Two Stage Sales Operation

After a while, when a sales organization’s workload gets high enough, it makes sense to implement a two-stage sales operation. The sales development reps handle the initial interactions (top of the funnel activities) during stage one, and the account executives handle the discovery calls, presenting demos and closing deals (mid to bottom of the funnel activities) during stage two.

This makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons, but it’s not exactly a “quick fix” as it opens a can of worms for an even bigger problem: a two-stage sales operation that doesn’t have alignment from team-to-team with how they communicate (and hand leads off) helps to create the Black Hole of Digital Marketing.

In most cases, no one will intentionally sabotage his organization’s efforts to sell, but here’s a few examples of this bigger problem in action:

  • If the SDR provides in-depth explanations about features and benefits, it’s too much information, and too fast, for this point in the relationship.
  • If the SDR asks all the questions the AE normally would ask and then when the AE speaks with the lead, she runs through the same questions, it’s irritating for the potential clients.
  • If the SDR gathers high-level qualification information, logs it in the CRM but the AE skips over it and opens the discovery call with: “… So, what’s got us on the phone today?” potential clients’ll have to repeat themselves and try to remember what they said already.

Stage two should pick up where stage one left off. If your potential clients have to start all over with explaining themselves, it’s annoying and it sets of threat alarms (like these people aren’t sharp, therefore I better explore some other options).

Years ago, when I was on sales-side receiving leads from an SDR team, there was nothing worse than when I’d get a potential client on the phone, start asking some questions, and then sense the frustration because he was already asked the same types of questions. Now he has to repeat himself and try to remember what he said in the first place because there was no alignment from stage one to stage two.

Or I’d go to start explaining something, and he’s like: “Yeah, the other guy already told me about that …” and then I’d find out that what was said was inaccurate. Now I’m facing the uphill battle of trying to smooth things over, but in a lot of cases, leads in cases like this would just go dark.

It’s very, very important to have a clear communication framework in place for how stage one and stage two should go because this will help your organization to really provide what potential clients really want:

AN AS PAINLESS & HASSLE-FREE-AS-POSSIBLE PURCHASING EXPERIENCE

I was in a meeting a couple weeks ago (with another company), and their SDRs asked me why I don’t care for warm transfers. They told me how if they have a potential client on the phone who wants to speak with a sales rep, then they want to get them over to them ASAP. Of course I heard them out, and I understand the reasoning behind that, but after the meeting, it made me really think about how and why I do things the way I do.

Here are a few big reasons – I believe that:

  • a control measure for communicating effectively is to reduce as many variables from the situation as possible
  • accomplishing any task while using the least amount of force is good for everyone involved
  • well planned-out, orchestrated, optimized experience at the beginning of a potential relationship gives consistency & predictability to how the relationship forms
  • a solid communication framework is something you can train others on and replicate all across the board
  • it’s chaotic to do things differently every time, and the chaos is amplified when there are multiple team members doing things differently

If an organization’s initial interactions with potential clients ARE NOT controlled and well-orchestrated, then it can literally undermine the organization’s efforts to sell. On the other hand, if they ARE controlled and well-orchestrated, then it’s mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

ATTN: Digital Marketing Agency Owners

Alright … you run a digital marketing agency. You have clients from all over the business spectrum, i.e. small businesses, enterprise level and maybe even a few fortune 500 companies. You have a steady book of business and your clients pay you a range of anywhere from a few hundred bucks to thousands per month, and even though they all have different products and services, they all have this one thing in common:

They pay you to help them get their websites ranking high enough to be found when people search for keywords associated with their products and services.

You’re an expert when it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and you know what you’re doing. You even specialize a bit in CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization), so you’ve got your clients’ sites organized in a way that compels visitors to click through and submit direct requests to be contacted (or even pick up the phone and call in directly).

Digital Marketing - Human Interaction

At this point, your job is done, but let me run something past you:

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say your clients get 100 direct website inquiries per month because of your efforts. But after several months, they’re only converting 2 or 3 per month into sales. How long will this go on before they pull the plug and jump to a different agency?

In a situation like this, your client isn’t necessarily going to audit their internal sales process – they’re going to blame the source, like:

We pay you all this money per month, but the leads we get from your campaigns convert at such a low percentage that we’re just gonna try working with another agencyso we’d like to cancel our contract.”

Meanwhile, what if they got the same amount of leads from your campaigns, 100 per month, but they’re converting closer to 40 or so into sales on a regular basis?

a good example of why you should discuss budgets early on

So, you know how I mentioned how it creates a massive, uphill battle if you ask about budgets upfront on an initial call? Well, it’s even worse if you completely avoid it altogether. Long story short, my wife and I recently had a pool built. It’s awesome!

