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This week’s show is called “How to Get and Leverage Industry Experience to Accelerate Sales” and our guest is Bobby Martin, President & Co-Founder of Vertical IQ
Join us, as Bobby shares about the idea of industry experience and how important having industry experience and industry perspective is, especially when selling in a commodity market.
Listen in and/or read along with the transcript below.
Matt: Welcome everyone to another Thursday, it is 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. We are here each week live, doing Sales Pipeline Radio. If you are watching us live today, hi. Hope you are having a great finish to April and thanks for joining us in the middle of your workday. If you are checking us out on demand or on the podcast, thanks for watching, listening, and downloading. Each week, we’re featuring some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing and doing it now on LinkedIn Live. We used to record this separately, but now we have an opportunity to do LinkedIn Live, where you get to throw in questions and come and be part of the show as well.
Very excited to have with us today Vertical IQ co-founder, alumni of the fighting Mountaineers, App State University, Bobby Martin. Thank you, Bobby, for joining us today.
Bobby: Thanks for having me, Matt. Good to be here.
Matt: Absolutely. Well, we are going to talk a little bit about a couple topics that I always enjoy talking about, the idea of industry experience and how important having industry experience and industry perspective is, but also selling in a commodity market. I think a lot of people struggle with how to create differentiation.
Maybe, can you use those other things and just tell a little bit about your founding stories, or where did Vertical IQ come from? Talk a little bit about what the company does.
Bobby: Well, I had the idea of starting Vertical IQ and giving industry research business or industry knowledge for sales professionals, when I was in my 20s. I was a banker, and I was selling a commodity. My job was to call businesses all day long. But I found the more I knew about a business or industry, the better the meeting would go. So, I started forming these cheat sheets on all these different types of businesses that I was calling, and I found that these cheat sheets were very popular to the salespeople that I worked with.
Those cheat sheets sort of evolved into, well, couldn’t we make this information be very relevant to the conversation? Really relevant to whatever I’m speaking to the business owner about, or the CFO, or whoever it was I was meeting with. That sort of evolved into these sales-friendly industry research reports so that salespeople, when they walk in the door, the person they are meeting with, is surprised by how much knowledge they have about their particular business. Since people really like talking about themselves and their own business, they do not really want to sit there and talk about you and what you are offering, whatever it is. Instead, they would much rather talk about whatever they have going on and what their passions are.
Matt: Well, it leads to one of my least favorite questions sometimes. People say, “We need to hire someone with industry experience.” I think what they think they’re getting is someone that knows the industry and has a Rolodex. Well, the Rolodex and the experience sometimes is dated and limited in what it can do for you, so the ability to have current, dynamic, real-time industry intelligence allows you to hire for other attributes that are probably going to have greater ripple effects on the business.
Talk a little bit about how that works. How do you apply? Say someone doesn’t have experience and teach them how to speak with a level of expertise.
Bobby: I do think it kind of does. If you take a step back, there are salespeople that are of course generalists in the sense that they call on multiple industries. They might call all sorts of different industries. Then, there’s sales professionals that sell mainly to one or two verticals. For example, you hire a salesperson. Maybe they sell directly to insurance companies or whatever. But you bring up a really interesting point. If you hire somebody within the industry, then they often times have a certain bossiness to them or an arrogance to them. You know what I’m talking about, where they feel like they’re already dialed in and they already know. There is no humbleness.
Well, humbleness is the key to sales. I think that the beauty of something like Vertical IQ and the beauty of just learning, is that people are very attracted to curiosity. So, if you are asking good questions, if you are a sales professional, and you are meeting with someone and asking them questions and asking the right questions, instead of asking questions that prove you know nothing, instead asking questions that prove you knew something or a good bit, then there is that humbleness and that taking a step back and letting the customer solve their own problems.
I think that an industry can be learned very quickly.
Matt: It seems to me that this approach aligned well with companies and individuals that have bought into the challenge of sale, the idea that how you sell is often more important than what you sell.
So, to be able to ask the right questions and to come with that level of humility and intelligence really helps you along the way. Do you find that this, for people that lean into that experience, trusted, advisor-based sale, benefit the most from this?
Bobby: Oh, absolutely. I do think buyers… there is the challenger sale, there’s spin selling. There’s a lot of those and they are based on asking really good questions. So, I do think that there’s a fine line when you’re meeting with a potential buyer or customer and you’re doing nothing but asking questions. Then, they feel like they’re going through a spin sales thing. Instead, the beauty to bringing your knowledge up about their industry is that there is an inherent curiosity, and the questions are therefore not cliché, and they are not predictable. They are more like, “Hey, I was reading that your particular industry’s dealing with these particular issues,” and that is just staying on top of changes that are going on. “How is that effecting your business? How is that effecting what you and I are talking about right now with my solution?” Then, there’s this naturalness to it.
Matt: Nice. Talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Bobby Martin. He is the co-founder of Vertical IQ. We are going to get to Hockey Stick Principles here in a little bit as well. But I would imagine, from what you are describing and what we are talking about so far, this is not just a sales application where companies can adopt this level of intelligence across sales and marketing efforts. Can you talk a little bit about where companies have been able to bring these industry insights across the entire buying journey and funnel, not just on the sales side?
Bobby: Good point, because obviously, especially in 2021, buyers really want to take their own journey. They really have control of the journey, way more than in the past. So, what buyers are doing is a lot of research online, for example, by the time they are speaking to a sales professional, they really have learned a good bit. I think a lot of companies in their marketing are too centric around, what problems their solution solves too early, when really what they should be doing is talking about what issues are going on out there that your product ultimately may solve. Then, how other companies are dealing with the issue. In other words, using intelligence, industry intelligence, to just get the conversation going. That’s what LinkedIn’s about. It’s like let’s get a conversation going about something that’s interesting and solves a problem.
Matt: Well, and those insights, also, I think they end up giving the sellers confidence. If you have got someone who is struggling with a little bit of call reluctance, sometimes call reluctance comes from not knowing what you are going to say, not knowing that you have something valuable to say. So, if you have some intelligence where you may not be bringing them those insights, but the fact that you understand it is going to get a prospect more likely to open up. Now, you’ve softened the conversation, made it easy to continue.
Bobby: That’s exactly right. There is an interesting organization called Live Oak Bank. In the banking industry there is 5,000 banks and they all start for geographies. This particular bank, instead of starting for geography, they started for veterinarians. They started a bank for veterinarians. Then, they added chiropractors. Then, they added five or six more industries. But every time they go into an industry, they make it a point to make sure that they indeed have a hire people that relate to those industries, who come from those industries. Then, teach them all about the financial side of it. It shows you the value of that because they have explosive growth at that organization. So, it does work. If you look at that their marketing. If you go to their website, liveoakbank.com, and you look at all the stuff they have about these particular industries, they really get the conversation going.
Matt: Well, and I think it’s important. You think about how many people are calling on all your prospects every day and just asking for 15 minutes of their time. Just asking instead of offering. Let’s face it, a lot of our sales and marketing is like driving by someone’s house at 35 miles an hour and trying to throw something in the mailbox. If they eventually check it, what’s helped you stand out? What makes you look like someone that maybe did a little bit of homework, maybe cares a little more about that conversation? I like what David just said here, that “every interaction with any of your clients and prospect is an opportunity to build trust, to generate opportunities to add value. In many of those interactions, it is not your job to sell. You’re working towards a sale and sometimes, by building rapport, building credibility, building value, and showing that you’ve got vested interest on both sides”. How do you teach people how to do that? Especially I think about so many companies that are hiring junior sellers into SDR positions. I have had many people say, “Oh, you can’t have these junior people selling into these industries where everyone knows.”
I do not know. What you guys do seems to bridge the gap a little bit. How do you teach someone without industry experience or without selling experience how to be natural at doing this with a prospect?
Bobby: Well, it is a process because for most people it does not come very naturally. I do think that tools like Vertical IQ are really valuable in that regard because what it is, is say, “Okay, how do we go about pre-call preparation?” For example. Pre-call preparation is absolute key. How do we go about it in our organization? You say, “Okay. Is it only preparing what you’re trying to accomplish and who you’re meeting with and all that?” All the things that you expect pre-call preparation to be.
But to take it to another level, to have a phenomenal sales experience, instead you say, “Okay, let’s think heavily about their industry.” What are they doing and how are they doing that? Let’s go read up on the trends of the industry, the challenges of the industry, the problems we’re going to solve for this particular person in this particular industry. Let’s look at some news articles, for example. Maybe the Wall Street Journal just came out with a really important article. Let’s print it out and let’s take it in. Hey, I saw this before I came out, or I happened to read this article and it made me think of something we had talked about last time. Or maybe think about the fact that we are getting ready to meet.
That is how you stand out against a commodity, when you are competing for the same product and it is a commodity. You’re going to stand out. They’re going to go, “This person, A, knows my business. B, did the extra effort. C, is asking really good questions that are relevant to my particular industry and is really tying together their solution with what we’re dealing with.” So, it’s pre-call preparation ultimately.
Matt: I love it. We have got a few more minutes here with our guest, Sales Pipeline Radio, Bobby Martin. Not only the co-founder president of Vertical IQ. As I was doing some research, before we started here, just the number of companies that you support, the number of boards that you are on, and the different perspectives you get, which led me to the Hockey Stick Principles, which I thought was cool as well. Talk a little bit about, just on the keynotes that you have had just growing, running companies, and what led you to want to write that book.
Bobby: The journey for the Hockey Stick Principles has been a blast. When I sold my company… I had started a company in 1999. I sold it in 2007. I had a few years to do, just basically research on how good ideas become successful businesses. I interviewed about two or three hundred successful founders and I did a study. I’m like, “What are the overlapping characteristics of these successful startups?” What it is? What was it? What was the thing that they did the smartest? I recognized that all the successful ones, their revenue growth curves were shaped like a hockey stick. There were four obvious phases to growth, this basically makes up that hockey stick.
The first is tinkering, before they even start the business. The second is the blade years, which is when the most important work is done. The blade years is when revenue is low and growth is low. You can see on a growth curve it’s just flat and it’s the blade of the hockey stick. But that, what I discovered, is the most important time. It lasted about three years on average. Then, the growth inflection point is the turn and that’s when things start happening. Then, the blade is when surging growth takes place. That’s what people really think about. That’s what people know about the surge in growth. But what you don’t know is what happens before then and that’s the Hockey Stick Principles. It was a great project. Really interesting.
Matt: Love that. Well, I want to thank you for joining us today, sharing a little bit about competitive intelligence. Some great information you can find up at verticaliq.com. They’ve got some great resources more around sales readiness and building industry intelligence into your entire go-to-market motion.
Thanks so much, Bobby, for joining us today.
Bobby: Thank you, Matt. It was a pleasure.