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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Creativity in Sales virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on March 2. 2022. It featured an interview with Pretaa CEO Michael Madon and Board Member Lisa Pope, Executive VP at Epicor. Lisa was also featured on the Sales Game Changers Podcast in 2021. Listen to her show here.]
MICHAEL’S TIP: “it’s not about throwing away the investments (in sales tech) you’ve made but how to optimize those investments with a way to take the best information and the nuggets that are in all those different investments and then optimize them and use that information in a way that provides context and makes it actionable for your sales reps (so that they succeed.)”
LISA’S TIP: “For sales leaders, don’t underestimate the importance of the care and feeding of your sales teams. It’s not a math equation of how many reps and assignments, it is really about people and doing what you can to make them successful in their jobs. If you’re a sales rep starting off in your career, be clear and vocal with your management about what you need. We’re in a position now where we’re listening more, the people aspect has gotten very important. Be specific about where you need help and the things you need to succeed, and that will go a long way.”
THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE
Fred Diamond: We do have a returning guest today, Lisa Pope, here on the board of Pretaa. We also have the CEO of Pretaa, Michael Madon, and we’re going to be talking about the challenges that face sales professionals. Sales reps continue to underperform and we’re hopefully coming out of the pandemic and everything related to that, but there’s The Great Resignation, there are so many challenges, how do people emerge from virtual? How do people get better? The Great Resignation’s also happening at our customer’s, so there’s so many challenges. You would think by now we’d have it all figure out, Michael, but there’s still challenges and sales professionals still underperform. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that? Why do sales professionals still underperform in 2022?
Michael Madon: I think the statistics are pretty stark, something like 57% of sales reps this year are projected to not make their number. That’s a pretty high figure. Sales reps on average churn at around 30%, and in the rest of the industry it hovers around 12%. Sales reps stay for only about 18 months, and the real challenge with that is that sales reps don’t really get going until you hit about the two-year mark. These companies are spending all this time, energy, money, and focus to try to get these reps up and running, and it’s not working. I don’t think that the war on talent is going to change, it’s only going to get worse.
As people begin to change the way they work, they don’t know each other, there’s no water cooler, the connections between people get frayed, and also the data gets frayed. We’ve created this situation where you have information that salespeople need to do their job and it’s siloed, and they can’t get to it. They waste their time trying to get to it, they’re frustrated. When a salesperson’s frustrated and they don’t make their #1 quarter, their eye is already looking at their next opportunity and they’re not focused on the job. I think there’s a lot of different factors that are impacting effectiveness for sales reps.
Fred Diamond: Lisa Pope, again, you were on our show about a year ago. You’re the VP of Sales and Marketing for Epicor. You’re living everything that Michael just said. You’ve worked for some great companies and now you’re on the board, congratulations. It’s definitely going to be a good thing for Michael and for his team. What are your impressions of the challenges? We’ll talk about why you joined the board later on, but what are the major challenges that you see as a sales leader out there working for a pretty well-established sales software company?
Lisa Pope: I think the challenges have gotten greater. We have a lot of senior sales reps moving on in their careers and deciding maybe to retire, we’re taking younger business development reps and trying to turn them into A-player sales reps with very little training, very little experience, expecting them to come in and just magically know how to do the same thing that that A-player spent 20 years learning and perfecting that craft. I think it’s a real challenge in terms of obviously retaining the top talent, keeping your A-players, by keeping the administration low, keeping their productivity high. Then equally important, making sure that we have a way to take those younger people entering the sales ranks and really guide them through how to be successful. It is challenging, these are big issues when you look at the workforce challenges overall.
Fred Diamond: As someone who employs a lot of sales professionals, you need them to perform and there’s a big investment that you’re making in them. It’s really hard. This Great Resignation thing, it’s real and we talk about that almost every single day. One of the big challenges is not just that it’s real at your company, but it’s a challenge at your customer and your customer’s customer. I’m curious here. You both have had great careers and you’ve seen a lot of high performers. Can you take an average sales rep, let’s say, a good sales rep and transform them into exceptional or the highest level? Lisa, I’m curious on your thoughts because you’ve led and managed so many. Then, Michael, obviously the tool that Pretaa is going to be playing into that.