We went through the purchasing process with four different pool builders. We wanted to check out five, but one of them had an absolutely terrible first call with my wife and she did not invite the person to schedule an onsite visit to take measurements to draw up plans.

Anyways, not one of them asked about budgets on interaction one (the call to follow-up on our request to be contacted) or on interaction two (the onsite visit at the house).

Randomly, I fed budget information to one of them on interaction two, like:

  • “I know having a pool built can range in cost, and from what I can tell, they typically start around $20-something thousand … now, I don’t mind paying a little more for an upgraded cleaning system because I want this to be as low-maintenance as possible. My wife and I both work … a lot … so we’re on the go and just want to relax when we get home, so … the range that we’re looking to spend is somewhere around $25- to $30-thousand or so. Do you think we can get what we want within that range?”
  • “Yeah, I think so …” said the sales guy, Colton. “With what you’re looking to do, you’re looking closer to $30K, but I think we can make that happen.”

When we showed up for interaction three, the proposal presentation at the office with Colton (who handled first contact to close like a pro!), he walked us through the design and the price was just right: $29K-something. Everything was good; my wife and I felt good about everything and the plan made sense and it was exactly what we were looking for.

Now, the other pool companies: no budgets were discussed during the initial interactions, and when we showed up for the proposals at the offices, the plans they presented were great and everything looked good and they were designed well and exactly what we were looking for, but they all priced themselves out of the job – by a lot!

At $37K, $39K, and $42K, there was absolutely nothing any one of them could say that would convince my wife and I to go with them. And realistically speaking: the designs were all essentially the same, except one had a pool light that I could control with my phone and change the colors on (which neither of us cared about).

So, the pool is built, we swim almost daily, everything is awesome, BUT … I have to ask:

What if we fed the budget information to a different pool builder instead of Colton and his company? Would he have shot way high and found himself with an impossible deal to win during the third interaction?

Who knows, really, but I believe you get the point of why I’m sharing this story about discussing budgets earlier on in the process.

When you think about it, you have to realize that there’s a cost to getting to the point of going over a proposal with your potential clients. The cost of lead acquisition; the cost of processing the lead and moving the potential client to the different stages in your sales cycle; and plus, the opportunity cost. When you work with a lead who is never going to close, it takes time away that you could be spending with potential clients that you actually have a shot at doing business with.

The First :28 Seconds – Modern (and primitive) Revenue Operations

Here’s the business problem that all this helps to solve: for a lot of organizations, marketing generates leads, passes them to sales, and for a lot of them, no one really knows what happens. Some of them will go on to purchase, yes, but for a rather large percentage of them, no one really knows what happens, and this means that there’s a ton of revenue being left on the table out there.

It’s kind of neat how all this morphed. I don’t like the idea of calling it “Sales Training” because anything with “sales” in it seems to carry a negative connotation. I didn’t really like calling it “Communications Training,” either, as that seems really vague, like “Communications for what? Different roles require different styles of communication.” I get that.

So, after tons of research and experience at different organizations and spending time on both sides of the marketing and sales fence, and a good handful of successful meetings and training sessions (and a few not-so successful), I have finally narrowed it all down to what this actually is: “Revenue Operations.”

Yes, I know that too can be a bit vague, like: “Oh, here’s the latest business buzzwords that make it possible to call something that’s geared towards sales training something other than ‘sales training’ …”

But seriously, this really is an end-to-end strategy that provides a solid, research-based (and empathy-based) framework for communicating with your business’s clients all the way from 1st contact through renewal. What’s different about this strategy is that it focuses on moments that matter from the buyer’s perspective and really helping your client-facing team members be as prepared as possible to really deliver and capitalize on those moments, all the way from marketing to sales to account management and support.

Chris Voss was the nation’s top FBI International Hostage Negotiator for many years, and he says that: “In times of crisis, we don’t rise to the occasion … we fall to our highest level of preparation.” I know “crisis” sounds a bit extreme here, but after retirement, he went on to form the Black Swan Group and does business consulting where they teach FBI Negotiation Tactics in business applications.

It’s pretty cool stuff, but fact: there are tons of resources out there regarding sales and marketing and business and communications and leadership and account management and so on and so on and so on …

From what I’ve seen, it all seems to be fragmented and silo’d in different books and websites and videos and Ted Talks and YouTube videos, but then again … it’s probably pretty much impossible to provide a single resource that covers the communicative aspects of all the elements of the customer life-cycle in much detail …

That being said, I’m doing it. I see a business need for this that transcends products or industries and even whether or not an organization is business-to-consumer or business-to-business.

I am creating resources on this that are focused on the communicative aspects that provide a more holistic, end-to-end framework on how to implement this in your business, and by doing so, your business will capture more revenue throughout the lifecycle of your customers by providing objectively better experience at each interaction.

But books can really only tell so much, so I’m also developing digital courses on all of this, too. It’s pretty exciting and I know it’s a lot, but it will be relatively easy to digest and I promise it’ll make tons of sense. Enjoy!

 

PS: I said “Modern (and primitive) Revenue Operations” in the title because everything I’m developing is geared for modern, relevant applications, but the root of everything I’m presenting is based in neuroscience, which means that it’s designed to go in-line with how the human brain, because of our evolutionary hardwiring, prefers to receive and process information. Thanks!

The Ever-present Struggle to Balance Logic & Emotion

You know what? I wasn’t going to write about this, but we’re nearing the end AND I mentioned that I play in a bar band, so … I’m going to share this because this is yet another piece of my personal experience that has helped to influence my way of thinking on all of this.

I am a semi-pro drummer. I played in school starting in 5th grade and played all through high school (concert band, marching band, jazz band) then in the Army, I played in bar bands in between deployments. Since then, I’ve played all through the Phoenix metro area with a few different bands, and although I don’t make a ton of money from it, I do not play for free, ha ha!

So anyways, to a non-musician, songs can seem pretty complicated. And you know what? A lot of music IS complicated, but when you think of the most catchy, radio-friendly pop-rock type songs? They’re usually very simple and follow a pretty distinct format:

  1. immediately recognizable intro
  2. verse 1
  3. chorus 1
  4. verse 2
  5. chorus 2
  6. bridge with a guitar solo
  7. possibly a 3rd verse, then last chorus (possibly repeated)
  8. ending

All in all, they clock in somewhere around 3- to 4-minutes or so, and typically, they fall relatively close in tempo ranges (BPM – Beats Per Minute). They’re simple, catchy, easy to understand, and once you know the formula as far as tuning, timing, and structure? They’re easy to replicate!

A four-piece band (like mine) is usually comprised of a:

  1. singer / guitar player
  2. lead guitar player
  3. bassist
  4. drummer

And they all need to be on the same sheet of music (both literally and figuratively speaking, in this case) on a few different levels. What I mean by this is that there are different:

  • tunings that songs were recorded in
  • lyrics
  • structures (not everything follows that sample format from above – there is variance)
  • tempos and time signatures

So, if one guitar is in one tuning and the other is in something different, something about the song will seem “off” to the audience members and it will detract from the experience.

If the song is originally recorded at 147 Beats Per Minute but the band rushes things and plays it at 172 BPMs, the singer will sound like the Chipmunks as he tries to keep up and cram all the lyrics into that reduced amount of space. He’ll be out of breath and singing in a higher-than-he-should-be-in key because when you rush words, the pitch of your voice raises, and then something sounds off to the audience members.

Some people like hearing a little bit of variance from the original recordings, but not by much.

When you think about it, if you’ve heard a popular song that you consider to be one of your favorites more than 100 times throughout your life, even as a non-musician, you still “know how it goes,” and when you hear something out of place or out of time, it just stands out (and usually in a bad way).

It detracts from the experience – especially if it’s a sloppy rendition that’s played in the wrong tuning – or if the lyrics are wrong, or it’s too fast or too slow.

And you know what’s crazy? Asides from musicians, no one really notices when a band just nails it and plays a song perfectly – but they sure notice when something goes wrong and is out of place! Remember from that neuroscience stuff from earlier – we’re much quicker to notice when something is wrong or out of place and it really comes down to our evolutionary hardwiring from living in fear for the majority of our human existence.

But anyways, here’s what happens when a band figures out all that structure and timing and framework for songs: they will consistently replicate the original recordings and provide the best experience at the bars they play at.

Here’s what they get in return:

  • repeat business
  • power to pick and choose where they play (or don’t play)
  • respect from the bar owners
  • loyal fans who make sure they never play to an empty place

Now, can you see how this concept applies to the experience your organization provides during the pre-sale relationship (and beyond)?

Organizations with different team members who do things in different ways, in this analogy, are like the sloppy bar bands where:

  • half the band is one tuning, the other half is in the other – something sounds off
  • the song starts out right, but the drummer has a little too much adrenaline and Red Bull pumping through his veins, so the song takes off like a rocketship and is going way too fast
  • they get to the guitar solo part and the guy’s hitting all the wrong notes and you’re thinking: “I don’t even play guitar but I know that that’s not how it goes …”
  • the singer is singing the last chorus and the other guys are backing him up for that big sound, but they’re all singing different words and everyone in the audience is confused
  • all of this cacophony takes place during the first set, which causes the people in the bar to clear out
  • second set starts at 10pm, but the bar is empty and the band is booked ‘til 1am – it’s gonna be a loooong night!
  • The bar owner says “thanks, but no thanks” when the band leader tries to book there again

 

Organizations with different team members who do things in similar ways who follow a time-tested strategy, in this analogy, are like the tight, well-rehearsed bar bands where:

  • everything sounds just right
  • there are subtle variances from the original recordings, but for the most part, they’re 95% dead-on
  • they have their transitions from song-to-song down and they’re keeping the audience moving!
  • 2nd set kicks off at 10pm and this place is packed!
  • the bar is making tons of money, the experience is optimal, and the bar owner can’t wait to get this band back in
  • maybe they’ll even offer them a regular gig throughout the year?

 

Now, I speak from personal experience with all of this – I’ve been on both sides of this fence with bands AND with marketing and sales teams at different organizations.

I think that this all really comes down to that ever-present battle that we all face of trying to find the right balance of logic and emotion. Music has certain logical elements, like structure and timing and tuning, and when all the elements come together just right, it creates that certain “feel” that takes you back to that special place (or gets you amped up and ready to go).

But with playing music, just like in marketing and sales, if you focus too hard on the logical elements, it becomes very possible to lose that feel, and vice versa. Like, if you go on stage and wing it every time, then you’ll have some great moments, for sure, but they’ll be buried under the mess of an overall sloppy performance, which ultimately detracts from the experience your band provides. So yes, I think it is very possible to go too far in either direction when it comes to logic and emotion.

Consider how no one ever goes home after a concert thinking:

  • You know what? On the third song, the guitar player really nailed that solo!”
  • Or how: “The transition from the end of the 11th song going right into the 12th song was out of this world!

Same thing with your sales process – no potential client ever goes through all the steps and reflects back, thinking:

  • That was a well-executed marketing-to-sales handoff!”
  • Or how: “That one thing he / she said during the 30th minute of the demo presentation really made a lot of sense!

When you analyze the experience your organization provides, you’ll be able to identify the logical elements, get them all lined up just right with the right structure and sequence, refine the formula, and once you have it all down, you can then replicate that ideal, optimal experience that makes your clients feel right about doing business with you.  

The P.L.A.T.E. Framework for Initial Interactions

“I don’t know … I just have this, certain way of speaking … that … gets people to … take me seriously …”

I remember explaining this to my VP when I was first starting out here, and really, I’ll admit:

I’ve never been a manager or a trainer or anything like that prior to my time with this organization (at least not in the corporate world), so a lot of what I’m showing you really comes from just the right combination of experience and luck and a little bit of misfortune, too.

And yes, I have a degree in communications, but there’s only been a fraction of what I’ve shared throughout all this that came from that. Most of what I’ve shared is really bits and pieces that I’ve picked up along the way from:

  • the Army
  • different trainings and experiences (both good and bad), at the different organizations I’ve worked at
  • spending time on both sides of the marketing and sales fence
  • different books that I’ve read throughout the years
  • and really just connecting the right dots and narrowing down a formula

So, anyways, I came up with this P.L.A.T.E. Framework for initial interactions, and it’s really simple (Part II covers all of this in detail). My team uses this on EVERY CALL we make (or take) and it goes like this:

“P” stands for: “Purposeful Intro and Agenda Statement.”

This is how you consistently open calls in a way that purposefully relieves those primal concerns of safety and emotions so you can quickly access the other person’s Neocortex, which is what make it possible to connect and communicate on a conscious level.

And this part is perhaps the most important piece out of ALL OF THIS, but, of course it doesn’t stop here.

And remember from earlier how words are 7% of our communication, so realistically – the words are the easy part! I’ll even give you the words (in Part II), but you have to deliver them with the right tonalities and pacing in the right places (it’s not that complicated).

Think about how if you played in a bar band (like me), what good would it be to open your set with an awesome song or two and then just suck for the rest of the night, right? What if you were directing a movie and the opening scenes are awesome but the rest of the movie sucks? No one would pay to watch it, right?

You have to start things out right if you wish to achieve maximum effectiveness because things that start well typically have more of a chance of ending well.

Think about how it doesn’t matter how awesome your flooring is or what color you paint the walls if your house’s foundation is unstable, right? What if you had a racecar with tons of horsepower but it has a bent frame and four different sized wheels? I’m sure you get the point.

There’s a transition sentence that smoothly paves the way the next phase, and it’s really simple:

  • “So … what can we help with?”

So the “L” stands for “Let them Speak.”

As they start speaking, start casually asking your more pointed, strategically-sequenced intelligence-gathering questions, which is what the “A” stands for: “Ask Intelligence-gathering Questions.”

And when you have these questions strategically mapped out (like what I wrote about earlier with the worksheet), you’ll guide the call like a pro and they’ll feel good and be more forthcoming with their answers because they feel like they’re working with experts.

This is absolutely mission-critical; and, remember, like I mentioned earlier, that when it comes to frameworks like this, things can be a little left and right, meaning: this isn’t hard-scripting or anything.

So, if anything goes out of order, it’s not the end of the world.

But check this out (and I’m dead serious here):

If you open the call using this purposeful intro and agenda statement with the right tonalities and pacing and inflections, you’ll get to: “So, what can we help with?” and they’ll oftentimes just start spilling their guts to you because you didn’t set off any alarms and they feel like they can trust you.

This means that they’ll disclose things that go out of order sometimes, but it’s no biggie, because they’ll be more forthcoming with the information they share versus the alternative.

Think of it like the example from earlier about having your GPS on when you take a road trip instead of just pointing your car in the direction of the destination and hoping you get there in a decent time. If you miss an exit, it’s not the end of the world – you can circle back around and quickly get back on track, right?

And remember from earlier, too, how the brain is like a pattern-recognition machine. When you ask strategically sequenced questions that make sense, like the kind that experts ask, the potential clients will oftentimes start filling in the blanks and answering questions before you even ask them. I’m not even kidding – I have tons and tons of call recordings from different team members that prove this.

This helps to really get into a real state of genuine rapport where you and your potential client are just clicking – there’s an emotional connection here and you guys are finishing each other’s sentences and you’ve only known each other for a matter of minutes at this point. This is POWERFUL.

So, get through the strategically sequenced questions, then “Transition to What Comes Next” and that’s the “T” in this framework.

For this part, I recommend having it SCRIPTED out (even though you probably already DO because you say the same things regularly). Being able to CLEARLY ARTICULATE what to expect next like it’s no big deal is something that I know for a fact, is appreciated by potential clients. Plus, the more confidently you can spell out the next steps and why and how it’s going to help them, the more likely they are to follow along with them.

Locking in next steps is really a solid way of speeding up your sales cycles and increasing your conversion rates, too. Check this out:

Chris Orlob is the Senior Director for Product Marketing at Gong.io. His company analyzes sales calls from all kinds of different industries with artificial intelligence to identify trends and patterns, and this is one of the many interesting things they identified ( this is from an article he wrote on LinkedIn in September, 2018):

  • Only 17% of sales people thoroughly touch on “Next Steps”
  • 57% lightly touch on them
  • 26% don’t even include next steps

I really like the idea of being able to scan through unique data points and have the ability to accurately analyze and translate them into actual human behaviors. This kind of stuff really helps with optimizing how leaders can establish benchmarks and tolerances for different metrics and conversion rates so they can help their people to initially get on track and stay that way.

If you ask about budgets on initial, qualifying calls (which I recommend), I find that this is the best place for it. I know it seems counterintuitive compared to the BANT Framework, but if you jump on the phone with a potential client and immediately ask about budget, you’re creating a massive uphill battle for yourself.

I know I mentioned that earlier, but felt it was worth mentioning again because timing-wise, this is where I think it’s best to ask about budgets. The reason for it is, is money is usually an uncomfortable, more invasive topic to talk about for most people, but when you follow the P.L.A.T.E. Framework, by this point in the conversation (which is only 5- to 6-minutes or so in), the potential client will be warmed up to you and they’ll be more forthcoming with budget information.

With some organizations’ services and processes, it doesn’t make sense to ask about budgets on a first call. I’ll get into how to handle this in more detail in Part II, the Communications Guide. I personally prefer to discuss money upfront and set clear and proper expectations, but if your organization sells complex, customized solutions, getting caught up in budget-traps six minutes in can be detrimental to your sales process.   

Anyways, after clearly spelling out what the potential client can expect next, “End the Call,” and that’s the “E.” But have a simple and elegant way to do it, and have this part planned out. Pretty simple, right? (There are examples of all of this in the Communications Guide).

Think about it: experts don’t need to ramble on about anything. They’re busy; they’ve got other clients to tend to; so rambling on at this point can give off “weak” or “desperate” signals, like: “I’ve got all the time in the world because I only have two other clients to worry about.”

So know when to end the call, and when you’re in control, YOU end the call, not the lead.

Think of this type of EXPERIENCE. I think that any LEGITIMATE potential client – from any industry – would be ECSTATIC to have this type of experience. I see this as being no different than (and I’ve used this in training sessions), first responders who show up to the emergency and somehow keep themselves calm and in control while everyone else around them is freaking out.

Could you just imagine a cop showing up to the scene of an accident who is terrified because of how mangled the cars are? Or an EMT freaking out over the sight of blood or broken bones? That would just dump fuel on the fire of an already chaotic situation! Instead, they’ve got that cool, authoritative, no-big-deal tonality down, and you willingly follow their guidance in those tense situations and thank them for it because you feel like you’re working with experts who are helping you out.

So these type of strategic, top-of-the-funnel organizational behaviors will really serve to help you and your team to not only outperform your competitors (which is awesome), but to also be able to simply go to work and feel good every day because everyone has clear guidance and the right tools to get the job done on a daily basis.

This creates alignment not just from top-down but from side-to-side, too, and this type of working environment is what leads to long-term sustainability for teams, too, which is something I’m a big fan of (is anyone really a fan of high-turnover environments?).

 

Pre-sale Relationship Plinko

There are a few other characteristics that I’d like to highlight from my experience there, and again, it really has nothing do with the specifics of that university in particular. It was a very large organization, with thousands of employees, and the division I belonged to, the military division, was really a fraction of the total workforce.

You know what? Check this out real quick: ever play a game called “Plinko” at the fair? That’s the game that has a big board that’s standing upright and it’s got a bunch of pegs all over it with slots down at the bottom for a disc (or ball) to land in. You drop the disc / ball and it bounces around, going peg-to-peg-to-peg, bouncing left, bouncing right – and who knows where it will wind up?

There’s one slot that’s usually dead center on the board, and if it lands there, you win 500 tickets! But if it lands in any one of the other [19?] slots, you’ll win 5 tickets, or maybe 10 tickets, or 2 tickets.

And of course I know there can be different amount of tickets to win on different boards, but I’m sure you get the point – it’s chaotic and there’s really no way to predict where the disc is going to go and there’s really no way to make it go to the 500 ticket slot in a predictable and replicable manner.

I haven’t actually built a “Pre-sale Relationship Plinko Board” yet, but I’ve drawn this out for training purposes and demonstrated how chaotic it is when you have a bunch of different team members doing things in different ways. The chances of landing in the “Ideal Experience” slot are very slim in comparison to all the other variations of “Not-so Ideal Experience” slots, like:

  • phone / email tag
  • varying degrees of professionalism
  • unresponsiveness / cancellations
  • desperate voicemails / nasty break-up emails
  • mixed messaging
  • failure to launch

So when I drew it out, the pegs represented all the different kinds of communication obstacles that ultimately detract from the pre-sale relationship experience.

And I’m realistic about things, too, meaning: I believe that there’s no way to remove ALL the obstacles.

But I know that SOME of them can be removed, and what this creates is streamlined channels of communication that increases your organization’s chances of landing in the “Ideal Experience” slot.

Think of it like this: the more variables you reduce from the equation, the more control you have over the experience. As you remove pegs, the “Ideal Experience” slot widens while the others narrow, so it increases your chances of landing in it.

Of course there will always be the chance of some chaos occurring, but this will reduce those chances and lend a sense of order and predictability to the experience your organization provides as your potential clients progress through the stages of your sales cycle while working with different team members.

And when you think about it: communication is really behavior-based, meaning it’s something that is directly in your control. Better communication equals better behavior, and organizations that out-behave their competition will out-perform them.

 

Anyway, back to the university: in an attempt to put things in perspective, there were times when we were 300+ team members strong in the military division alone.

There wasn’t really a “communication framework” during my time there, but they tried. After I was there for about four years (sometime around 2011), they hired some consulting group to come in and try to teach us some new tricks.

It wasn’t really described to us that way as it was more of: “here’s how we’re doing it from now on because management says so.” Every team rotated through a live, 90-minute session with some stranger consultant-guy, so really, not to sound too pessimistic, but it just didn’t go over that well.

Everyone (including me) was skeptical, and even though the concepts were really good (in hindsight), no one really bought in because the way they rolled it out to us was not ideal. The idea was to have a more structured initial conversation, but no one really gave a solid reason why (other than “management said so”), and the people who had been there for quite some time, like me, just fought it.

Realistically, I didn’t see the purpose of it all at the time, especially since I had been doing just fine for quite a while there (and of course, same with many others in my position).

So they wanted us to follow this conversation structure and no one understood why. And remember from earlier, how “we couldn’t script anything because we’re in higher-education,” but there were certain things they wanted us to say and a certain order in which they wanted them said in, so realistically, there was a lot of hinting and guesswork and frustration going on on both sides of the workforce and management fence.

I don’t recall anyone really embracing the framework, either, and for a lot of seemingly good reasons. Like, it seemed purposeless and no one really understood it. I mean, we all used bits and pieces of it here and there, sure, and then we’d get call coaching at times with how things should have gone, even though we can’t script it out.

