EPISODE 428: Women in Sales Leader Michelle Hecht’s Strategies for Humanizing the Sales Process

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Women in Sales virtual lerning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on October 12, 2021. It featured an interview with sales expert Michelle Hecht.]

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MICHELLE’S TIP: “Sales professionals struggle with converting leads to business, or at least getting them to move down the sales funnel. A lot of people get stuck somewhere in that sales funnel and a lot of people give up quickly because they feel like they’ve hit a wall. Take a step back, think about all the resources that you have at your disposal. Take a look at the top five targets on your target list, take a look at how many touch points you’ve already made with each and what you’ve done. Really take a good look and ask yourself, have I leveraged every resource possible to move them along the sale cycle and move them down the funnel? If you can’t answer that with 100% confidence, my advice would be that if you’re relying too heavily on the software that your company is using and the data and you really didn’t push yourself in a certain direction where you were humanizing that process. Dig a little deeper and not just take your results for face value. If that means reaching out and clarifying a little bit more, because your buyer’s journey, they’re all unique. Who influenced them, how have they heard about the different brands that are out there? What kind of research have they done? Then a question that I heard a while ago which I love so much and it applies to anybody in sales, any industry, is tell me about the day that you decided that you had an issue or a problem that you needed to solve.”


Gina Stracuzzi: Welcome, everyone. I would like to welcome my guest, Michelle Hecht. She is CEO and Founder of Phoenix Factor Consulting, she’s coming to us to talk about how to humanize the selling process and discuss what she knows and what she’s seen in her clients over the last 19 months as they pivot and try to excel. She has a unique formula, her four P’s for remaining passionate in selling. Welcome, Michelle.

Michelle Hecht: Thank you, Gina, it’s great to be here.

Gina Stracuzzi: Tell us about your four P’s.

Michelle Hecht: What I love to do, and I’ve been doing this for years, is cherry-pick things that I have done, that I have been taught through training, coaching, implementing, executing in the field. I like to take all of that and mash it up into what I feel the best cadences are, the best exercises are, things that really get results. I always put a human spin on it. What I mean by that is I don’t want to show up just implementing strategies and just checking off boxes and following certain protocols that are robotic and seem automated and ingenuine.

I take all those processes that I know work like hard skills and things that are tried and true and I put my own spin on it in my own way, in my voice, in my style and still get results, but at least I feel authentic, and I feel like I’m showing up every day as my whole self.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s so important and incredibly hard over the last 19 months. What I have noticed in the women I work with in the forum and even in myself and other people that I interact with on a regular basis from a business standpoint is the last six months seem to have been the hardest.

Michelle Hecht: That’s so true.

Gina Stracuzzi: The first part was new and, dare I say, a little bit fun, the idea of working from home and having more freedom and all of those things. Now it’s like the heaviness of it all has set in. Do you see that with your clients? How do you help them through it?

Michelle Hecht: I not only see that with my own clients, but I see that across the board. I have, like you do, a lot of conversations with people, connect with a lot of people, network in events, in my fireside chats. Everybody’s feeling it, but it’s like anything else. Not that I’m comparing apples to oranges, but the novelty wears off. In the beginning, remember how people were all like, “Working from home, I’m going to pick up a new hobby, I’m going to learn a new language, I’m going to do this, do that, I’m going to bake.” It was exciting because it was new, there was novelty to it. We were on autopilot, all of us, sales or not, we were all on autopilot for the longest time because we had no choice.

A, the novelty wears off. B, we realize this is going on a lot longer. Then you throw in the politics, the vaccines, the masks, all these rules and regulations like social issues. I really feel like people have hit that pandemic wall and I’ll say it now and I’ll say it every day. There is no way that we are not going to be affected and have PTSD from this. I’m not saying it’s going to cripple us, I’m just saying there’s no way that something of this magnitude can go on this long and affect every aspect of our lives, and we’re not going to have some sort of after effects. We’re going to have to manage that, because it was a lot to take on in a very short period of time and it was intense.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk about some of what you saw and the salespeople that you work with, how they have adjusted and what their journeys have been like.