Lisa Pope: There are certainly some validation things that I things that I think are really important. The industry expertise, that’s hard to teach in a classroom. We like to send our teams out and actually work at customers, that helps them learn the industry. There’s a lot of sales skills that you can teach them and that investment is equally as important, but it’s the on-the-job training that’s the hardest thing to do because you’re not in the office with everyone. You’re literally remote, so it’s hard to pattern behavior and have people see that, and it’s harder now to get three or four people to actually travel out to a site or customer and learn by doing.
I think there is a need not just to have sales systems that automate processes, but providing a tool for sales reps that gives them answers. I think that’s been the biggest challenge, is that gap between what someone’s learned and what someone’s trying to do. But I have definitely seen reps that we’ve been able to develop into those higher performing reps. Even if a sales force feels that that care and feeding is there, and I think that’s probably my one secret for success, if that’s there and that environment is there, then you have people that are less likely to leave. To Michael’s point, that sales force churn of every 15 months means it’s just an incredible expense for the company and very hard to be a high growth company with that kind of tenure.
Fred Diamond: Michael, what approach can they take from going from a good rep or an average rep even to a great one?
Michael Madon: Copy and imitate what the successful A-reps are doing. That’s very easy to say, do what that awesome person is doing and you’ll be awesome also. The challenge is what is that awesome stuff that those A-players are doing? I think part of that is understanding the context of the sale, understanding the greater world that that sale is occurring in. For example, a great A-player will know when there’s been a merger or an acquisition or there’s been a C-suite change in the company they’re trying to sell. An A-player will know that, and it’s incredible. They’ll come to you and say, “Guess what just happened? There was a merger and now this is going to throw things off,” or, “This is a great opportunity.”
But someone who’s just coming into the workforce, as Lisa was mentioning, does not have the level of sophistication to know the impact of a C-suite change or know the impact of a merger and acquisition. It’s not terribly difficult, it’s up for technology to then help that sales rep know that information. The information cannot be buried in some charts and fancy horse blankets, it needs to be pushed to the rep in a way that’s digestible to meet that sales rep where they are. In short, it’s about one, knowing what successful reps are doing and then in a sense, take those best practices and push that to the sales rep.
Fred Diamond: Lisa, as a follow up to what Michael just said, you’ve led so many great sales professionals and you’ve probably seen hundreds, if not thousands of them fall by the wayside. Can an average rep become a great rep? Let’s say less than average. On a scale of one to ten, someone who starts off as a three or four. Can they get to that level or have you seen them just get flushed out of sales? The reality is sales is probably the hardest job in the company, that’s why we do a Sales Game Changers podcast every day. That’s why I’m looking at my bookshelf and I see probably 200 books on sales, it’s not easy. Lisa, you didn’t wake up yesterday and say, “You know what? I’m done working at McDonald’s, I want to be the VP of Sales for a very successful software company.” You’ve progressed and you’ve learned things along the way. I’m curious on your thoughts, can an average rep become an exceptional rep?
Lisa Pope: Absolutely. I definitely talked about some foundations that need to be there, it doesn’t happen overnight, you do have to invest, you have to really know your industry, know your product. I always say a good sales rep can show product because then they really have the credibility in front of the client, and I think that’s important, the industry expertise. But I think the other thing is learning what to focus on and how to be productive. You get so many administrative requests and so many customer or prospect requests, depending on whether you’re a net new or customer-based rep, and sometimes that can be overwhelming. If your day is spent dealing with all those incoming requests and questions on billing and systems, all the things that potentially they will call you for, then obviously, your productivity drops significantly and it really does get to be a very frustrating environment. The goal of the good sales leaders is to figure out how to keep that to a minimum, keep their people motivated and provide tools and systems that allow them to do what they do best, which is spending time in front of the client, show product, show their solutions, discuss value propositions and close deals.
Fred Diamond: Today’s a big day because we’re announcing Pretaa, and Michael, first of all, I know that you serve the country so thank you very much for your service. You brought this product to market, you’ve had a lot of great success bringing products to market. Tell us a little bit about Pretaa. I think we’re getting a pretty good sense of why you’ve developed it and Lisa’s right, there are so many systems out there. Salesforce is one of our sponsors of the Institute for Excellence in Sales, but even still, you have to keep up with it and reps always complain that too much of their time is with systems. Why did you develop Pretaa? Why are you bringing it to market and how is it going to help us solve some of these problems that we’ve just started to address?
