what you are doing and the difference you are making in the lives and businesses of your customers when you sell something is one of the foremost indicators of not only personal fulfillment which we saw loud and clear, but also professional success because that story in your heart pushes you to deeply connect with customers. It pushes you through what we are experiencing now which is unprecedented setbacks because you know there is an end game in sight. You probably experienced that yourself too, when you really call to make a difference on someone you show up differently than when you’re thinking about your own metrics.
Gina Stracuzzi: Jane D. wants to know, “What if you don’t have a story like those salespeople did?” You don’t have an old woman whose life was changed or a doctor that was particularly receptive, what do you do?
Elizabeth Lotardo: That is a great question because a lot of times when people hear this story or even hear about the concept of purpose, we assume that purpose is reserved for people who are saving lives in the medical field, who are teachers, who work at a nonprofit. But what we know to be true is that purpose can be found in the vast majority of commercial companies so even if you did not go into your current role or chose your current company based on this deeply seeded noble purpose, you can develop it over time by looking at the impact you are making on your customers and asking, “How are they different as a result of doing business with us?” We have corporate clients that sell foundation repair that have described the drastic difference a strong foundation in a home can make to people. We have clients who sell professional services who know that accounting and legal advice are paramount for a highly functioning business.
If you were selling something and your customers are buying it, you are making a positive difference in their life even if that difference isn’t why you necessarily joined the organization you’re with or sat in the role you are currently in in the first place. The nuance comes in your ability to connect what you’re doing on a daily basis to the difference you are making in the lives and businesses of your customers and keep that story at the fore of your mind and make it louder than the daily metrics in the past. What the research has shown us is that when you focus on that story and you are crystal clear about the difference you want to make in the lives of your customers, your performance will follow that.
I have up on this slide here some of the data that we’ve been privileged to come into over the last several years, the first of which is how purpose in the story of a noble calling can impact organizational growth. This came out of the former Procter and Gamble CEO, Jim Stengel, how this sense of purpose contributes to innovation and developing higher quality products and services. There’s some research out of EY and specifically to your point around this individual sense, this new research out of Michigan State University by this awesome woman, Doctor Valerie Good, concluded that this sense of purpose is more pronounced in reps who are higher performing. It also enables them to be more adaptable and resilient over time and we’re seeing that play out live time now. You can see the difference in someone who is high jacked in their lizard brain, who is showing up and reeking quota breath over everybody compared with someone who really wants to make a difference in the lives of others. The second portion really wanting to make a difference enables you to focus your attention outward instead of inward and getting wrapped up in your own fear and it also enables you to show up in a more compassionate and empathetic way which is exactly what the vast majority of customers need right now.
Gina Stracuzzi: We have a couple more questions here. Stacy would like to know if you recommend sharing the kinds of stories that you keep front and center in your mind.
Elizabeth Lotardo: Girl, yes, everybody needs to hear them now. Talk about them, tell them to yourself, tell them to your colleagues, you can even tell them to your customers because what we know is that in a time of crisis we tend to get very tactical, we focus on the things we have to do, the metrics we have to make and we lose the feeling of story, we lose that sense of purpose as to why these things matter. The more you can keep that alive, the more you can tell stories about how you make a difference to yourself, to your colleagues, to your boss, to your customers, the greater fulfillment you will enable and the greater resilience you will foster to push the business forward.
Gina Stracuzzi: Stacy said, “Yes, to my customers.” I know from early selling days I always had the best results – I used to be a commodities broker and I would have to call people and get them to give me bunches of money and convince them that I would do well with it. I did that by sharing stories of how I know how hard people work for their money through family stories and what it means to trust someone else with your own money. It made all the difference between how I raised money and how colleagues that went just by a script. I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of storytelling and I want to go back to your research just a little bit. While you were doing this research and while doctor Good was doing this research, do you know if there was any emphasis put on the difference between men and women? Are women better at this idea of using stories and keeping this personal heartfelt idea front and center in their brains or is it across the board, everybody is good at it if they try?
Elizabeth Lotardo: A little bit of both. While I tend to stay away from broad generalizations, I will say that this sense of wanting to make a difference and the human-to-human connection that comes with that is more pronounced in women when it is not pronounced in the organization. Women are more likely to in a transactional culture keep themselves purpose driven. That said, storytelling, keeping your sense of higher purpose alive on a daily basis, talking about it with customers, those are teachable skills and much like in the 80s and 90s when negotiation 101 was big and Spin Selling was big, we are seeing a shift in organizations adopting a more purpose-driven sales approach because the research is backing it up and because it’s being perceived much better by customers. While women are more inclined to adopt this on their own, it is certainly a set of skills and mindset techniques that is teachable to both.
Gina Stracuzzi: I was just wondering if there had been any research to that effect.
Elizabeth Lotardo: Not that I know of, I have a slew of anecdotal experiences to validate that assumption [laughs].
Gina Stracuzzi: Fair enough. What if you’re in a situation where you’re with somebody or worked for somebody who’s totally transactional versus more the touchy-feely? How do you get them to try this?
Elizabeth Lotardo: I will tell you that is the #1 thing that we hear after webinars, after key notes, after training sessions is, “I truly believe I have a sense of noble purpose, I’ve always felt this way, this is how I connect with my customers but my boss is all about the numbers.” I think it stems from a couple of things the first of which is their boss is likely getting a number pushed down onto them and being what we call a funnel instead of a filter and that number is falling right onto their rep. They’re losing the context of why that number matters, they’re losing the strategy behind it and they’re only translating the metrics. There was a great piece in HBR a couple of months ago about this called, “Are Metris Undermining your Business?” We don’t know what’s in people’s hearts unless they tell us. Many very well-intended, intrinsically purpose driven people have been brought up in an era of business that was focused exclusively on shareholder primacy, exclusively on metrics.
There was not a space for this touchy-feely conversation and what’s happened now is a lot of leaders, much like I think the one you’re probably alluding to, and a lot of organizations are being forced to take a backwards look at the way that they were leading and measuring compared to the current data around purpose in business and make some choices to change. When you’re budding up against decades of leadership development that told you this ‘leave your feelings at the door’ model was effective, it takes some time. We don’t know what’s in people’s hearts unless they tell us and they in many cases have been told not to tell us explicitly so I would say don’t assume that just because your leader is not talking about purpose, is not putting customer impact at the core, that they don’t believe it or that they will discount it. They may just lack the vulnerability to come forward with that narrative themselves so the more you talk about it and the more you bring it up, the more likely they are to do the same.
Gina Stracuzzi: I would imagine if you practice it and you get results, what’s going to hurt you with that?
Elizabeth Lotardo: Right, someone’s going to start asking and that’s exactly what happened 10 years ago with that biotech company, the people who are naturally practicing it without any prompting turned out to be the top performers, the rest of the organization raised an eyebrow and wanted to know why.
Gina Stracuzzi: It’s a good raise of an eyebrow, right? [Laughs] We have another question, Andy wants to know, “How can I use purpose to differentiate myself from my competition?”
Elizabeth Lotardo: Great question. What we see a lot of times is that purpose gets you out of that spec sheet bore where your competition is saying, “We have this feature” and you’re saying, “We have that feature” and the customer is looking at these side by side, very nuanced specs and details. It often comes down to price and who can give the better terms, who can give the better bulk discounts, who can offer more support, things like that. But when you start the conversation from a place of customer impact – and this goes exactly back to Jane’s question earlier. When you start the conversation at that bigger picture level, when you connect not only what your product or service is to the impact it has on their lives and businesses, when you get clear about what the future could look like if you work together, what success would fall their way, what challenges you would help them mitigate, what threats you could help them avoid, you take yourself out of the product seat and you put yourself into the impact seat. Instead of comparing granularly product to product, your customer is presented with comparing this big impact, this rosy picture of what could be, this confidence they have in you and your ability to help them navigate a competitive landscape or a threat to what is just a product.
I think as salespeople bumping myself into this category, we get so excited about our offering and all of the things that it can do and the bells and the whistles, we get too narrow too fast and we miss the opportunity to have that noble purpose, impact driven conversation about the strategic pillars of our prospect’s life or business. When we start with that conversation, the product is a natural output instead of being the input into the conversation.
Gina Stracuzzi: If I’m hearing you correctly, then the old method of maybe starting with how much better you are than X, Y, Z company, shelf that for a while and start with why you’re doing it, coming back to the way.
Elizabeth Lotardo: Exactly.
Gina Stracuzzi: I think that’s part of having a noble purpose is because you really are driven by the why you’re doing this and the why can be all the beautiful things that your product can do for them. It’s believing in it and then talking from that point.
Elizabeth Lotardo: Absolutely and let’s be real, it is much more interesting to deliver that content and to listen to it. Nobody on either side of the table wants to go through spec by spec in grave detail in one of their early conversations, people want to talk about the driving reasons behind this decision. It’s more interesting for the salesperson to learn about that and to be able to connect their product and solution to something more than a purchasing goal and it’s more interesting for the prospect to talk about that because they didn’t wake up and say, “I need a new CRM system” or, “I need a new accounting software.” They woke up with a pressing opportunity or challenge or goal and that’s what’s on their mind.
Gina Stracuzzi: Another question that I got is, “How long after implementing this philosophy would you expect to see results?”
Elizabeth Lotardo: There’s a two-part answer that we give to that. The first is immediately and you can probably feel it on this call if you started to think about the impact you’re making on your customers, if you started to think about the ripple effect you are having as a salesperson, you feel an immediate serotonin hit, that carries you right into your next sales call. From an organizational and financial performance, we typically see returns on purpose driven ways of selling in about 12 months because what we know about these end game financial results and the financial results is that they are a lagging indicator to the engagement that salespeople have in the product, the customer conversations they are having to the competitive differentiation to Andy’s point earlier that they are fostering. All of those things contribute over the course of several months to a different and improved end result. What we do in sales which is a real trap is measure that end result and manage to that end result, what we know to be true is that the end result is an output of the words and beliefs of the salespeople and their ability to translate that to customers. So, one day and one year.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s speaking in larger company terms versus necessarily an individual, I would think. If everybody on board was practicing this, then within a year you could see some really interesting results, is that what you’re saying?
Elizabeth Lotardo: Exactly and on an individual basis if you start practicing this this morning and you decide to make customer impact the focus of your sales call in, let’s say, 30 minutes, you will see an immediate return. I will say the financial impact of that depends on the breadth of your solution, how long your sale cycle is but you will see an immediate return in engagement.
Gina Stracuzzi: Karen, she’s a manager, she said, “How do I get my team to listen to me if I start talking about this?” I imagine it could be the reverse of the earlier question which is, “My boss is very transactional, how do I get him or her on board?” Now we’ve got Karen saying, “I’m in charge and I would like to get my team to practice this.” What if you’re [Cross-talk 28:14] onto people that they’re all about the numbers and that’s the way they like to do business?”
Elizabeth Lotardo: I think that’s especially true now. If I were to hazard a guess, your sales team is probably very afraid in the current environment, they are probably battling series of customer objections, series of new competitors that they might not be used to dealing with before. To come to them with the story about, “Here’s purpose and here’s why it matters” can feel very far removed from the crisis of the day. A question you can ask your salespeople in the cadence of daily business that will start to ignite some of that frontal lobe thinking is, “How will this customer be different as a result of doing business with us?” Asking that question in a pipeline view and a coaching conversation and a team wide sales meeting, what asking that question will do is a few things.
First, it will align everyone’s brain in the room on the customer, which is where it should be instead of on ourselves and on our metrics because we know that when we’re focused on the customer, we show up as better salespeople. It will also give them a more compelling story because if they don’t have the answer to that question, “How will this customer be different as a result of doing business with us?” What we know is it prompts them to do a little bit more digging, they have more in-depth and strategic customer conversations. It will also fill their brain with serotonin and make them more resilient. What we’re seeing now is a lot of amygdala moments happening on sales teams, these fight or flight instincts, we’re hyped up on dopamine and it’s a rush but what we know is that serotonin – which is associated with long-term purpose, making a difference on people, having really meaningful relationships – that serotonin flow is what you need for a sales call. This question will take you exactly here because it takes the focus away from your crisis and it puts it squarely on your opportunity to make a difference to somebody else. Ask this question in sales calls and tell customer impact stories.
Gina Stracuzzi: Everybody write that down [laughs].
Elizabeth Lotardo: This is what we call the game changing question, if you can start asking this question of your sales team, if you can ask this question of yourself when you have individual sales opportunities and when you can ask this question or versions of it in customer conversations, you change the entire sales story. You move away from that transactional brain, that down to product specs and terms and you go towards that impact driven noble purpose headspace, which is much more enjoyable and more profitable for all parties involved.
Gina Stracuzzi: I would think you probably have a lot of clients right now who are saying, “How do I sell with noble purpose when I’m scared to death and nobody wants to hear sales pitches?” I would think that this would be more important than ever because if you’re really leading with your heart and what you believe to be the real noble purpose of your product or service, that will resonate even in these really awkward and unbelievable times.