Michelle Hecht: Great question. If I had to choose certain things across the board that were common denominators, I would have to say that it caused a lot of sales professionals and sales leaders and basically organizations in general to take a step back and really take a good, hard look, 30,000 ft. areal view of what’s really working, what’s not working. We have to maybe lean on other things to give us clarity, the speed at which data and analysis and market research, all of that, the speed of which that has been refined and executed is just unbelievable.

I could sit here all day long and talk about humanizing the sales process, but what I want to do is define that because I’m not saying that all that technology shouldn’t be used and we should just build relationships, talk to people and be nice and kind. That’s not what I’m saying. I feel that there needs to be a nice balance because we have to rely right now very heavily on data and analysis. We have to figure out the buyer’s sentiment, we need to understand all of that. There are lots of tech stacks out there, they’re overwhelming for salespeople, they’re overwhelming for buyers. There’s just so much that has changed so rapidly, but we have to find a balance and that seems to be the biggest struggle right now for people in sales across the board.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s break that down a little bit. Tell us what you mean by humanize the process. You’ve very acutely and succinctly laid out the data side of it, so how do we humanize the process and what does that mean as an individual seller?

Michelle Hecht: Great question, because I’ve tweaked my answer over the last year and a half pretty often, but it still has the same gist of being a healthy combination of both. For example, when organizations do market research, they understand that demographics are very important. But then there’s an element of psychographics. If the demographics are age and location and all of that, we understand what demographics are, which dissects different groups and whatnot. But the psychographics are people’s values, their desires, their goals, their lifestyle choices, they’re their interests. Things that yes, they can take surveys, they can fill out forms, they can look up certain things and that can be tracked with technology.

But there is a human element of that, that maybe can’t be extrapolated with technology, and that’s where the human piece comes in. Where you take all the data, you take everything that you’ve found with research but then you have to talk to people. There has to be human connection there to develop relationships and to clarify those psychographics in order to really have a great snapshot of who your target audience is and how you should approach them, and how you should prospect with different segments of people. That’s what I mean by humanizing the process, it’s not A or B. It’s A plus B equals C, but we have to figure out how much of A should we add to how much of B.

Gina Stracuzzi: We have some questions. Deborah M. wants to know, “In particular, what have you seen in terms of how women in sales have changed over this period and how their journey is different than men’s?”

Michelle Hecht: I don’t think that this is only specific to the last 18, 19 months. I think that it’s in general that women face certain challenges – obviously men face challenges too, but women face unique challenges with juggling family, children, being a caretaker, wearing many hats. Women are emotional creatures – men are too, but women tend to lead a lot with certain emotion that give us an edge in terms of being empathetic and having certain conversations with people.

It sometimes can be positive and negative in many ways, but if I were to be very specific to the pandemic and statistics prove this, there’s data, it’s a well-known thing. Women, especially working women have been hit the hardest during this entire pandemic. Millions of women were affected, millions of women had to make a decision whether they were going to continue working or they were going to be caretakers and stay home with children or parents or whomever.

There were additional pressures, but the great thing that came out of that is so many women started to really think outside the box and reinvent themselves and figure out ways to continue to bring a revenue stream in, but to do it in such a way where they can take care of all of their responsibilities and still be present for the people that need them the most.

Gina Stracuzzi: How can organizations help their sales team adopt these principles? A question that I had thinking about the A plus B equals C, how do you figure out what ratio is right for which situations?

Michelle Hecht: That’s such a great question and I appreciate you asking that because there is no one-size-fits-all. I would love to sit here and say, “It’s 35% of A and 65% of B” and it’s not. It’s actually different for every single industry, for every single organization but it starts at the top, it starts at leadership, it starts at what I would love to see as a healthy blend of marketing and sales. I was in corporate America over 20 years. I saw firsthand how things were very segmented between marketing and sales, and this is something that’s known. It’s not like I’m saying something that nobody believes or understands.

