Today’s buyers are inundated with sales pitches coming at them from websites, peer reviews, social media, and email blasts. Is it any wonder they’re overloaded, overwhelmed, and tuned out? The fact is, product-centered pitching simply doesn’t cut it anymore. Buyers don’t want to hear about your product’s features―they want to hear about how it can solve their problems or help them reach their goals.
This Asher Sales Sense Podcast – “Sales Acceleration through Connecting Technical and Business Value” – features host John Asher with guest Brent Keltner, Founder and President of Winalytics, helping clients reach their top growth potential by shifting from product-driven conversations to authentic conversations that anchor on what buyers and customers value most. Brent also is the author of the forthcoming book The Revenue Acceleration Playbook.
- Why did Brian Keltner write his new book The Revenue Acceleration Playbook?
- What is a value playbook? And, why is it so important to sales success?
- And what about buyer personas? How do they work together with a value playbook?
- How do you apply value playbooks to a more technical or engineering-oriented sale?
- What does it mean to connect technical and business value? How does that help close more sales and expand more sales?
How does anchoring on value help with pricing and pricing negotiations in a technical sale?
Listen to the answers to these questions and learn how you can stop selling, start connecting, and accelerate your sales.
Asher Sales Sense
Sales Acceleration Through Connecting Technical and Business Value
October 7, 2021
Dave: I’m Dave Potts, at the Asher Strategy Studio in Washington, DC. Our host today is John Asher, CEO and Founder of Asher Strategies. John’s guest is Brent Keltner, Founder and President of Winalytics, helping clients reach their top growth potential by shifting from product-driven conversations to authentic conversations that anchor on what buyers and customers value most. Brent also is the author of the forthcoming book, The Revenue Acceleration. And the title of the show is Sales Acceleration Through Connecting Technical and Business Value.
Dave: Over to you, John.
John: Brent, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Brent: Hey, John, thanks to you and David for having me. I’m looking forward to the conversation.
John: Me too.
John: So forgive me, but I’m a recovering engineer, so I’m all about value stuff, and you’re all about value. So I appreciate what you all are doing. And so when you say value, let the listers know what you mean by the value.
Brent: Yeah, I mean, we talk about building value playbooks that often connect technical to business value. And so for us, when you think about business value, often people will think about what does my product accomplish? What process does it change? What gap does it fill? Usually, that’s a starting point, but the business value is going to be something around driving revenue, or reducing costs, or helping you utilize your assets or utilize your staff, increase your staff reach, or change a user experience. So when we think about building a value playbook, it’s the stories you tell your buyers about value that can connect the economic buyer, so your CFO, or a VP, and a business unit to one of your user buyers.
Brent: And so there’s a company for instance, Parsable, that has a manufacturing handheld device that automates a lot of workflows, whether those are quality workflows, or safety workflows, or continuous improvement, or production workflows, and they want to engage your quality manager or your CI manager, give them… So with a quality manager, “Hey, how can you automate visual inspection?” Take a technical topic… So you don’t have to do it on paper. And how do you create an audit trail that’s digital? That’s the value to the quality manager. But to get a VP engaged, “Well, how does that improve our production throughput? How does that help us produce more units at a high-quality level over time, so I reduce my cost structure?”
Brent: So we think about value playbooks as really being able to capture both business value and technical value and connect your buyer personas across that value story that they both care about. Because if you start with just a persona-based approach, not a value-based approach, you can get deep into the sales conversation, but you haven’t connected all the key constituents.
John: So if you go back to the Miller Heiman training, which has been around a long time, and AchieveGlobal is very similar, they talk about the user buyer who’s going to use your stuff to get their job done. And the technical buyer who’s got to make sure the laws of physics aren’t violated, the specs are met. And the economic buyer, CFO, CEO, maybe a purchasing manager in larger companies, who’s interested in the ROI. So how does your methodology fit in with that way of thinking?