I remember telling my manager at the time:

  • “Look, I understand the employer to employee relationship … just tell me what to say and I’ll say it.”

And of course, I’d be told how we can’t do that, but “you should have really said this” or “really said that,” or:

  • “Ask more questions.”
  • “What questions would you like me to ask?” I’d ask.
  • “We can’t tell you what to ask,” he’d say, and round and round we’d go.

Like I mentioned, it was frustrating for both the workforce and for management. And then of course humans have a pack mentality and we tend to stick with what seems safe, and realistically, anything new pretty much gets classified as threats anyway (more to come on that later).

And also, you have to consider how when you have 20-something 12-person teams that belong to a division of that size (and an organization of that size), that means there were plenty of places to hide because think about it: there’s safety in numbers, and who’s going to get management’s attention in any workplace? The people who struggle.

So as long as you weren’t the slowest water buffalo in the herd, production-wise, no one really seemed to care too much about sticking to the framework. Meanwhile, it was actually quite brilliant, and for quite a few different reasons – none of which I would come to realize until many years and several organizations after my time there.

 

Here are some reasons why it’s brilliant to have organizational alignment when it comes to communicative behaviors:

Asides from the obvious benefits of closing more deals and making more money, when you have a team that grows to a decent size, you will undoubtedly have team members who do really well at times, and you’ll have team members who will struggle at times, and that’s just part of the game.

So, if an organization has a specific, step-by-step, simplified communications framework and process that is time-tested and proven to produce consistently excellent results, this will help the leaders to help their people get on track for success and (primarily) stay on track.

Of course, people will still fall behind at times, but if you have a framework and strategy that provides the leaders with the right tools, they can then provide specific and timely coaching and feedback to help their people get back on track and stay that way. Also, it breaks down information silos and makes it possible for the place to not fall apart when a manager leaves (a lot of my thinking on this was influenced by the Army).

And realistically, every organization out there, regardless of industry, has competition. More to come on this later, but a modern communications trend I’ve noticed throughout the years is that it’s become increasingly normal for people to struggle with communicating in real-time. So think about the competitive advantage an organization would have if its client-facing team members had their story straight …

Okay, “story straight” may sound a bit harsh, but just imagine what it would be like if your organization had alignment around best communicative behaviors – especially when it comes to your client-facing team members.

Even though I believe it to be true, I never really cared for the “people tend to enroll people who are just like themselves,” mentality. In large numbers, this is undoubtedly true, but I think it leaves way too much up to chance and there is a way to be proactive and get more deals without having to rely on “luck of the draw” as far as personality types lining up.

Consider this: what if you’re dealing with a potential customer who just so happens to not be in-line with your personality-type?

Do you just cast him or her aside and wait for the next, and just hope this one’s a better fit? That tactic might work on an individual level, but as an organization that’s looking to maximize opportunities and grow, that “sink-or-swim” tactic doesn’t exactly fit into the big picture.

Although I think it’s true that people tend to buy from people who are just like themselves, there is a way to reduce the variables of personal preferences and compatibilities, and it’s really a game-changer when it comes to communicating effectively. Neuroscientifically-designed communications really gets down to the root of things: how the human brain is essentially hardwired, meaning the way we receive and process information from a physical standpoint.

Don’t worry, we’re getting there!

The P.L.A.T.E. Framework for Initial Interactions

“I don’t know … I just have this, certain way of speaking … that … gets people to … take me seriously …”

I remember explaining this to my VP when I was first starting out here, and really, I’ll admit:

I’ve never been a manager or a trainer or anything like that prior to my time with this organization (at least not in the corporate world), so a lot of what I’m showing you really comes from just the right combination of experience and luck and a little bit of misfortune, too.

And yes, I have a degree in communications, but there’s only been a fraction of what I’ve shared throughout all this that came from that. Most of what I’ve shared is really bits and pieces that I’ve picked up along the way from:

  • the Army
  • different trainings and experiences (both good and bad), at the different organizations I’ve worked at
  • spending time on both sides of the marketing and sales fence
  • different books that I’ve read throughout the years
  • and really just connecting the right dots and narrowing down a formula

So, anyways, I came up with this P.L.A.T.E. Framework for initial interactions, and it’s really simple (Part II of this covers all of this in detail). My team uses this on EVERY CALL we make (or take) and it goes like this:

“P” stands for: “Purposeful Intro and Agenda Statement.”

This is how you consistently open calls in a way that purposefully relieves those primal concerns of safety and emotions so you can quickly access the other person’s Neocortex, which is what make it possible to connect and communicate on a conscious level.

And this part is perhaps the most important piece out of ALL OF THIS, but, of course it doesn’t stop here.

And remember from earlier how words are 7% of our communication, so realistically – the words are the easy part! I’ll even give you the words (in Part II), but you have to deliver them with the right tonalities and pacing in the right places (it’s not that complicated).

Think about how if you played in a bar band (like me), what good would it be to open your set with an awesome song or two and then just suck for the rest of the night, right? What if you were directing a movie and the opening scenes are awesome but the rest of the movie sucks? No one would pay to watch it, right?

You have to start out right if you wish to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Think about how it doesn’t matter how awesome your flooring is or what color you paint the walls if your house’s foundation is unstable, right? What if you had a racecar with tons of horsepower but it has a bent frame and four different sized wheels? I’m sure you get the point.

There is a transition sentence that smoothly paves the way the next phase, and it’s really simple:

  • “So … what can we help with?”

And then the “L” stands for “Let them Speak.”

As they start speaking, start casually asking your more pointed, strategically-sequenced intelligence-gathering questions, which is what the “A” stands for: “Ask Intelligence-gathering Questions.”

And when you have these questions strategically mapped out, like what I wrote about earlier with the worksheet, you’ll guide the call like a pro and they’ll feel good and be more forthcoming with their answers because they feel like they’re working with experts.

This is mission-critical – and, remember, like I mentioned earlier, that when it comes to frameworks like this, things can be a little left and right, meaning: this isn’t hard-scripting or anything.

So, if anything goes out of order, it’s not the end of the world or anything.

But check this out (and I’m dead serious here):

If you open the call using this purposeful intro and agenda statement with the right tonalities and pacing and inflections, you’ll get to: “So, what can we help with?” and they’ll oftentimes just start spilling their guts to you because you didn’t set off any alarms and they feel like they can trust you.

This means that they’ll disclose things that go out of order sometimes, but it’s no biggie.

Think of it like the example from earlier about having your GPS on when you take a road trip instead of just pointing your car in the direction of the destination and hoping you get there in a decent time. If you miss an exit, it’s not the end of the world – you can circle back around and quickly get back on track, right?

And remember from earlier, too, how the brain is like a pattern-recognition machine. When you ask strategically sequenced questions that make sense, like the kind that experts ask, the potential clients will oftentimes start filling in the blanks and answering questions before you even ask them. I’m not even kidding – I have tons and tons of call recordings from different team members that prove this.

This helps to really get into a real state of genuine rapport where you and your potential client are just clicking – there’s an emotional connection here and you guys are finishing each other’s sentences and you’ve only known each other for a matter of minutes at this point. This is POWERFUL.

So, get through the strategically sequenced questions, then “Transition to What Comes Next” and that’s the “T” in this framework.

For this part, I recommend having it SCRIPTED out (even though you probably already DO because you say the same things regularly). Being able to CLEARLY ARTICULATE what to expect next like it’s no big deal is something that I know for a fact, is appreciated by potential clients. Plus, the more confidently you can spell out the next steps and why and how it’s going to help them, the more likely they are to follow along with them.

Locking in next steps is really a solid way of speeding up your sales cycles and increasing your conversion rates, too. Check this out:

Chris Orlob is the Senior Director for Product Marketing at Gong.io. His company analyzes sales calls from all kinds of different industries with artificial intelligence to identify trends and patterns, and this is one of the many interesting things they identified (from an article he wrote on LinkedIn in September, 2018):

  • Only 17% of sales people thoroughly touch on “Next Steps”
  • 57% lightly touch on them
  • 26% don’t even include next steps

I really like the idea of being able to scan through unique data points and being able to accurately analyze and translate them into actual human behaviors. This kind of stuff really helps with optimizing how leaders can establish benchmarks and established tolerances for different metrics and conversion rates so they can help their people to get and stay on track.

Anyways, after clearly spelling out what the potential client can expect next, “End the call,” and that’s the “E.”

Pretty simple, right?

 

Think about it: experts don’t need to ramble on about anything. They’re busy; they’ve got other clients to tend to; so rambling on at this point can give off “weak” or “desperate” signals, like: “I’ve got all the time in the world because I only have two other clients to worry about.”

So know when to end the call, like a pro. And when you’re in control, YOU end the call, not the lead.

Think of this type of EXPERIENCE … I think that any LEGITIMITE potential client – from any industry – would be ECSTATIC to have this type of experience.

These type of strategic, top-of-the-funnel organizational behaviors will really serve to help you and your team to not only outperform your competitors (which is awesome) but to also be able to simply go to work and feel good every day because everyone has clear guidance and the right tools and there’s alignment not just from top-down but from side-to-side, too.

This type of environment is what leads to long-term sustainability for teams, too, which is something I’m a big fan of (is anyone really a fan of high-turnover environments?).