I would love to see more collaboration between marketing and sales because if that works well and it’s operationally efficient, then I think it’s easier to figure out how much of A and how much of B. Because you blend the analytics, the market research, the tech stacks, all of that data and then you sit down and figure out based upon demographics, based upon psychographics, based upon cadences, ways of prospecting, how you’re going to formulate the most effective strategies that can be implemented and rolled out with sales folks. That’s basically what has to be done. It’s an algorithm, it’s an equation and it’s different for everybody.

Gina Stracuzzi: I think that’s where sales enablement teams can really help because they have such a holistic view of the sales process. Bringing those thoughts into that equation, I really like where you’re going with this. If you have an organization that maybe their teams are disconnected and getting them to talk might not be the easiest thing in the world because there’s still the hierarchy or the organizational structure, maybe it allows for it and maybe it doesn’t. How would you go about it if you’re the one who wants to bring this idea into whoever needs to hear it to make it happen?

Michelle Hecht: First and foremost, I’m a big believer that culture is king. You know how people say content is king? Culture is king. When people are working in an environment where it’s inclusive and they feel that they have a voice, they’re not just a number, they’re not only as good as their last sale, last month or quarter. When people feel comfortable where they can bring up ideas and they can outwardly disagree respectfully and they can bounce ideas off each other and grow together.

When people feel that level of comfort that it’s okay to bring their whole self to work and they can be emotional – I don’t mean like sobbing, I mean they can just be emotional people, that’s what makes us human, we’re not robots. That type of culture, that type of environment fosters creativity. It fosters a level of comfort that people can brainstorm without holding back. When you start with that type of culture, diversity and inclusion, that creates an environment where people can start to brainstorm and figure out the best way to strategize for their particular vertical, for their particular segment, their target audience.

Gina Stracuzzi: I can see that maybe if you’re somebody that takes this to heart and thinks this is a great idea, the idea of both the data and the human aspect of things, maybe finding an advocate in the other departments who can work with you. Maybe you start having these conversations offline before you bring it to the larger audience, that can be a great way to get going on it.

Michelle Hecht: I’m so glad that you brought that up, thank you. That’s under the culture umbrella, it’s being comfortable enough to reach out to people cross-functionally, working with other departments, getting everybody in on decisions. Understanding that it’s not sales versus marketing versus sales enablement versus IT versus HR. The organization is the sum of all of these moving parts, and when people have that level of comfort where if they have a question about something, they can put a message in Slack or pick up the phone or whatever, send a DM to somebody in a different department, that they don’t have to go through a hierarchy as to not step on toes. When people have that level of comfort, that’s inclusivity. That’s working together toward the same common goal. If sales are not coming in, if leads are not coming back in, if those leads are not converting, the company’s not making money. The company’s not bringing in new business and that affects everybody else in every other department. It has to be a collaborative effort.

Gina Stracuzzi: If you see all these things happening and you take that leadership approach, even if you don’t have ‘leader’ in your title, and can show people how if we work collaboratively, we will come up with a solution, I really like that a lot. Mindy wants to know, “What do you do when people don’t recognize what you’re struggling with in this journey?” I think it’s easy to not show up or not bring everything that you’re thinking or feeling to a Zoom meeting, whereas if you were in the office and you were struggling with something, somebody might notice that you’re sticking in your office or cubicle more than before. How do you approach that when you have somebody who is struggling and maybe there’s just not an awareness of it.

Michelle Hecht: I’m so glad that somebody brought that up, thank you, Mindy. We can sit back and assume that whoever we report to or just people that are in senior positions are going to pick up on that. They’re going to notice and we can’t make any assumptions right now or in general. If you are struggling with something and it’s affecting your productivity and it’s affecting your life in general and you’re not functioning every day to full capacity, number one, it’s normal. I think that so many people these days – probably a little less than usual, which is a good thing – still feel they have to put on that act, that bravado that they’ve got it all covered, they have it all figured out, that toxic positivity and they show up whether it’s on a Zoom or the office. Everything’s going fine, I got this whole thing down, I’m good. Then we want to know why we hear these horrible stories about people that do things to themselves or that didn’t have a chance to seek help.