Brent: Yeah, no, it’s a great question. I think, having led a bunch of teams through sales methodologies, the biggest gap in sales methodology in my experience is it doesn’t create an approach to leading the buyer to share their own success criteria with you. And so they talk about those different types of buyers. We think about discovery at three levels. So everybody’s heard of customer-centric selling at this point or different types of value-based selling. So generally, people will start with questions, “Hey, what are you working on? What’s keeping you up at night? Our experience is, that’s a good starting point, but that if you go from that level of what are you working on, what’s your goal, what’s keeping you from achieving your goal? What’s your gap? And then what’s the win or the payoff or the success criteria? And what would get you excited? What would get you dancing in the end zone, the touchdown dance? If you were to wave a magic wand, where would you want to be in 12 months?
Brent: In this current really noisy environment, teaching sellers or account managers, “How do I get my buyer to share their success criteria?” Deal velocity is all anchored to that success criteria, that they have a clear vision of what it would mean to be successful working with you.
John: So just in the big picture, in most cases, isn’t it related to higher revenue, a higher gross margin, or decreased costs pretty much? Is that like a-
Brent: Pretty much for an economic buyer. I mean, I think the other thing you’ll see a lot of is just increasing staff reach. So we work with a company called SmartAction that has a conversational AI product for a contact center. So if you can get your live agents handling 200% more calls, because you’re automating a bunch of those calls, you’re increasing the reach of your staff. So yes, ultimately, that does flow through to savings, but not in an immediate kind of budget substitute way. So one of the other ones is, do you have an approach that actually fully utilizes your staff or fully utilizes your infrastructure? So I think that’s another kind of higher-level goal that often gets people engaged.
John: Yeah, no. Good.
John: And I see this last McKinsey study that said, in the future, because of this accelerated, to use one of your words, acceleration and digitization, and automation, and that 60% of the future productivity enhancements in our country will be digital.
John: So digital’s a huge thing for the future, as I’m sure you know. And one of the things we’ve been doing, we didn’t have this offering two years ago, but we’ve been facilitating overarching company digital sales strategies to try to see the big picture of where you need to go. That’s kind of part of your sweet spot, it sounds like to me.
Brent: Well, yeah, I mean it’s a great instinct because the other thing digital is doing as you know, as we all know, is dramatically increasing the number of stakeholders in every sales conversation because everybody’s got access to the information.
Brent: And it’s really easy to share information like I can easily bring five other people to the conversation because I just share over whatever resources. I share your website, I share your blog, I share everything you’ve shared. And then I invite them to the Zoom call, right? So now I have to manage a lot more people. And one of the things we spent a lot of time with sellers on this idea of just anchoring value. The broader you go, often the better. You want to find one kind of thing that really… So it might be the quality manager that leans in the first, but we all know that you get momentum in sales, and then it goes dead because you can’t get budget or you can’t get timing. So the more they can do broader discovery… What’s in it for the production manager? What’s in it for the continuous improvement manager? What’s in it for the maintenance manager? You’re uncovering multiple buyer goals, multiple areas of buyer value.
Brent: Now, what you’ve not only done is increase your deal velocity because you can figure out which of those is the highest priority, which has the highest ROI case. But what you’ve also done is when you now hand off to your customer success team, you’ve actually created your expansion motion because you might only close with the continuous improvement person, but you’ve already surfaced it. Also, the quality and maintenance managers are interested. So I know mutual success planning is an old concept, but one that we think is critical in this current environment where you have a lot of stakeholders do broad discovery. And make sure you write down in a mutual success plan, what are we doing first? What’s part of phase one? What are the things that then once you hand off, could be part of phase two, phase three? What are the next goals that we’re going to share over?
Brent: So we’ve seen in a bunch of industries, Parable is one example, we did some work with a company called Burning Glass Technologies, which has a labor market data technology, and they sell a lot to higher education. Well, there are five departments they can sell to that want to know how does my degree connect to a job. Undergraduates increasingly are recruited, what’s the educational ROI to my degree? Professional schools, right? Different admission’s office. Career Services wants to tell that story. The academics want to design the right portfolio, and then the people that run continuing ed or workforce development. So the whole drill there to increase their account value was do broad discovery and then hand it off. So I think of there, we partnered with Ellen Mayes, and on the success side, a guy named Jeremy Kelly, and they just would do an awesome job of writing down a mutual success plan, “This is goal number one, two, three, four, five.”
Brent: And Ellen would write it down and she’d hand it off to Jeremy. And then Jeremy would do his customer success call saying, “Remember, we are going to start with number one, it’s undergraduate enrollments. But remember, back to the sales process, we can also help your career services office and your graduate enrollment. So as we go through this onboarding, I want you to think of the other ways this might work for you on your campus.” And then at the very end, he’d come back to, “Hey, have you thought of anybody?” And 50% of the time, he’d get an internal referral just by doing broad discovery on the range of buyer goals.
Brent: So the current digital environment challenge, buyers are much more informed, a lot more buyers in it. Opportunity, if we use it to our advantage to sort of identify a range of goals and then prioritize those goals.
John: Brent, very interesting your whole concept of value. And it’s pretty obvious how this can be terrific for larger companies. How about for the smaller companies, the ones under 100 million in sales or the so-called SME markets, smaller, medium-sized enterprises? You’ve got to kind of bring it down to their level, don’t you? Because there’s nowhere near as many buyers?
Brent: It’s interesting because Burning Glass is about a $20-25 million company, Parsable just under $20 million. The examples I shared in some ways that land and expand motion can be more fluid in the SMEs because your internal team communication in terms of what buyers have… as you build out your account plan, what buyers have we engaged? What buyers do we need to engage and be a little bit more fluid? I think that’s absolutely true, and what you said is that those SMEs have to be more cautious in how they verticalize to different personas.
Brent: You can’t invest in every persona.
Brent: So you have to do a much better job of figuring out what are my top personas, what are my next personas? But it’s a great point, you’re more resource-constrained, but I think there are opportunities for those sizes of companies as well.
John: Yeah. And it was just occurring to me that for you and your team you need success stories. And obviously, you need bigger companies to get bigger jobs. And so it seemed like to me, you all were focused mainly on the larger companies, but maybe that’s not true.
Brent: It’s a mix.
John: Ah, it’s good. Yeah. Great.
Brent: It’s a mix. I mean, generally, you have to get to some scale for the work we do to be interesting. But I think of… We had a really interesting engagement with a company called Verisk Analytics, and that’s a big… It’s a several billion-dollar company and it was the same principles, which is… It was a project where they started… I remember when Derek Peterson called me and he said, “We need negotiation training.” And I said, “We don’t do negotiation training.” And he started to talk through what he meant. He’s like, “Hey, my people leave a ton of money on the table. We have this unique data set that can help model risk pricing for insurance, or it can help you with your go-to-market strategy, what’s your addressable market. Nobody else has the data set. So we have this unique data set, we save our buyers sometimes five, 10, 20 million dollars a year, and they show up and they immediately cave on price. And they give away tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Brent: And I said, “Well, that sounds like a problem of positioning value, how early in the sales process are you building a business case and how often do you repeat it to your customers?” And so what’s interesting is even in those larger enterprise deals, this discipline of, “Do you in a first call, get your buyer to a success statement? And do you start to build a business case around that? And do you shape the whole arc of the sales conversation around continually bringing them back to what is the value for them, then changes the negotiation strategy.” Now, when I go into the pricing conversation, it’s not, “Here’s the scope of work, here’s what it costs.” It’s remember, “We agreed that we could reduce your risk pricing losses by 2%, that’s worth about 15 million dollars a year for you. Why wouldn’t you invest 5% of that with us to make sure that you have a high probability of realizing that outcome?” And now you stop and say, “Do you see that ROI case, that business case?” And it changes the nature of the negotiation.
John: And do you believe it?
Brent: Well, I mean you have to have built that business case with them, right?
John: Exactly. So it’s their data.
Brent: It’s their data.
Brent: I mean, there’s another story we tell in this book we have coming out, with Hertz who said, “Look, if we’re competing on price, that’s our problem.” And so they qualify buyers early on to the buyer’s value. They have all these technologies that support more effortless travel, save time for their road warriors, et cetera, save time on the bill reconciliation. If people don’t value those things, then they are competing on price, and probably not a good prospect. But if they do value those things, Beth and her team want to co-develop with the buyer on the other side… “What do you think the ROI case is? Let’s go through your processes. How much time could we save?” So that success statement or the business case has to be co-developed through the entire business process.
John: Yeah. And the other side of it is, part of the problem could be just a lack of training, whether it’s negotiation training, fundamental sales training, or the new neuroscience-based sales training.
John: The more I listen to you, the more it seems like our two companies could refer each other and collaborate.
Brent: Yeah, a 100%. I mean, I think… And Dave and I talked about this, I mean, engineers can be awesome salespeople because they’re very process-oriented, but they have to be trained in the selling skills.
John: Oh, no, totally agree. And sales aptitude is a big part of it as well.
John: And our study is about 50% of success for salespeople is aptitude.
John: So you want to make sure you’re going to get the right ones in the first place, obviously.
Brent: Yeah. I don’t know if there’s anything more you can say about that, it’s interesting just you have to recruit for the right talent, is the first hurdle.
John: Actually, I have a good case study… We’ll have a separate call, I’ll show you the case study, real short. And then maybe you could also show me one of your case studies, it might be interesting to see.
John: So now, let me ask this question, as you know the buyers are now going through their purchasing process pretty far before they reach out to us sellers. And pre-pandemic, it was 70%, they’re 70% of the way through their purchasing process because they can do all this, “Google, here’s my problem.” And Google solution, just keep doing research. And the latest data I’ve seen is now 90% of the way through their buying process before they talk to your company, or my company, or any other company, how are you all dealing with that as a company?
Brent: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great question. And we always encourage in a first call, or a call connect, the way you start is, where is the buyer in their journey around your product? So SmartAction, where are you in your journey in thinking about AI in your call centers or thinking about virtual agents? Burning Glass, where are you in your journey as a campus in using labor market data to help connect degrees to jobs? So 100% is you don’t know, so you got to ask. And then we always want people to ask at the outset, give a little quick overview on yourself because that’s courtesy, you asked for the call. But then, hey, and would love to know why you are here today. Are there one or two things you’re trying to get out of the call? So one or two things you’re working on that brought you here today.
Brent: So I think the instinct is strong, you can’t assume how much they know about your product, so just ask them.
John: No. Yeah.
Brent: We always say, if you ask good enough questions, your buyers will not only build the target for you, they’ll build the bullseye, but you got to ask.
John: Oh, it goes back to the reciprocity bias, and that is if you give the buyer the gift of really asking great questions or listening, they’ll return the gift immediately With deep insight into what’s going on. I know you know that already.
Brent: Well, no, but it’s a great term, the reciprocity gift. I like that.
John: It’s one of the cognitive biases.
John: Here’s one other thing that you may find interesting that applies to what you’re doing, so the Harvard sales department where you are, 42 years, great data, Harvard neural lab, 10 years. Now, they’ve been talking to each other for the last five years. Here’s what they’ve discovered, half the B2B buyers now will say solution selling is dead. And the reason is, buyers get real frustrated with salespeople who don’t know what the buyer knows they should know if they’ve done adequate research. And if you’re a salesperson now and you can get a pretty good idea of what the buyer’s looking for after rapport building, you start the conversation with, “Here’s our understanding of your needs… Bullet, bullet, bullet.” And then ask a simple question, “Do I have this about right?” In 95% of the cases, it caused a big conversation between the buyer and the seller which kind of naturally moves into the discovery process.
John: And now, instead of the buyer feeling very frustrated with those questions you mentioned like what keeps you up at night, now the buyer is very impressed. So that whole process is kind of moved with the percent of the way buyers are through their process before they contact us.
Brent: Yeah. Yeah, totally.
John: So the world is changing for us, Brent.
Brent: The world is changing. I mean a 100% of people are a lot more informed and they want to get quickly to how you can add value to what they’re working on.
John: So you got a book coming out, so why should the listeners buy your book?
Brent: I think because we build… I mean, in this book we outlined 30 different plays for how to anchor on what your buyers and customers care about the most.
Brent: And it’s driven by company stories, there are 20 plus company stories to motivate those plays. But what we say is, look, I mean to build this… We call it the authentic buyer and customer journey across your entire go-to-market team, that’s a lift. But honestly, every single play that you implement will lead to better outcomes for you and your buyer. So if you just committed to doing all of your pricing conversations, thinking about pricing as an investment, or you committed all your discovery conversations, not the shallow discovery as you call it, but the value discovery, like what’s the win for you? What will get you excited? Every one of those you commit to, your teams will get better. So I think that is the opportunity is, people can read it and we call all of these out, write bold call-outs page by page. I mean, you can just pick up one or two snippets in terms of, “Hey, which plan could I run forward with my team immediately and derive some value.”
John: Great. I’ve read about 300 sales books, I’d love to read your book. By the way, when will it be published?
Brent: It will be published in April of next year. So the-
John: So if you need somebody to pre-read, and give feedback, and give you a testimonial, I’m happy to do so.
Brent: Okay. We are right down locking down endorsements, so I will take you up on that.
John: Good. So I’ve written three sales books. I have another one coming out called The Future of Sales here at about… When is it, Dave? A couple of months, right?
Dave: In January.
John: Yeah. Okay, good.
Dave: And gentlemen, that’s all the time we have for today. It’s time for the wrap-up.
John: Wait a minute, you must be looking at the clock wrong, Dave.
Dave: It’s really fast today, a good conversation is always fast.
John: Really fast. Really, really fast.
John: So Brent, so great thing you came on, and I enjoyed this conversation. I learned a lot actually, which is great. So-
John: Thank you.
John: So if there was one, two, or three big things you could leave the listeners, what would those be? And of course, how can they get ahold of you if they like further info?
Brent: What I would encourage… The first thing, to answer your last question, is we have set up a website, it’s just authenticitywins.com. You’ll find information on our book. That will also redirect to winalytics.com, which is our corporate website.
Brent: But the two messages that I would leave people with is, one, where we started, which is in this environment, deeply informed buyers, think about what is your buyer’s success statement. Begin and end every conversation with, “Do I know enough about what my buyer’s success statement is? What’s going to get them excited about working with me? And the second thing is, that’s a really hard thing to do.
Brent: It means you got to commit to good discovery, you got to recap it, and you got to figure out at the end like, okay, who else has to buy into that success statement, because we know there are six to eight people? So develop your own and plays as a team… We have a book coming out with this… figure out how do you get quickest to your buyer’s success statement? And then practice, practice as a team, whether it’s call reviews, looking at emails, doing joined calls. I mean, something we talk about all the time is, one of the biggest gaps for go-to-market teams is, they may not have a playbook. They may not practice their playbook.
John: Oh, we teach like many other sales training institutes and that is, don’t role play in front of the customer.
Brent: I like that line. Right, it’s exactly… You know it, is most teams don’t practice before their live call.
Brent: So I think you got to figure out how do you get to your buyer’s value statement, success statement, and then you got to make time as a team to practice an hour a week either individually or in team-based sessions, just 3% of your time.
John: Yep. Agree.
Brent: Those are the two ideas, it sounds very aligned with your own, that I would share with your audience.
John: Yes, sir. Thanks so much. Thanks for coming on, Brent.
Brent: Thank you both.
Dave: And thank you both. And for our audience, be sure to look for Brent Keltner’s forthcoming book, The Revenue Acceleration.
Dave: And for our listeners, be sure to subscribe to Asher Strategies Radio on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast venue. You can also ask Siri or Alexa to play Asher’s Strategies Radio.
Dave: From now until we meet again, John Asher reminds us to please, please get out there and sell something.