From the Sales Trenches: Q&A with David Brock

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This continues our series of front-line sales interviews, featuring quota-carrying sales reps as well as their managers and leaders (see previous interviews here, here and here). In this interview, David Brock – who has spent his career working in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments – shares insights from more than 35 years watching sales evolve (or not).

How (and why) did you get into sales?

I was actually trained as a physicist, and always thought I was going into science and research. Immediately after college I went to a start-up but it flamed out badly. I realized there was more to business than just cool technology, so I got an MBA and went to the “dark side,” which at the time meant I was going to sell large mainframe computers to banks in New York City for IBM.

It was a big change from from math and science to straight selling for one of the biggest, most powerful sales companies in the world. That was in the late 70’s, so the IT industry was going through huge transformations at the time – from mainframe computers into the PC revolution. It was an interesting time for sure.

What did you learn at IBM that’s still relevant today?

I was blessed that IBM was and is one of the premier sales organizations in the world. A lot of what I learned is still hot and top of mind today. The real bulk of our training was learning our customer’s business and learning to create value for their business. While they weren’t calling it “solution selling” or “value-based” or anything like that, all the basic principles of what the customer was doing and how to improve their business was engrained from my very first day in sales.

I actually went to a banking school as part of my training. There were 3-4 IBMers there, and tons of bankers there learning the practice of banking. The thing that was really informative for me, outside of selling, was how to be focused on the customer and focused on their business and what they did, and how I could apply my solutions to what they need to do better.

That kind of thinking still pervades and drives selling today. It hasn’t diminished in importance, and has actually become more important than when I first started selling.

Given all of that, how has sales changed?

Everything has changed and nothing has changed. Sometimes I feel like I’m Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day, living the same situation over and over.

Solution-focused selling is still around. The Challenger Sale is what we call it today, among other things.

The idea that you need to connect with customers about their business hasn’t changed at all. That’s what we as salespeople are supposed to do for our customers. It goes way back to the very first salespeople, I guess. What has changed is that the role of the salesperson has changed profoundly based on the way customers buy. The traditional role where the salesperson had a job to educate customers about solutions is no longer as important. We still have to do some education, but customers are researching and pre-screening things on their own right now. They’re self-educating. There’s great danger in that, because of how much inaccurate information is on the Web.

Many sales organizations are getting this wrong, in that the quality of what the customer learns through Web research is based on the quality of their questions. They may be asking the wrong questions. Today, one of the big challenges we face is that the customer thinks they can get all the right information on the Web, and shorten their engagement with sales. Research tells us that 70% of buyers don’t want to engage salespeople until the end of the process. That’s a real challenge in terms of our value proposition in the sales & buying process.

It’s even more difficult to go in and correct customer impressions and guide them in how to buy. But in complex B2B sales, customers really don’t know how to buy. The ability for the salesperson to get in and really provide the right insight, education and facilitation to help the customer understand what they should be buying is really critical. It hasn’t changed, but the challenge is higher now.

I believe that today salespeople have to engage in the sales process much earlier than before. In many cases, when it’s done right, the buyer might hear from the salesperson before they hear from marketing, which is different from what we’re used to in “traditional” sales and marketing environments.

Traditionally, we qualify customers based on the business problem they want to solve, whether they have funding, and so on. Today, what salespeople have to do is go in and say, “hey, there’s an opportunity to run your business more effectively, grow your market share, grow your presence. There are things you might want to be looking at, and here’s how I can help you.”

Salespeople have to get engaged very early on and driving awareness around the need. Customers are looking for ideas and insights

They’re so busy fighting the alligators; they forget to drain the swamp.

The basic process of being customer-oriented hasn’t changed, but the timing of when we engage and the methods of how we engage have changed profoundly.

How has sales management changed?

Look at the front-line sales manager, who manages individual contributors. Their role is to maximize the productivity and effectiveness of their people, to achieve their full potential. In some senses, that job hasn’t changed. We have to be involved in coaching, have to be involved in developing the people, reviewing the business and make sure we get the people the resources and support they need. There are some great, powerful tools that help today’s sales manager do that job better, with better insight into performance to allow the manager to see things earlier than they might have seen previously.

Still, we have the challenge – more so than ever before – of all the things that can distract us from our primary job of coaching our people. Technology is an aid and an escape. We can hide behind our CRM system, our dashboards and reports. We can misuse those things.

We have the capability of creating crap at the speed of light, so technology is a double-edged sword. For managers and sales professionals, technology can enhance our means of accomplishing things or take us down the tubes faster than ever before.

The most under-served person in sales is the first-line sales manager. They have the toughest job in the sales organization, because they bridge between individual contributor and the company.

The second level is the sales executive. One of their most important roles is to understand the sales deployment strategy, and what’s the most important route to market.

There are so many more combinations and permutations of routes to market than have existed in the past. Deciding the optimal path and how to maximize your footprint in the market, what channels do we select, how do we steer certain customers to the more appropriate channels and so on. The whole complexity of the overall organizational deployment – there are many more options and greater complexity in managing those options.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.

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