What does it take to be successful at sales? Gryphon Networks sat down with Jeb Blount, CEO of Sales Gravy and bestselling author of Fanatical Prospecting and Sales EQ, to discuss misconceptions about cold calling and overcoming the fear of picking up the phone and being rejected. His main point— don’t be afraid to interrupt someone with a sales call. If you want to survive in sales you have to pick up the phone and make calls.
The phone is the best tool for connecting with prospects, rather than email or social media because nowadays, phones are connected to people, not desks. Blount notes the qualities of great sales managers, and the importance of mentors, in teaching salespeople the intrapersonal skills they need to be engaging and efficient on the phone. Further, he discusses how CRM and metrics should be used to manage the activities of salespeople and phone-based performance.
Gryphon Networks: There is a misconception about cold calling. Can you clarify what cold calling actually is? It seems people are under the impression that cold calling is just calling and pitching a random phone number.
Jeb Blount: This is the problem: nobody today can tell you what a cold call really is. If you think about it, most of the people that are using the term cold calling are basically just saying “I don’t want to call.” Why is it that 50% of inbound leads never get a call from the salesperson? They’re not afraid of the cold call, they are just afraid of a call. What they are really afraid of is interrupting somebody, and that essentially is what you have to do with the telephone or with your feet or with an email.
So, if you are calling someone, and you don’t have a meeting with them and they are not expecting your call, it’s cold to them and a little terrifying to you because you don’t know what’s going to happen on the other end. But this idea or this ongoing argument, “Should I cold call, or not cold call?” Pick up the phone and interrupt someone! If you want to call it any type of call that’s great, but I need to tell you salespeople are not afraid of cold calls, there’s no misconception about cold calls. What people are basically saying is that “I just don’t want to call.”
GN: What is the best way to engage someone when you are cold calling? You just interrupted their day, now how do you get them to engage with you in a meaningful conversation to start the sales process?
JB: It depends on what you are trying to do. If you are trying to set an appointment, I don’t want to engage in a meaningful conversation, I just want them to agree to the appointment. If I am selling over the telephone, which would be a much more transactional type of role—what I first have to do is get your attention and get you to agree to that meeting with me, and then I can go into selling. I am going to have to have a conversation there. Now, if I am calling to gather information, then in those cases I may or may not have a meaningful conversation, but I am trying to get information.
The idea is if you are going to interrupt someone, do it fast, be relevant and get to the point. This is the problem and why salespeople have a difficult time on the phone because they are trying to have meaningful conversations. If you want a meaningful conversation, don’t interrupt someone. Set an appointment with them. Those conversations typically turn into something more.
GN: Why are salespeople afraid to pick up the phone and how can you get them over their fear? Specifically, when it comes to interrupting what someone is doing that wasn’t expecting a call from a salesperson?
JB: What salespeople see, what they fear out of a call is that sensitivity to rejection. Instead of telling salespeople to let it roll off your back or you need to fear, or this fear is not real, don’t take it personally, I just tell people the truth. The truth is that it sucks and it feels that way.
As a salesperson, you have to make a decision. The decision is: do you want to eat? Do you want to pay your mortgage? Do you want to be successful? Do you want to sell something? Or do you want to be a slave to the fear? You have to make that choice.
For most salespeople, it’s a combination of a couple of things: A. You have to know where it comes from so you can understand that and be able to tap into your desires. You have to want something that is better and bigger than the pain you feel temporarily from getting rejected. B. You have to have a process. One process you have to have is how to actually make a phone call.
I think finally, its helping salespeople see that sometimes getting a “no” or a “maybe” or just getting information is a success in itself. It qualifies a prospect, or further qualifies a prospect, and gets you close to meeting with them at the right time, so you are moving into the buying window when your probability of closing goes up. If you can teach people how to manage the feeling of fear and the neurophysical response to rejection, then they are going to be capable of doing the activity they need to do in order to put things into the pipe.
GN: In your book Sales EQ you say salespeople are not learning and mastering intrapersonal skills. You say they do not understand how to engage buyers on a human-to-human level. How can sales managers train new salespeople to engage and be engaging with their prospects, in a world where many conversations are limited to 140 characters, and get them relating back to human beings through conversation?
JB: I hear people say this, “Millennials can’t do it.” Millennials can do it because we train millennials and we see them do it all the time. I just think we all learn from people who have had experience because the experience is the greatest builder of emotional intelligence.
You need someone in your life; mentors or coaches in your life in a skilled position like sales to help you learn and be the example and be the model for that looks like. We just have to have those people. If companies are not training leaders that do that, then you end up with a generation of salespeople who are essentially transactional.
As a manager, you know if you treat your customer or your prospect like a transaction, they treat you as a transaction.
GN: What do you think are some of the best metrics sales managers can use to manage the sales activities of their salespeople to measure their performance?
For me, it starts with activity; how many outbound touches are you making to generate how many contacts to generate how many appointments. How much new information is getting into the database because the database is everything. If I have a great database, I have a cash machine.
I am not a big fan of how some companies measure their pipeline. One time pipe, two times pipe… four times pipe, ten times pipe… all that does is get people to put a bunch of junk in the pipeline and some sales managers are happy.
I am more interested in what do you put in the pipe and how long does it take you to get out of the pipe?
What stalled in the pipe and then when I look at all of that, that backs me back into prospecting because of the Law of Replacement. The Law of Replacement says you must replace the opportunities in your pipe at a rate that is either equal to or greater than your closing ratio.
Once I understand that I am then able to sit down with each of my people and understand their situation and what they need to do. If I look at that along the entire conversion funnel and am a good coach, I am coaching in the conversion funnel, I am coaching in the pipe, where my salesperson needs the most help.
GN: Although salespeople spend an average of four hours a week manually updating their activity data into their company’s CRM, according to Salesforce.com about 70% of CRM data goes bad or becomes obsolete annually. IS CRM hurting more than helping?
I think the most important and viable tool for a salesperson is CRM. It is your database. It is your gold mine. You can treat it like a gold mine or a trash can. Most salespeople treat it like a trashcan. The reason they treat it like a trash can is that they feel like they are doing it for “the man.” “The man” is watching them, and they have to put [data] in, and have to put it in. The problem is when salespeople think they are doing it for “the man,” then they don’t put good information in or they don’t put any information in.
What should be in the CRM? Your notes on your last meeting. Why should that be in there? So, you don’t have to remember it for your next meeting. What should be in there? Information on the different stakeholders on the account. What should be in there? Deals that turn into opportunities that you can put in the pipeline.
So, most of the woes and the ills we have with CRM are not driven by salespeople, they’re driven by leaders who don’t understand the consequences of what they are asking. The leaders are asking this information because they find it a whole lot easier to stare at a computer screen than actually have the courage to go out and lead, and coach, and manage their salespeople in real-time—and accept that salespeople are going to be valuable, and so are the numbers at some point.
Just do things that make sense and your CRM will have the right data in it and the right information.
GN: What can a sales manager do to look at the CRM and try to make an accurate forecast?
JB: Number one, stop looking at CRM and making forecasts. That is the worst place you can go. Let’s just say you did everything right; you’re a great leader, you’re a great coach, your salespeople are putting the right things into the CRM and you try to build forecast on what your salespeople are telling you. Then you are going to lose because salespeople lie. They are liars because they are good at telling you what you want to hear at the beginning of the period. Then at the end of the period, you miss the forecast and the only person that suffers from that is the sales leader.
What you should do is what the great sales leaders I’ve worked with do and this is what I did as a sales leader. I sit down with each salesperson and I go through their accounts with them and I have them walk me through that and I look them in the eyes. I get to know my salespeople. I know when they are pushing a little too hard. I know when they are lying and if I need something for a forecast, I’d rather have them tell me the truth.
That’s the other piece of this. You have to create an environment where salespeople can tell you the truth. In other words, you want your salespeople to write a check to you that doesn’t bounce.
Create an environment where people can tell you the truth. Expect the truth and then go change the truth. That is how it works. But, if you are trying to build forecasts of what’s in the CRM, you are out of luck. You will always lose. It is happening in sales organizations everywhere.
GN: You said in a recent interview that engagement rates when using the phone are higher than response rates on email and social selling by between 15 and 18% depending on the industry. In your opinion, what metric should sales managers use to measure the phone-based performance of sales reps?
JB: It is simple. How many dials you make. How many contacts you make and how many appointments did you make. Then, how many pieces of qualifying information you are able to get in. If you are in inside sales then you are selling directly over the telephone. It would be how many dials you make to contacts to how many sales you make. It is that transactional. That is basically it.
When you understand those things, then you can begin to coach your salespeople. One thing for sales leaders, when you are running phone blocks, don’t run an hour-long, three and four-hour-long phone blocks. I run 15- minute phone blocks, 15 minutes, 15 dials to set one appointment. You would be amazed at how much you can do in a shorter period of time and it definitely works better with the millennial mind.
GN: Do you believe that sales reps are more likely to connect with a prospect over the phone versus email or social media?
JB: Absolutely. Most people don’t respond well to direct solicitation in their email and their social media boxes. Social media is more of a community where we talk to each other and we engage each other and connect, but we don’t sell to each other directly. It is a really terrible place to actually sell. It is a really good place to gather information. It is a great place to build familiarity. But a terrible place to sell.
An email is a beautiful tool but—I don’t know if you’ve seen this lately—but I get ten emails from the same person. Your response rate to emails is only 1-2% and most emails are being sent by machine anyway. But phone—just last weekend we were calling insurance; business-to-business insurance and we had a 57% contact rate. I am used to getting 25-35% contact rates on outbound calls in sort to mid-cycle business-to-business.
The telephone is the easiest, fastest way to engage with another human being. It is going to give you the best conversion rate of any tool you use period and it just plain works. One of the reasons why it works is because phones are attached to people now not desks. So, it just works. The thing is for salespeople is you just have to go pick up the phone and use it. You have to get rid of all this noise that says the phone doesn’t work.
GN: What do you think about contacting the CEO directly, or into the C-Suite and what are your thoughts on the best way to handle that given those tools that are out there and the etiquette?
JB: I don’t know that there needs to be etiquette. I think if you are in Germany or Japan, which are places where there is a defined hierarchy, and there are some other countries as well, that you probably, from a local standpoint, have to look at the local norms. But in the U.S., we don’t have those local norms.
There is no reason why you can’t reach out and call the CEO directly. But, here’s the thing: most people in business-to-business sales are calling somewhere in the middle of the organization because that’s where the decision is made. If you are calling a small business, you are calling a business owner, like me. In those cases, it is ok to call me, but I may have another person in my organization that you are going to deal with. I am going to send you down to that person. Sometimes I am the person that makes those decisions directly, it just depends on what it is.
GN: You talk about pitch-slapping. You say people buy for their reasons, not yours. Can you explain what it means to be pitch-slapped and how salespeople can differentiate themselves and their products?
JB: I think there is a little bit of a difference. When I am calling to set an appointment, I am trying to get the “Yes”, “No”, or “Maybe” as fast as I possibly can. Even if I am calling a CEO I need to have a relevant message that is going to get their attention, which is going to give them value for meeting with me. That is not pitching. That is a quick message to get on and off the phone fast and get my meeting. I just need to be super relevant in what I say. Pitch slapping only comes into play once I get that meeting in place.
When you are on the phone, asking for the appointment, it really isn’t about what you say. It is about the message you deliver that gives them enough value at that moment to say “Yes” to my meeting. “Yes” to my request for time. Once I have that time I have to walk in that door and start learning to listen. In sales, we always think about being closer and closing, and that that’s the sexy part of being in sales. The truth is that the sexy part of sales is discovery. It is the part where you are listening to your prospects. When you sit down with that C-Suite and you have to turn your mouth off and your ears on. As soon as you start talking your ears will turn off and so will the CEO you’re sitting in front of.
GN: Statics show people leave their bosses, not their jobs. What do you think sales leaders can do to be more relatable to their employees and what qualities should every great sales manager have?
JB: If you just think about the great leaders you had, they lead with questions. They ask questions. They emulated a lot of the same behaviors they want to see in their salespeople. They want their salespeople to sit down at discovery and ask questions. So instead of yelling, screaming and threatening and giving direction and orders, they’re asking questions that generate self-awareness, that get the person to think. That gets them to challenge the different possibilities for what path they might be able to take.
If I look back at all of my leaders they were leaders that used the language of questions to lead versus the language of words.
GN: What are the five books you’d recommend all salespeople read?
- Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
- Bob Burg’s “The Go-Giver” (You can read our interview with Bob Burg here)
- Jeb Blount’s “Sales EQ” It is my humble opinion because I wrote it, but it takes the context of both of the previous books and really narrows it down to what is specified is happening along the sales process.
- Mike Weinberg’s “New Sales Simplified”
- Anthony Iannarino “The Lost Art of Closing”
If you would like to read the full, unabridged interview with Jeb Blount you can click here.