My point is that we can’t assume that it’s going to be noticed. We have to be proactive and that’s why I think there are so many people on LinkedIn and in general that are really working hard to destigmatize mental health, mental illness, depression, anxiety, there are so many resources right now out there. We have to be more proactive even if we find one person to talk to that we’re comfortable with, because that will start the process of reaching out and getting the support that we need. We all need it right now, and even if it’s to a small degree, it’s okay to talk about it. There’s nothing wrong with you if you talk about the fact that you’re struggling right now and you need support. There are tons of people out there that would love to help, they’re waiting to be asked because it empowers them too that they can support someone and pay it forward.

Gina Stracuzzi: One of the things that we talk about in the Women in Sales Leadership Forum quite a bit, it doesn’t matter if you need help or you are struggling with making your numbers. Let’s say you’re really rocking it and you are after a position. If you don’t share what’s on your mind – good, bad or indifferent – people don’t know and people can’t read minds. It’s really important to give voice to the things that are going on, whether they’re inspirational, aspirational struggles, whatever it is. You have to give it air in order for the situation to change.

Michelle Hecht: That’s a great issue that you bring up about speaking up, and especially not being afraid to just muddy the waters a little bit, create some waves. If people continue to be a yes-man, a yes-woman because they don’t want to rock the boat and they feel if they do that, they’re going to get to where they want to be, no.

In fact, I had a conversation with someone yesterday who I highly respect who asked me a question. I gave an answer because I wanted to show that I was a team player and that I’m flexible, and that even though I’m seasoned, I would still take on someone else’s way of doing things. That I don’t show up and know it all and claim to know it all because I have all this experience, I’m always learning. This person challenged me and basically said, “No, I want you to tell me what you would really do. Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear.” Basically it was asking me to be a challenge, and our initial instincts are to please people and to have people like us, to get what we want but to do it in a very comfortable way.

The reason I’m giving this example is because if you want some sort of action, if you want something and you want to go for it, number one, you have to be your own best advocate. Number two, you have to speak up. Speaking up doesn’t mean being disrespectful or rude, it just means you have to advocate for yourself. If you’re not happy with something, I always say this and I’ll say it again. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Think about being in a meeting, at the very end a manager or sales leader says, “Does anybody have any questions before we break?” Crickets, right? As soon as somebody raises their hand, all of a sudden it creates a tidal wave and then more hands go up and then it becomes a conversation. The great thing about those conversations is that out of that uncomfortable conversation, there are changes that are made, there are new ideas. It stirs up the creative juices and that’s what’s so great about that. Don’t be afraid to feel uncomfortable.

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s amazing how we all turn into first graders in meetings. “I don’t want to go first.” [Laughs]

Michelle Hecht: Absolutely, but then when someone does, you’re like, okay, someone cracked the code and I’m going to do it too.

Gina Stracuzzi: We’re getting close to the end of our discussion. I’d like you to give us one last thought and then I’d like you to leave us with some tip or particular way of thinking that people can implement today. Like, “I love what Michelle said about this and I want to put it in action.” Let’s go with our closing thoughts, and then tips for immediate action.

Michelle Hecht: Before I get into certain tips, I just wanted to make sure that I reiterated or at least state what those four P’s are, because I feel like I’ve summarized them, I just didn’t define them. Number one is passion, and that’s your why. What drives you every day to show up, to get up, show up and level up every single day in a sales capacity? Because it takes guts and it takes momentum. Why are you passionate, what’s driving you?

Purpose. The purpose is the what, and that’s tied into the why and the passion. What are you looking to accomplish? What is your reason for being in sales and for doing what you do on a daily basis? That’s a little bit more strategic, I like to think of passion as the why and the emotion behind it and the fire, if you will.

The third P is processes. How are we going to get from A to B? That goes back to what I was talking about in the beginning, about humanizing sales processes, about understanding that we have so much at our disposal. Even with AI, with tech stacks, with different software, things that create a nice streamline process for companies and really figure out the target audiences and pull up that data. That’s all vital, no disputing that. But with the P for processes, it’s understanding that it’s not apples to oranges. There’s a way of combining things where we can be authentic, we can talk to people, have that human interaction, follow up, create certain cadences where we’re blending all of the technology with the human connection, with the human experience.

The final P is profit, how do we loop all of this together allowing sales teams to show up as their whole selves, be genuine, be authentic and still hit the numbers, exceed sales goals, move up the ladder, do what they want to do and really feel like they have safety and they have support and they’re able to go where they’re trying to go? Grow, basically.

It’s a package and it doesn’t happen overnight, but we have to adapt to that and be open-minded that what we may have done or tried to do two years ago, a year and a half ago, even like you said, six months ago, it’s different today. We’re going at warp speed, we have to adapt. It’s like adapt or die, we have to do it. We have to keep up, we have to adapt.

Gina Stracuzzi: The four P’s are a great way to look at it in a manageable way. I know why I’m here, what I’m going to do about it, how I’m going to handle it, how I’m going to make sure that I’ve got the right processes to support my why and my what. In the end, are they going to all add up to profit? I like that, it’s very manageable. What’s your piece of actionable advice that people can put into place today?

Michelle Hecht: The one that really stands out the most based on our conversation is that I think a lot of sales professionals struggle with converting leads to business, or at least getting them to move down the sales funnel. A lot of people get stuck somewhere in that sales funnel and a lot of people give up quickly because they feel like they’ve hit a wall. My ask would be, take a step back, think about all the resources that you have at your disposal. I’m sure there are multiple resources, but take a step back, take a look at maybe the top five targets on your target list, take a look at how many touch points you’ve already made with each and what you’ve done. Really take a good look and ask yourself, have I leveraged every resource possible to move them along the sale cycle and move them down the funnel?

If you can’t answer that with 100% confidence, my advice would be that if you’re relying too heavily on the software that your company is using and the data and you really didn’t push yourself in a certain direction where you were humanizing that process. You have to start to dig a little deeper. You have to not just take your results for face value. If that means reaching out and clarifying a little bit more, because your buyer’s journey, they’re all unique. Who influenced them, how have they heard about the different brands that are out there? What kind of research have they done? Then a question that I heard a while ago which I love so much and it applies to anybody in sales, any industry, is tell me about the day that you decided that you had an issue or a problem that you needed to solve.

That’s different than, tell me about the day that you decided you wanted to buy something. Walk me through, starting with the day that you decided, “Today’s the day I have an issue, I have a problem that I really would like to solve” and what did that day look like? When you put the power back on the buyer to start and open up that dialogue, they’re going to talk for 5, 10, 15 minutes because you’re going to be a journalist. You’re going to ask specific, probing questions. Tell me about that day, where’d you do your research? Where’d you start with your research? Who did you talk to? Tell me about the different companies, the different brands that you researched, what were your findings?

When you ask certain probing questions during discovery, you’d be surprised how it’s not about you. Now, you just empowered the buyer to give you everything that you need to really understand where they’re coming from and what the emotions were behind their actions. People make buying decisions purely based off of emotion, not because your product has better features, benefits. If it’s not applicable to your buyer, they don’t care. We can’t assume that they’re going to be enticed by features, benefits, colors, size, price. That might be irrelevant to them, so we have to be better diggers and really take that. I get really passionate about this.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love that. That’s another conversation that we’ll have, but it’s a good thing to look back go through your leads and the leads in your funnel and see if you’ve gotten all that information. If not, then go back.

Michelle Hecht: Be honest with yourself. I’m not saying go through a 200-person target list. Five or ten people at the top that you really feel like you have a good relationship with, and if there are certain things that you’re like, “I would love to know X, Y and Z and I really didn’t get clarification around that,” reach out. Dig a little more, probe a little more, get the good stuff out so you have a better understanding of your buyer.

Gina Stracuzzi: Very powerful tip. You all have a lot of homework to do. Go ahead and get started on that, we will see you back here next Tuesday at noon. Michelle, thank you so very much for a wonderful conversation, very valuable advice. I look forward to talking to you again.

Michelle Hecht: If anybody has questions or wants more information, reach out to me. I’m on LinkedIn, I’m not on every social media platform. This is my favorite, so reach out to me, I’m here.

Gina Stracuzzi: Thank you, Michelle. Bye everyone, see you next week.

Michelle Hecht: Thank you, Gina. Take care.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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