Elizabeth Lotardo: You’re exactly right, we are collectively facing social, health an economic crises of unprecedented levels all at the same time. It is a competition for headspace, both the headspace of your employees and the headspace of your customers. What we know about what happens to people in a crisis – you’ve probably experienced this if you’ve ever had a health crisis, the loss of a parent or a friend – we reevaluate what’s important to us. If you’ve had a health scare you probably come out of that, “I’m going to live healthier, I’m going to do all these things and make a difference” and what this collective group of crises is prompting both employees and customers to do is reflect back and ask, “What’s important to me in my life? Why does it matter? How am I spending my time? What am I doing to make a lasting difference to the world?”
And what typically happened on an individual basis, that reassessment of our life is now happening on a worldwide scale. So if you’re an organization and your sales team was devoid of higher purpose, that reassessment is probably not going well and your ability to introduce the notion of purpose at this moment in time is crucial because you have to win the hearts and minds of your team so that they can win the hearts and minds of your customer. What we all are looking for now more than ever thanks to these collective crises is to matter, to make a difference, to know that we are doing good in the world, not just hitting a metric that was passed to us from five layers above.
Gina Stracuzzi: Elizabeth, when you first started using this method yourself, when you came on Lisa’s team, what were you first struck with and how did you start utilizing this on a more regular basis?
Elizabeth Lotardo: I go back to some of my earlier history, my pre McLeod & More history. I started my career in advertising and I sold Google AdWords. If you’ve ever googled car dealership near me you’ll see some sponsored results at the top that are Google AdWords, people pay to have their websites placed there. I sold Google AdWords to car dealerships, to pawn shops, to lawyer’s offices, just about anybody I could get to answer the phone and I felt a true sense of noble purpose in that work. Google AdWords is a very quantitative thing to sell and it often times comes down to attraction of a cent per click when you are selling in mass, but I truly believed in my 22 year old heart that in businesses’ abilities to be seen by their customer base, to by noticed in the face of unprecedented competition can make or break that business. When you have a business that’s providing valuable services, they have to be recognized so I carried – much like the pharmaceutical rep I spoke about when we first started carried – a sense of noble purpose in my heart and I carried it into all of my customer interactions.
I just didn’t know it was called that, much like a lot of top salespeople, I thought this was isolated to me and I was weird for caring about it so much because the organization I was in was so focused on those quantitative metrics and was devoid of any sense of higher purpose. It was what I thought was my weird touchy feely self coming out. So, I decided to ultimately depart that organization, I went back to graduate school and got a master’s in organizational psychology to dive deeper into what makes people care about things. It started out in advertising always fascinated with this human perception and decided to take it into more of a business landscape and ultimately reached a lot of the conclusions that the research that is foundational in selling with noble purpose reached. Not only in sales, but people in general want to matter, they want to make a difference, they want to make a lasting impact on the world that far exceeds hitting a metric.
I had this experience of myself being this noble purpose seller as I now call it, I had an informed perspective and doing a lot of research on engagement, on what makes people feel fulfilled in a workplace especially in a sales role. I think when I started practicing it much like a lot of people who naturally do this, yourself included, it became clearer but it wasn’t necessarily different. But I did see that the clarity helped me connect to other salespeople to talk about it, to have names for these fluffy feelings and define skills for the way you engage with customers like this. I think that it came really naturally and it does to a lot of people who already believe this but having names to it, having concise skill buckets helps you translate that conversation throughout your organization.
Gina Stracuzzi: We do get a couple of men every week, everywhere from 3 to 5 which I love and I don’t know exactly why they tune in but I love it because I think it helps us all understand each other a little bit more. What Tim wants to know is what if you work for a very technical company and your product is very technical? How do you get talking about the noble purpose of that product?
Elizabeth Lotardo: Thank you, Tim for joining. I would imagine that you either lead sales women on sell to women so astute of you to take this time for professional development in this lane. If your product is very technical, and we work with a lot of teams who do have very technical products, the pull to become hyper technical is stronger than anywhere else because that’s what your customers are expecting. Customers are trained in these technical landscapes to dive right into the specs, to ask these really granular questions so salespeople are fighting against a tide of customers who were trained this way and have bought this way for a long time. My counsel would be to just back up a little bit even if it’s just in the first conversation and start asking why, why are they doing this? What is the strategic objective they want to accomplish? Is it a new competitor, is it wanting to gain market share, do they have a new product launching? What is the compelling reason?
If you can’t get it and your prospect is starting to just say, “We just need this, look at the specs, these are the purchasing requirements” ask yourself, “and then what?” And what those three words do is help you see that big impact. “We need a CRM system that is mobile friendly.” “And then what? You have a CRM system that is mobile friendly.” “Well, that allows reps to access their customer notes and whatever else they need when they’re in the field.” “Okay, and then what does that do?” “That enables them to have more compelling conversations with customers, it enables them to capture more customer intelligence and reflect back on it later.” “And then what does that do?” “That enables them to close bigger deals.” And after like seven “and then what’s”, we finally get to the driver of the decision. I would be easy when asked to pitching a mobile CRM system go through a list of products and specs, but even if the customer is unwilling to have that “and then what” conversation, you can do that by yourself and start to get an idea of what might be driving this decision and what impact can you start tethering your product or solution to. It’s a little bit more challenging when you are in that hyper-technical space, but it is certainly possible especially if you start early on in the conversation.
Gina Stracuzzi: While you were getting to that point, I was thinking about Tim’s question and then I got thinking: what if you’re up against a customer that isn’t buying your efforts to show them your noble purpose and why you do what you do, and they’re just turning a deaf ear to everything you’re saying and they only want to know about the specs and what it’s going to cost them, how long it’s going to take to implement it? Because maybe they’re making that spreadsheet of comparisons with your competition, is there a way that you recommend trying to turn a conversation away from just the specs? You gave us an example, “And then what happens?” but what if, “And then what happens?” isn’t working and you haven’t fully prepared yourself in that respect? Is there a way to win back that conversation?
Elizabeth Lotardo: Absolutely, and much like you want to present a transactional boss with this information, you also want to present that to transactional customers, the strategy that you take is much the same. When you have a customer that is very transactional and that is pushing you to get into the weeds of your specs, pricing and whatnot, they are likely uncomfortable with the level of vulnerability required to answer that “and then what” series or they might not know. Perhaps they’re a purchasing agent who was given a list of specs that they need and they don’t know how it ties into the organization or they don’t care how it ties into the organization. All of these situations are workable, they’re just going to take a little bit of conversational nuance.
A couple strategies for you, you can ask the “and then what” series even if you only get two layers down and you don’t get to that rosy picture, it’s still better than nothing. You can tell a customer impact story which is what we talked about, a story about the difference you made in the life of a customer beyond the products and specs which requires no active participation from your prospects or your boss – whoever is transactional in your life. You can also start to anecdotally drop in possibilities. If you don’t know or they don’t know why this objective is set for, how this product is going to play into the strategic growth of the organization, you can say things like, “A lot of our clients employ these types of solutions because they want to grow market share. If that happened to be the case with you…” Starting to give them such suggestions instead of this big blank space that they feel pressured to fill can help them feel a little bit more comfortable in that conversation. It might prompt them to even do some digging internally.
Gina Stracuzzi: Tim says, “Thank you very much.” One of the IES speakers who came to speak at the IES monthly program back when you could actually do those things, his forte was storytelling and one of the people in the audience said, “What if you don’t have a great story?” He said, “Learn to tell someone else’s story within your company.” You don’t have to make it yours, you can say, “One of my colleagues had this client…” because you begin to get as fired up when you tell that story. What the gentleman said is sometimes after a while, when you tell someone else’s story long enough it becomes your story and you get the same result because it’s still heartfelt, it still does the job of showing that you care about them and that your company cares. All the time we’ve been talking today I was thinking about what he said there because I think that people can do that, it’s the noble purpose overall.
Elizabeth Lotardo: Yes, and you saw me do it at the start of this webinar, I was not in the room with 55 MBAs and doctors presenting this ‘joy in their heart’ story, but that story means so much to me because it is instrumental in the work that my company does, it is a foundational pillar of who we are so if you are new to an organization, if you are selling a new product, ask for stories about how it made a difference to customers. Start sharing those, you’ll ignite your own frontal lobes and the frontal lobes of your customers.
Gina Stracuzzi: We are out of time, that was really amazing, Elizabeth. I think you’ve given us a lot to think about and you’ve given us hope that there’s actually a way to stay positive about this particular time we’re in. Probably now more than ever, having a noble purpose is what’s going to get you through to the end of this and keep your sales career going strong, so thank you.
Elizabeth Lotardo: My pleasure, I’d encourage everyone to ask how your customers are different as a result of doing business with you. Carry that story in your heart, carry that story into your conversations with customers, carry that story throughout your colleagues and your boss internally and you will be amazed at the self-fulfilling loop of fulfillment, of connection and ultimately performance you create for yourself.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo