Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 200: How To Sell Right Now with Ray Makela @RayAMakela

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If you’re not already subscribed to Sales Pipeline Radio, or listening live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific you can find the transcription and recording here on the blog every Monday morning.  The show is less than 30 minutes, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

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This week’s episode is entitled Virtual Sales Training: How To Support Your Now Entirely Virtual Team” and our guest is Ray Makela, CEO and Managing Director at the Sales Readiness Group.  

I ask Ray, what’s the advice you’re giving to your client around how to adapt their selling strategy right now?

I think this is the time to check in, to build the relationship and hopefully collaborate …. but it’s certainly not a time to push to close the deal… I think we do need to be sensitive to how they’re showing up and how we’re showing up. And I think we want to maybe frankly do a little less challenging and a little bit more consoling these days because it’s a long game. And if there was ever a time to pay it forward and say, “How can we help? Let’s kind of take the deal off the table for a moment. But how can we help you or what can we do to support you?”

I ask Ray to talk a little bit to the tension between getting close to the end of the quarter and hitting their numbers. How do you address that tension?

I think you need to look at each situation individually and personalized in terms of where are they in the life cycle? Also looking at the industry, right? I mean, some industries have been absolutely clobbered and some industries, quite frankly, are seeing a little bit of a boom. Right? They’re getting additional demand and we’re seeing that in tech and we’re seeing that in some health care areas and where, okay, there’s interesting and expanding demand in certain areas. Even one of our companies that does facilities maintenance, they’re just absolutely swamped doing disinfecting and a side part of their business. So that has changed. So I think we really need to be sensitive to that particular client and their situation. Obviously everybody’s sharpening their pencil and looking hard at the pipeline and re-forecasting. And I think we need to be realistic and probably have some compassion for our sales teams as well that we don’t know.

Listen in or read the full transcript below for LOTS MORE:

Paul:  Hey, welcome back everybody. Time to grab your board and swim out into that sea of uncertainty, that turbulent swell that is blocking that sales pipeline from popping up over today with the man who’s always got the calming voice and the calming ideas, Matt Heinz.

Matt:  Well Paul, if we’re trying to flatten the curve, we need to flatten the pipeline now as well. We don’t want a big spiked pipeline, we want a flattened pipeline.

Paul:  Could be, could be.

Matt:  Yeah, no, uncertain times, man. I mean, I feel like just so much has changed even though it’s in the week since we recorded last week. Are you on lockdown down there? I know my sister and mom in the Bay area are definitely shelter in place. How are you guys doing?

Paul:  It’s really strange. We’re a radio station so we’re in a big tall, high rise building. And last count, I think I’m one of two or three people in the whole building here. So even without being asked. So yesterday, the County of Orange did issue an emergency declaration which totally muddied the water. They said, “No gathering two or more anywhere, business, anything, everything’s gone.” Which basically then sounded like shelter in place, complete lockdown, like the Bay area is doing. And the next, there was such an uproar and such craziness about it, first of all, it was hard to communicate because we don’t have newspapers or TV stations here even though we’re the fifth biggest county in America. We’re one of the few. And we called in question, is that how we should describe this? And they quickly said, “No, no, no.” And they had a big emergency meeting at a town hall and instead they issued a new one today saying, “Take it back. Bars and restaurants, certain things closed, but we’re in no way telling businesses to shut down.” So I don’t know.

Matt:  I mean, it’s just, it keeps changing all the time.

Paul:  That’s the craziness. I think that’s what’s causing the fear, and I won’t get political, but I think from all across the board, wherever you are, there’s confusion. And confusion creates panic and fear.

Matt:  Right, yeah. I think in Seattle, because we’ve been at this for a little longer than many other parts of the country because things started here a little earlier, I think there’s a, and I’m curious to get our guests’ perspective today because he’s up here in Seattle with me just to talk about some of the new normal we’re dealing with. I feel grateful that, probably like a lot of listeners, I have a job that I can do from almost anywhere.

Paul:  You can adapt, right, yeah.

Matt:  To be living in a country with a healthcare system and with technology and Paul, I am very positive about what the medical and scientific community is doing now to look for treatments, therapies, and a rush to a vaccine. But boy, interesting times. Well thank you everyone for taking time out of your day to join us here on Sales Pipeline Radio if you’re joining us live, from working from home probably in the middle of your workday. Thank you very much for joining us live on the Funnel Media Radio Network. If you’re listening to us on the podcast, thank you very much for downloading. Thank you for subscribing. You can make sure you don’t miss any episode by finding us on the iTunes store, on Google Play. You can sign up directly at salespipelineradio.com as well. And today, like every Thursday, at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern, we’re featuring some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing. Today, absolutely no different. Very excited to have with us today Ray Makela. He is the CEO and Managing Director of the Sales Readiness Group. Ray, first and foremost, hope you are healthy and safe and working in some isolation. How are you doing?

Ray Makela:  I’m doing well, Matt. And I really appreciate the intro and also the chance to be here with you today. So I am remote, I’m safe, I’m healthy and connected. So I guess that’s the big message that I think is resonating with everyone is we are doing virtual meetings, we are really connected and hopefully touching bases and connecting with our customers and prospects. And that part of it gives a little bit of a silver lining but we can talk more about that as we go along.

Matt:  Well, and you’re probably having very similar conversations as I am with people that are trying to figure out how do I sell in this environment? I mean, I’ve had everyone say everything from, “You just have to be very empathetic.” Someone mentioned on an event I was on, webinar I did this morning, talking about, “Just assume you’re calling people that are grieving, right?” I mean, think about the mindset of someone who’s selling funeral services. How would you approach an empathetic tone that way, for someone who’s just kind of scared, maybe a little grieving, what’s going on? Conversation a couple days ago with someone was, “Okay, is it even ethical to sell right now? Do we need to take a pause from normal life to at least sort of give people time to sort of recalibrate?” I think the answer is it’s still fine to sell, but you think just like anytime you have to make sure you’re selling to someone that actually needs what you have, especially right now. What’s the advice you’re giving to your client around sort of how to adapt their selling strategy right now?

Ray Makela:  Well, absolutely. I think this is the time to check in, to build the relationship and hopefully collaborate with them, but it’s certainly not a time to push to close the deal. Right? They’ll always be closing. I think we do need to be sensitive to how they’re showing up and how we’re showing up. And I think we want to maybe frankly do a little less challenging and a little bit more consoling these days because it’s a long game. And if there was ever a time to pay it forward and say, “How can we help? Let’s kind of take the deal off the table for a moment. But how can we help you or what can we do to support you?”

And I read a really interesting suggestion this morning that really resonated with me, which is all of those automated scripts and cadences that BDRs and SDRs have going out, I think we really need to think about how those are coming across. And we all get them, but if you’re getting that third email that says, “Hey Ray, I haven’t heard from you in a while and you must be really busy, but I really want to sell you this thing.” I think, boy, we read those and it’s just, it’s painful even to go, “You have no idea. That’s the last thing on my list.” So I think personalizing our messages, touching bases and just saying, “Hey, I was thinking about you.” I think that, at least in this next few weeks, is going to be more important than, frankly, anything we have in the pipeline that we’re trying to push to close.

Matt:  Well, I would agree with you. I mean, obviously I think a lot of us probably thinking about finishing March and Q1 strong, thinking about what Q2 could look like, understandably and correctly worried about that. Bu you got to take the long game as well. I think if you push too hard where it’s not appropriate or people aren’t ready for that, not only are you not going to get that deal now, you’re probably not going to get that deal ever. But can you talk a little bit to that tension between we’re getting close to the end of the quarter or a little over halfway through the month, people still want to hit their numbers. How do you sort of address that tension?

Ray Makela:  Yeah, I mean, I think you need to look at each situation individually and personalized in terms of where are they in the life cycle? Also looking at the industry, right? I mean, some industries have been absolutely clobbered and some industries, quite frankly, are seeing a little bit of a boom. Right? They’re getting additional demand and we’re seeing that in tech and we’re seeing that in some health care areas and where, okay, there’s interesting and expanding demand in certain areas. Even one of our companies that does facilities maintenance, they’re just absolutely swamped doing disinfecting and a side part of their business. So that has changed. So I think we really need to be sensitive to that particular client and their situation. Obviously everybody’s sharpening their pencil and looking hard at the pipeline and re-forecasting. And I think we need to be realistic and probably have some compassion for our sales teams as well that we don’t know.

And it does remind me, for those of us who’ve been around long enough, maybe survived 2007 and 2008 and 2000, 2001, looking back on that, that it’s not that everything goes away overnight, it’s that things just take a little longer. And so, what we’re hearing is, “Hey, can’t meet this week.” Or, “We pushed out and the executive team isn’t meeting or we’re not going to make that decision.” And so again, if you’re trying to push and be aggressive, it’s not going to resonate because those, the people we’re talking to, are not going to be able to influence that either. And having the empathy to know that they’re struggling as well and they’re trying to figure it out. So I think we do need to be patient. I think we really need to be realistic about the forecast and then keep nurturing those relationships because either things are going to come back or one of the things we’re seeing with the pivot from in-person instructor led to virtual instructor led is people are now looking really hard at how they can do that and how they can do things creatively, especially when people are home. So kind of use this time to sharpen the saw and maybe provide some additional skill development. And that’s going to take a few weeks to kind of work through and figure out how we address that.

Matt:  Yeah, I mean, as we broadcast and record this here on March 19th, I’m seeing a lot of companies that are talking about their pipelines being pretty much frozen solid, things just not really progressing. My sense is a lot of that is not companies bailing. It’s companies waiting, just trying to figure out sort of where things are going to calibrate. What is the next couple weeks or couple months going to look like? And before they start making sort of broader commitments, I imagine that internally, I mean, so we’re talking today with Ray Makela on Sales Pipeline Radio from Sales Readiness Group. I imagine that this has done a little bit to pivot your go to market strategy and your content strategy as well. You guys put out a ton of really great content across multiple formats. If you’re listening to this and you’re not checking out Sales Readiness Groups, they got white papers, they got research, they got blog posts, they’ve got webinars and really fantastic stuff. How has your approach, either from a marketing or sales or content strategy, changed in the last week or two?

Ray Makela:  Yeah, I mean, it’s a day by day, right? It’s evolving and there’s lots of great ideas, but it is significant. We’ve been doing virtual instructor-led delivery, so VILT training for over 10 years and it’s an area that we feel very strong and comfortable in. But I’m a facilitator so there’s nothing like being in the classroom and facilitating a live workshop and then following it up with reinforcement sessions and kind of keeping it alive that way. And I think that’s the gold standard if you can do it. But guess what? That’s not always available. So the idea of taking those programs and pivoting or migrating to a virtual world where you’re chunking it up, I think that’s reality for the next couple of months.

And we actually did a webinar yesterday with Sam Herring from Intrepid Learning. And Sam, that’s his platform, that’s his environment. And it was interesting for us. We put it together in less than a week. So probably the shortest views we’ve ever had. And it was our largest both registration and attended webinar that we’ve done. Over 400 people signed up for that. Just to hear some of the thoughts on how do you migrate from in-person to digital? And even what content is relevant to try to do that and what are some of the best practices? And we just had great interaction with the audience and questions. And people are being really thoughtful about it. How do I do that? How do I help my managers coach better after the training using virtual? Now they’re using Zoom or Teams or whatever. So I think there are a lot of those questions that then we need to be thinking about. But starting with good content and also good instructional design that lends itself to a virtual classroom is critically important at this point.

Matt:  I would agree. Well, we’ve got to take a quick break and pay some bills. We’ll be back in a couple minutes more on Sales Pipeline Radio with Ray Makela. We’ll be talking more about pivoting and redeploying strategies in the midst of the COVID spring that we’re in right now. We’ll be right back on Sales Pipeline Radio.

*Break*

Paul:  Okay, we’re back with Matt and his guest talking about the topic in everybody’s mind. How do we sell in this environment or should we even try? Is this a time to pull back and restock, rethink, tool? And suspend our sales quotas or modify them? Or do we just keep pushing ahead and do it a different way?

Matt:  It’s a fascinating question and I think it’s a different answer for different people, right? I mean, I think that I am very thankful to a number of people that are still actively selling right now. I’m very thankful to the grocery stores in our neighborhood who are working extra hard to clean carts, to restock shelves, to working to keep their customers and their employees safe. I’m thankful for Zoom. I spend most of my day now on Zoom and I am impressed that it continues to work as well as it does given that most people, most existing customers are using it more. And I’m sure they’ve signed up a ton of customers since then. So yeah, I mean, I think that there’s some places where we absolutely need it. I think if you have a choice of selling to someone in a SAS company versus someone in the events business or someone in the hotel business or someone in the restaurant business, choose your targets wisely right now.

And I think, Ray, we got our guest today on Sales Pipeline Radio, Ray Makela from Sales Readiness Group. I mean, you guys offer an array of really great sales trainings and a lot of virtual training options. With so many live events canceled, sales kickoffs, company meetings, et cetera, I would imagine that you guys are pretty busy fielding interest from people that are pivoting to virtual training. That really is, I think, if that’s happening, it’s accelerating a path that I think is people have already been on it. Can you talk a little bit about what that’s looked like? And how more people have been pivoting towards more sort of digital and virtual?

Ray Makela:  Yeah, for sure. And in the past, it may have been either part of a blended solution, so we’re going to kick off in person and then we’re going to do some virtual reinforcement and coaching. And that’s a really nice cadence where you could bring that together. I think in this case, we’re flipping that and we’re saying, “Well, for at least the next couple of months, we’re probably delivering virtually.” So what does a good virtual experience look like? And one of the things that we’re really passionate about is let’s not just turn these into six or eight hours of a webcast, right? We had a client that said, “Well, can you just videotape that last session and we’ll put that up on the internet?” And the answer is no, absolutely not. But if you think about instructional design and optimizing for that experience, and you mentioned Zoom, which is what we use both for client interaction and for a training environment now. There’s so much you can do to optimize that using chats, using polling.

And if people haven’t experimented with using breakouts, even for team meetings to say, “Hey, why don’t you guys go discuss this topic and then come back together?” And we use it a lot in skills development to say, “Well, you can still do that triad just like you would in the classroom. Have an observer, have a customer, have somebody being the seller. Roleplay that, practice it, give each other feedback, and then let’s get back together in 15 minutes.” So there are ways to keep it alive.

But I think we need to be really thoughtful about that. And those exercises that might’ve just been a group discussion in the classroom, we need to think very clearly about what question are we asking? How are we going to get their feedback using chat or some other method? And then be able to facilitate those questions as opposed to if you ask an open ended question to an audience of virtual participants, you’re probably going to get crickets and that’s not a great experience. And people start getting frustrated. They learn in our classes very quickly that we’re going to call them out by name, we’re going to ask them to participate, they’re going to be engaged. And I think we’re seeing that with customers as well, that people are more likely now to turn on their webcam. They’re more likely to engage in that kind of virtual environment. And I think, in some ways, that’s a positive aspect of this.

Matt:  Well, I think you bring up one really key element of making those sort of virtual sort of trainings and even meetings work, is like how to keep people engaged, how to keep their attention. And I imagine that there are some things that you just have to do in a virtual environment that are different than an in person environment. I think we’re learning that from kids working from home, doing online learning, right? If you’re sitting in a classroom with a teacher, they can keep your attention. They can tell when you’re not paying attention. Even with an interactive program like DreamBox Learning for math or Lexia for reading, their attention spans could wane. And I don’t think adults are that much better. Are there best practices around the duration of time someone can sit and participate in a section? Are there other best practices that you guys have learned and incorporate in your training that can help people keep the attention and engagement of their audience, whether those are customers or sales team or otherwise?

Ray Makela:  Yeah, absolutely. And I think a key is you should not be going more than three to five minutes without some type of interaction. So some way of either you’re checking the pulse, you’re getting a chat, responding to a poll, you’re getting them to participate. Because if we’re flipping PowerPoint slides, right? All of a sudden, and everybody has multiple screens, so now they’ve got Amazon or Facebook up in the background and they’re doing some shopping or whatever that may be. So I think you need to keep it very focused. And I’ll say, with the platforms, not assuming that everybody is a digitally conversant and I think, even with tech companies where we might expect that to be the case. But starting with the basic orientation to say, “This is going to be a little bit different and we have six different ways to interact during this session and we’re going to be using them all. So let’s try to raise our hands right now and let’s use the buttons that are available to us and let’s engage.” And so I think you need to set the tone from the start about how you’re going to utilize the platform.

And then as I mentioned, within the first 10 or 15 minutes, we’re calling on people by name and working our way through so that they know, “Hey, every 10 or 15 minutes, I’m probably going to get called on and I better be paying attention or I’m going to be caught flat footed.”

The second part of your question was how long? And at least for our virtual instructor-led training, and we do different things for cohorts or reinforcement, but if we’re trying to do training in the classroom, we’ve optimized for a two hour window. And that may seem like a long time. I certainly wouldn’t go longer than that. But if we’re talking about dedicating time to training, that allows us time to get into the classroom, to really immerse ourselves in the topic, and then do some skill application or have a breakout and a discussion during that session. But what I will say is it better be very interactive and even having those breakouts and maybe even taking a break during that session to say, “No, this is just like a classroom. Go fill up your coffee. We’ll take a five minute pause here.” So that they’re not just stuck in front of the monitor the whole time. But that tends to work pretty well. And then we know that adults learn well through spaced learning. So that optimizes itself to say, “Okay, now every Friday from 9:00 to 11:00, we’re going to be back in this classroom. Here’s your homework for next week and we’ll get back together and we’ll discuss it.” So that’s a little bit of the review as we get started again. So it kind of keeps that cadence going and it might go over six or eight weeks.

Matt:  Absolutely. Well just a couple more minutes here with Ray Makela. I want to thank him again for joining us here on Sales Pipeline Radio. And the other question I want to talk about, remote versus virtual, is just related to field sales teams, especially those that are used to being still in the field. Maybe those, like I’ve talked to a couple people that run sales teams of manufacturing companies. And being in front of someone and having the samples in front of them has been a key part of their selling. And now all of a sudden, those prospects don’t want you in their office. They don’t want you, at least for the time being. So do you have any advice for companies that are really not just taking a remote sales team and asking them to sort of work online, but taking in a traditionally in person sales team that is pivoting to a virtual environment? What is the best practices you might have for them?

Ray Makela:  Yeah, I think it starts with being very, very conversant and comfortable in the technology. So again, we may have a little bit more time these days if we’re not traveling to see clients or we’re not on airplanes or, frankly, we probably don’t have as many in, well, certainly as many in person meetings, but maybe not even as many meetings. Let’s use that time to sharpen the saw and really get conversant in the platform, whether that’s Zoom or Teams or GoToMeeting or whatever it is, now’s the time to explore those other areas and test the edges, right? So that if we’re bringing up a sample, we can do that. Or maybe we can utilize our webcam and we can do creative things to show. I mean, one of my reps loves to go to the whiteboard behind him on webcam and he’ll do the brainstorming session right there, right? Or use the whiteboard feature that’s in the application. So I think there’s a lot that we can leverage and we should be really comfortable with that.

And I know, Matt, I think we talked about it earlier, but we’ve taken to doing a daily stand up meeting, stand up in quotes, but a virtual get together with our team just for 15 minutes to check in. And even that has encouraged us to use the technology. And now we see people incorporating different backgrounds and they’re using it to check their video and their audio and kind of get set for the day. So I think those will help us when we have to do those meetings virtually and making sure that we can show the product in the best light that we can.

The other part I’d add to that is it still goes back to basic selling skills, which is thinking about the client’s need, making sure we can tell the story about how we address that need and how we add value and why this is different than maybe the alternative they’re looking. So that idea of a value presentation, whether it’s virtual, whether it’s over the phone or in person, it probably becomes even more important today because we have limited time and limited face to face with the customer.

Matt:  That is true. Well, thank you so much today for joining us, Ray Makela, with some very timely advice on selling, on making some pivots, on sales training and more. If you’d like this conversation, you want to share it with others in the organization, maybe your own sales training manager, your VP of sales, your CEO or others, you’ll find a on demand replay of this episode as well as every episode of Heinz Marketing, past, present, future, on salespipelineradio.com. Stay safe out there, everyone. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. This will all be over soon and we’ll be able to see each other again and get back on with our regular lives. But in the meantime, on behalf of my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks for listening to another episode. Sales Pipeline Radio.

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Sales Pipeline Radio is sponsored and produced by Heinz Marketing on the Funnel Radio Channel.  I interview the best and brightest minds in sales and Marketing.  If you would like to be a guest on Sales Pipeline Radio send an email to Sheena.

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