Michael Madon: To quote Salesforce, actually, Salesforce has this amazing blurb where they say that all reps need just 10 minutes a day to know what they need to do to hit their number, and that blew me away. I said, just 10 minutes a day to know what to do? At the end, I said, sure, that’s great but I want to build a product and we just released a product that in 10 minutes, you can do what you need to do to hit your number. It’s not just a matter of knowing what to do, it’s the ability to actually have a very simple platform to then execute on what you need to do. I think that’s really where we came in with the concept of Pretaa, which is to one, destroy the stove pipe.
We were mentioning before the podcast, when a complete sales team is sitting around the table, you’ve got sales, you’ve got marketing, it’s a big deal, you have customer success, you may have finance and you’re all sitting around the table discussing how to close this deal. No one says, “I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that information about the customer because it’s buried in my system and you don’t have access to the system.” That doesn’t happen. What happens is when people are in the room together, they share the information. Those stove pipes don’t exist. Step one is destroy the stove pipe. What we do is we sit above that stove pipe and just suck the information that’s account-driven, that’s relevant.
The second thing is to then take that relevant case information and push it to the sales rep, so the sales rep doesn’t have to spend time searching for where that information is hidden. It’s very similar to being at the meeting itself where you have all the different players in the company to close that deal. That’s really the problem that we’re solving, to take all the time and frustration that those reps are spending either trying to find information or not even knowing what they need to know, and taking the best practices from successful sales reps and pushing that to the average sales rep so they can uplift the team. That’s the goal so the vast majority of reps can make their number.
Fred Diamond: Lisa, you’re on the board. What attracted you to this product and Michael’s vision? Why don’t you give us your insights? As a sales leader, what brought you to this?
Lisa Pope: Number one, I felt really passionate about sales productivity in general. I’ve had a number of board opportunities, this one really hit home for me. The second thing is every sales system I’ve seen was really for the benefit of management, not for the reps. It’s designed for reps to spend time putting information in and then management got forecasting, pipeline, or data and the productivity or the benefit for the rep was fairly minimal. What I really liked about Pretaa is that it’s focused on giving the rep action and answers, something they can do with the data instead of just put things in and review information. It actually prompts them.
For a rep, if they’re working one big deal, not a problem. If you’re in a transaction business where you may be trying to close 25 deals at the end of the quarter, the ability for you to have a system prompt you and tell you, “These are the things you need to be doing now so that all of these can still close,” it’s just phenomenal.
Fred Diamond: I presume Epicor is going to be using this. How do you see your sales team using this? Also, from a general perspective, Lisa, as a sales leader, what do you expect your sales professionals to be doing with tools like this? It’s a gift that you’re giving to them, so how frequently should they be using it? What do you expect the sales professionals to be using?
Lisa Pope: I think there’s a couple of use cases that I can see immediately that sparked my interest when I first heard about when Michael reached out and we started talking about the system. One is for net new reps. When they’re prospecting and they’ve got maybe 25, 30 deals and they’re all in various sales stages, some early, some in the middle, some trying to close, there’s a chance that those things stall. Again, when you have just a few deals, it’s easy to see that happening. But for even a seasoned rep, if you get down towards the end of the quarter, you’re so focused on the ones that are closing, the ones that are early in the stage can stall and you can have a significant attrition in your pipeline by just where you are in the quarter and your ability to focus on those. Having a tool actually tell a rep, “This has been in technical review for 45 days, the average is two weeks, something’s up,” and then recommending, “What do you want to do? Send an email here, take this action.” That, for a rep, instead of just giving them data, it’s prompting them with what a “best-practice rep” would do to try to un-stall that deal.
I think the other big area for us is around the approval process. Just like you’re selling externally and there are stages, any sales rep knows sometimes it’s just as hard to sell internally. It’s the approvals that happen, and even if you can figure price quote system that’s there to automate it, there’s still the services statement of work, there’s the credit approval, there’s the legal terms. There’s lots of things that factor into that deal, and again, if you’re working one big deal, no problem. But you got 20 or 30 in the pipeline and you’re trying to get them all through the cycle, the system and the ability for you to be prompted when things have stalled, and the actions you should take to un-stall it is incredible. For me, those are probably the two big use cases that caught my attention right away that I could see this would make a big difference.
Fred Diamond: Michael, are there other big holes out there in the process that you guys are looking to address?
Michael Madon: The short answer is yes. Our secret sauce, which really isn’t secret, is we listen. We’re listening to the pain points. A huge pain point is finding reference customers. It’s constant and 9 out of 10 reps say that a good reference customer will help close a deal. We’ve all been there. “I’m about to close this deal, they’re asking for a reference customer. Does anyone have a reference customer?” So we’re wrapping our arms around this issue of enabling a sales rep to be able to see who could be a potentially good reference customer to help close that deal.
Another problem, and we’ve all been there, where a sales rep is doing their job and they’re following up, let’s say, with a customer for a cross-sale, and the customer says, “Are you kidding me? You’re contacting me now? Do you all not talk to each other?” Of course, the answer is no. So, a way of having internal communication without people knowing each other, of signaling, “Hey, sales rep, wait, just a moment, I’m contacting that customer. Wait about two weeks, we’re solving a problem right now.” These little nudges and recommended actions I think will make a tremendous impact in uplifting that middle rep so they can make their number and stay and be happy.
Fred Diamond: We talk a lot about storytelling. We had the great Mike Bosworth on the show two weeks ago, he of course wrote Solution Selling and now he’s a huge proponent of storytelling, and we get a lot of young junior reps who say, “What if I don’t know the story to tell? I’m still so new.” Then you have people in marketing who are creating these stories and who know the references, they know all these things and it’s still amazing that, again, we’re doing today’s show in March of 2022 and there’s so many silos organizationally. Lisa, do you see this tool breaking that down? Is that a big challenge of yours? Now you’re running sales and marketing. When we had you on the show last year you were just running sales, but do you still see silos in these organizations that hopefully this will combat?
Lisa Pope: We do. I think the challenge is the marketing literature typically is a case study done at a point in time where the customer agrees they tell the story, everything’s great, but what it’s not accounting for is the daily interaction. That customer’s involved, maybe they put in another add-on product or maybe they’ve rolled it out to three more sites and they’re in the middle of a big implementation. The ability for you to capture customer sentiment daily by multiple people has never been done before, to my knowledge. It has been impossible for a company to get a sense of how that company’s doing and then, more importantly, individuals in that company, what’s their perception of us at this point?
I was at an event yesterday in Dallas, one of our big advisory boards. I was in with a number of C-level customers and I thought about it. I had the chance to talk to each of them about, were they happy? Would they do an updated case study? Are they referenceable? Then I thought about it. Literally, for me, that means I now have to try to send an email out to eight different account teams to go, “By the way, this CIO and this CFO is really happy. This one, we still have some work to do.” If there was a way to just do that easily for anyone in the company that touches that customer on a daily basis as that interaction occurs, that would be incredible. I think the reference ability and that customer sentiment across multiple lines in the company on literally a daily basis is a game changer.
Fred Diamond: Michael, one of the challenges with systems is always garbage in, garbage out. I agree with what Lisa just said. One of the biggest challenges I always see in sales is that inside information is not readily known or it’s not readily acknowledged. I’ve been in so many pipeline meetings where people are like, “They’re 50% there,” and I’m like no, they’re not, they’re like 0% because you’re talking to the wrong people. Talk a little bit about the integrity of the data. How does the tool ensure that right information is put in by the right reps at the right time?
Michael Madon: Obviously, this is an art and science question. It’s a little bit of both. I think the way we approach this is sales is not always a math problem. There’s a tendency in tech to only solve technical problems using math, and we think that how a sales rep or customer support rep feels about something is really important. Contextualizing that in a very streamline way on your phone that a rep right out of BDR school or SDR school can scroll down and say, “Oh, Lisa just left a comment that has a frown associated with this customer. I understand what a frown means. Okay, now I can read a little bit about what she wrote. Okay, I got it, there’s some work to do on this customer before I engage.”
I think it’s about streamlining and contextualizing and transparency, and allowing transparency to enter into the sales discussion. There’s a point that you said about marketing and sales. I think the fact that Lisa is on top of both is the trend, that makes sense to do it that way because sales and marketing, especially now, it’s getting combined. A perfect example is the NPS score. What is the NPS score? The NPS score is basically someone’s saying, “I would recommend your company to a friend or colleague.” Who has that now? Marketing. Does sales get that information? No. So, part of the value of our tool is to bring that world together so that now if a company has a high NPS score, that they’re now a referenceable company. It’s about combining these different siloed pieces of information in a really digestible way.
Fred Diamond: We’re doing today’s interview in March of 2022, mask mandates are getting stripped away all over the place and we’re hoping that we’re in the final stages of the pandemic coming to an end. Of course, there’s a war going on in Europe, that’s a whole separate topic. Lisa, what do you expect of sales professionals right now? What do you expect your junior and your more senior, and your leaders, for that matter, to be doing right now? What are your expectations?
Lisa Pope: I think number one, to your point, we’re very feet-on-the-ground in front of the client. The virtual, the phone, the video, that’s fine for every now and then but getting back in front of the client I think is really key, seeing what’s going on in their site. That’s part of who we sell to, we sell to a lot of essential businesses and they work the entire time, there was no virtual reality for them. I think the second thing is they’ve got to figure out a way to still be successful despite all the challenges that are out there. For many clients, some of their departments still aren’t back at work full time. They’re dealing with homework issues, trying to work from home and be productive. I think for us, it’s really them figuring out how they’re going to balance and still be able to get their job done efficiently. Third, I think it’s going to be key as we go forward here, the key is really for all sales, anyone, whether you’re a leader, manager, or a sales rep. Focus your time on the things that matter, that is the key to success. It’s making sure that you start your day with the things that need to get done and get them done as quickly as possible so that you can then invest the time in these other areas.
Fred Diamond: Michael, to follow onto that question, you’re interfacing, I presume, with a lot of sales leaders to have brought this tool properly. Is there anything else that they’re expecting from their people right now or any other trends that you see out there as it relates to high performance?
Michael Madon: I think they’re expecting to have contextual awareness. I think they’re expecting their reps to really understand the company and their product, to understand their customer and their customer pain points, and to understand the context of, where is the deal? Where is that customer headspace right now? Because it’s not going to be perfect. It’s about being more proactive than in the past. What I see as a trend is that sales reps are being pulled in more and more to the customer experience, except there isn’t any answer to that. They’re alone in those calls and I feel that arming sales reps with the tools to be effective in those post-sale meetings is incredibly important.
Fred Diamond: We talked about Pretaa, today’s a big day, the product’s launch. Congratulations, much success. It’s definitely needed, you hit all the right things here. Best of luck with that. I just want to acknowledge you both for, first of all, Michael, for your success in getting this product out there and your career. And Lisa, once again, this is your second appearance on the Sales Game Changers podcast, congratulations on being appointed to the board and for also the great work that you’re doing for Epicor and helping so many sales professionals take their sales career to the next level. You’ve given us so many great ideas, but give us one final action step. Lisa, why don’t you go first? Something specific the listeners to the podcast should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.
Lisa Pope: First of all, for sales leaders, don’t underestimate the importance of the care and feeding of your sales teams. It’s not a math equation of how many reps and assignments, it is really about people and doing what you can to make them successful in their jobs. If you’re a sales rep starting off in your career, be clear and vocal with your management about what you need. I think we’re in a position now where we’re listening more, the people aspect has gotten very important. Be specific about where you need help and the things you need to succeed, and I think that will go a long way.
Fred Diamond: Michael, again, congratulations on the launch. Why don’t you take us home? Give us your final action step.
Michael Madon: Echoing what Lisa was saying, for the sales leaders, I think it’s not about throwing away the investments you’ve made but how to optimize those investments with a way to take the best information and the nuggets that are in all those different investments and then optimize them, and use that information in a way that provides context and makes it actionable for your sales reps. How to make all this great information, all this data flowing out there, how do you condense it and then push it to your reps so that in 10 minutes not only will they know what to do, but that they can do it and make their number?
Fred Diamond: That’s great. Once again, congratulations to Michael Madon and Lisa Pope, and thank you all for being a listener on today’s Sales Game Changers podcast.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo