SalesLoft and Gong.io recently shared a Discovery Call Benchmark Report that lined up well with my recent thinking on sales calls. A couple stats from the report that rang loudest:
  • Optimal number of questions a salesperson should ask is between 11 and 14 – about key topics, too, vs. small-talk.
  • Question flow should be throughout the discussion, not front-loaded.
  • Top performing sales professionals have a talk-to-listen ratio of 46:54.
  • Positive correlation of call success with speaker-switches-per-minute.

These findings weaved well together with my two current readings You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar by David Sandler and the Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey. (Book reviews to come.)

The overarching story in my head is the gap between the number of questions and type of engagement in sales calls (read: the lack thereof during calls). Reflecting on a few sales calls I’ve made recently, I realize how I was focused on a specific problem or outcome. This put me heavy in “pitch mode”. When in pitch mode, there’s not much engagement from the other side of the table. Instead, it’s me talking atthe prospect.
An analogy of this could be like a sports game – take soccer. In sales, we’re on the same team looking for a mutually beneficial outcome. (Sales is not an “us vs. them” game, right?) And in a soccer game, it’s highly unlikely to win if one player hogs the ball the whole time. Nor will there be a successful outcome if the passing is only done upfront. A successful – and fun – game is one where both parties are involved passing the ball together. The ball being the conversation in a sales call. In a sales call, it’s important to pass the conversation back and forth, and ensure engagement throughout.
In soccer training in my past, we sometimes played games like “one-touch” or “two-touch” which limited how many touches each player could make with the ball. It encouraged fast-thinking while discouraging ball-hogging. A similar game can be played in sales calls for practice. For every pass (question or comment) from the prospect, a sales professional can pass a question back.
Sales professionals today tend to ask less questions anyways, so the practice here will be to simply boost the number of questions. Creating this habit will naturally drive more comfort and confidence specific questions to ask – what, when, how.
Give it a go. Pass the ball.
Just checking out what’s under the hood (image source: http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/gedney/med/KY0344.jpg)
So I’ve mentioned powerful systems like Salesforce in the past many times, but truth be told, I had never actually stepped foot in the Salesforce platform. However, when it comes to a CRM, it’s the go-to system. Heck, many of the DC Companies (David Cummings’/ David Cummings-backed) are built with Salesforce in mind – Rivalry for leaderboards and sales coaching [of record], SalesLoft for prospecting, etc.
When I speak to startups these days about Biz Dev roles, curiously, many tout the need for Salesforce experience. This has always been a… well, “curious” thing to me, but I get it. I was once in the Management Consulting world, and I know someone with SAP experience can get up and running much faster than someone without. However, Salesforce isn’t as ridiculous as SAP. Or at least, so I thought. I mean, again, I had never experienced it. My logic was rooted more or less in the many articles, talks, and even YouTube videos I had seen of Salesforce. I always questioned why Salesforce was a “needed skill” rather than a “nice to have”.
Yesterday, I took the first half of my day and spent it at Atlanta Tech Village to “play” in one of my friend’s company’s instances to learn more about Salesforce. I can’t keep preaching about it without having some experience, right? Okay, here are some take-aways.
  • The foundation of Salesforce is built on Leads, Accounts, Opportunities, and Contacts. In fact, check out a quick intro via Rivalry’s blog—“Leads, Accounts, Opportunities, and Contacts in Salesforce: The Basics”.
  • Re-packaged and glorified spreadsheets and Outlook in one. That is to say, when you play with Salesforce, you can quickly see how Salesforce grew so fast because it really is Excel and Outlook repackaged. In the end, many sales people started with cruder products earlier and Salesforce’s structure, the reminders, etc. were familiar already.
  • It’s massive, but also not so. Salesforce reminds me a lot of web templates you can get off the internet (think: ThemeForest). That is, you buy a template, and you get a ton of great features, CSS files, JavaScript, etc. However, you will likely scrap most of it anyways, and focus on a few core pieces relevant to you.
  • You can see its earlier “Big Platform” cloud beginnings. Marc Benioff (Salesforce’s Founder) is a former Oracle Exec. When you click around Salesforce, you can see very similar UI/ UX as some of the other big platform players like Oracle and SAP. Not originally Oracle, but I see similarities with Oracle’s Agile PLM, SAP eSourcing, etc. (full disclosure: I played with these systems three years ago).
  • Salesforce’s power is its core + all the third-party apps. Salesforce is #winning and killing it by being simple, and also the system that holds the data. At the end of the day, it’s hugely simple in concept, and what makes it powerful is integration to other powerful apps through its App Exchange like Rivalry, SalesLoft, Tinder Box, ToutApp, etc.
  • Salesforce is still cumbersome. The opportunity is automating/ mechanizing it. I love tools like those mentioned above, but especially Voxa. Everything Salesforce does, I was doing already in my own setup with spreadsheets. I could make it more powerful with notifications and the like, but really, that’s all it was. As I did Biz Dev for Body Boss and others, the biggest pain in the rear, and ultimately what makes Salesforce powerful is the data that is inputted. From this standpoint, every CRM is still annoying… until you can automate logging events like contact history, adding leads/ contacts, etc. That’s where tools like Voxa which can automatically log your activities and even detect human language to schedule follow-ups that much more powerful. You get around the biggest pain!
  • There are better tools, but they integrate to Salesforce, too. You really don’t need much time in Salesforce to see where it could improve. However, like I said in the bullets before, there are tools that are better and can MAKE Salesforce better. For example, as a pipeline tool, I’m visual guy, and I don’t see Salesforce’s Opportunities list as a great tool. It really just looks like a list. PipeDrive, however, is a much better, visually-oriented tool to manage your pipeline. Luckily, it, too, can integrate to Salesforce.

Obviously the above didn’t just come out of three hours, and okay, maybe I’m not an expert. Some of these were notions I had coming into the learning sessions, but were reinforced. Can’t say anything was dispelled other than Salesforce is really, really easy. I know during my three hours I didn’t play with every module, and maybe one day, I’ll get that opportunity in MY OWN instance. Or, maybe I’ll be a part of simplifying Salesforce into another CRM startup. (Okay, that made me laugh because there are several others that do a decent job.)

At the end of the day (or morning, rather), Salesforce IS powerful. It’s powerful because it’s simplified the structure of customer relationship (seems very sales focused, but not necessarily account management focused, but maybe that’s just the instance I was using) and enabled others to pick up the slack via the App Exchange. They’re really the big platform that profits, but also gives others including startups a chance to build businesses, too, off them. It’s a great ecosystem.
Salesforce is one of those simple tools that doesn’t need to be a “MUST HAVE SKILL” for a sales role. It’s simple enough that anyone can get started very quickly in the matter of hours. At least for me, I’ve seen the beast, and it’s really just a tiny rabbit with a big shadow. It’s not daunting, and I’m glad I got to spend a few hours in a Salesforce user’s shoes.