Pushes and follow-ups enforcement, constant contact with the client from my experience is very rarely perceived badly. It’s a bit of an approach. If you are a salesman and you piss people off at cold calls, then, of course, it should be avoided! But if you simply contact after the sales openings and you very clearly stick to a certain framework, this is the right move. People in the sales process like to be held by the hand. When they know what the next steps are, what value the next step gives, and that they have the salesperson as a kind of tutor in the whole process. In my experience, being pushy isn’t bad at all. It forces the customer to make a decision. Either you lead you down and you won’t waste any more time, or you will actually prove client of your worth. Win-win for both parties.
As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jan Kamiński, Co-Founder and Head of Sales at Applover, a full-stack digital agency, honored in 2019 by Deloitte as the “Rising Star” in the CEE region and as a Fast 50 company in 2020. Forbes 25 under 25 nominee. Startup enthusiast. He believes that building long-lasting business relationships is the key to success.
Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?
I started as a lawyer, so looking back, so in my opinion, almost everyone, even without a technical background, can really sell in the IT industry or at the tech startup. I was 22 when with today’s Applover’s founders, we started our first startup — Footsteps (mobile city guide). We knew each other from high school and through friends. While the company itself did not survive due to the weak business model, we decided that we got along well as a team and it may be worth trying to build something else, in the IT service sector. This is how Applover was founded and our journey begins.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Just like our first company was on the verge of collapse — 2 founders got out of the business very quickly. The core remains and still manages Applover today. In short, I learned that trust between people is built for years, and it can be lost in 2 hours. Additionally, the team is the most important in the early stages of business, the persistence of your partners, associates and mutual support is perhaps the least appreciated value when starting from scratch with no guarantee of success. Remember that 9 out of 10 startups fail, so it is worth having someone with whom you can reflect your worries on a similar level of the horizon because you will not communicate to employees that in a month there may be no payouts. On the other hand, in order not to be so depressive, small successes should also be celebrated and it is worth having a solid team for this. 🙂
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Every project is in some way exciting — may it be a technological challenge or an innovative digital product. We are working with several interesting companies in the MedTech industry. We have just developed a great app that helps connects patients with doctors and provides the most important updates on the Covid-19 pandemic and discoveries. LabPlus is available in Poland and is getting more and more popular. Moreover, we are working on a very innovative product for Steppie, recently noticed by Business Insider as an Insurance Fintech startup to watch. It is a product that encourages healthy lifestyle habits which translates into insurance discounts and extra bonuses for its users. I strongly believe that this product will encourage people to be more active, take these 10k steps each day to pay less for insurance. When the pandemic became our new reality, we joined Tech to the Rescue initiative and helped one of the NGOs — altruisto. It allows users to donate to charity, now to help fight Covid-19 while shopping. Especially right now, I know it is really important and can help a lot of people. What is more, users can feel more encouraged to give some money back for a good cause when it is so easy with a plugin at their browser. We work on digital products like that from the very beginning of Applover.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have very fond memories of the support of the initial mentors who we managed to meet at Acceleration for Young Companies in Gdańsk, Poland (Starter Rocket). Today, this program does not exist anymore, but in my opinion, it was one of the best preparation for young entrepreneurs to go out into the wider waters. Moreover, it gave us minimal capital to start our own company. Series of workshops, networking as well as these relationships were invaluable in the next steps of Applover’s development. Today, in retrospect, experienced entrepreneurs gave us a lot of attention and time at calls, meetings, workshops, and then we were kind of kids playing business. It seems to me that these meetings were personally memorable and they were the foundation of my decisions that if I had achieved such success as they had, I would like to share it with younger and less experienced people than me. It is too early at the moment, when Applover will go public in a few years, which is our plan, it will be possible to look back and start thinking about mentoring startup founders. I certainly hope so, to give back in the future.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
I always assumed that I would rather not make a career, but I can make a sensation. 😉 I am not an authority, but I can boast of numbers, in 2 years I closed or managed people closing contracts for over PLN 8 million. It seems to me that I can share my experience with scaling sales of a company that has been growing at a rate of over 100% y / y for 4 years and employs almost 60 people. Remember, however, that my experience is basically in the sale of services and quite complicated processes, because of software development. While I started with selling products — selling white-label applications in the most difficult industry on earth — business 2 government. Nevertheless, at the moment I feel most strongly in services.
As Head of Sales at Applover, I manage a brilliant Sales team and trying to inspire and motivate them on an everyday basis.
Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
First of all, think of others — cover your face with a mask in the public space and do as much as you can and feel fine with. Maybe you can donate a bit to help fight the global pandemic. But most importantly, do not fake anything. Be as transparent as possible. It is our rule at Applover, even when times are tough — communicate as transparently as you can with your team and people you care about. Moreover, make sure you provided as much information and support as possible. Ask your beloved ones or your team, what they need, what would make them feel better, what would make them work more efficiently, etc. Be empathetic and do not belittle anyone’s’ needs — you never know how their life situation looks like and what can make it better. It may be new equipment to work more efficiently and play or it may be different working hours to take care of attention-demanding kids.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versatile topics, is totally ignored?
It seems to me that if the world consisted of people with the souls of salespeople it would be terrible. Everyone would be asking questions and not waiting for answers. 🙂
Rather, here lies the problem of sales. Often, salespeople focus on themselves and what they offer, not listening to the customer at all. When I started, I usually started meetings with company presentations. A mistake, it was enough to talk to the client about his problems. Suddenly, the 15-minute intro meetings turned into 2-hour chats.
However, I am not a fan of formal sales education at school ( let people read poetry and integrals). It seems to me that these topics should rather be covered in schools for managers/business and from what I know, e.g. the best MBA programs have very widely taught sales basics. The “Challenger Sale” book describes the lone wolf persona as super-effective salespeople. It’s not that just one type of person and persona twists the results. Everyone has their own ways, tricks, processes that can work best for them. Of course, it is worth gaining different perspectives and feedback from others, but let’s not close ourselves to one specific way to do it. I just believe that you need to be authentic to be an effective salesperson.
This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?
Actually, I do not agree. Pushes and follow-ups enforcement, constant contact with the client from my experience is very rarely perceived badly. It’s a bit of an approach. If you are a salesman and you piss people off at cold calls, then, of course, it should be avoided! But if you simply contact after the sales openings and you very clearly stick to a certain framework, this is the right move. People in the sales process like to be held by the hand. When they know what the next steps are, what value the next step gives, and that they have the salesperson as a kind of tutor in the whole process. In my experience, being pushy isn’t bad at all. It forces the customer to make a decision. Either you lead you down and you won’t waste any more time, or you will actually prove client of your worth. Win-win for both parties.
The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?
There are no shortcut tricks in the sale, but there is one element completely forgotten by sales teams that I would like to focus on. Preparation for the meeting. Check your prospectus before calling or chatting. Visit their social media profiles, a LinkedIn profile of the person you are meeting with, read about them in the press (if it’s a founder and they have any publications). See the company’s offer and price list. Nothing can surprise you at this meeting. On the contrary, you will surprise the prospect with your knowledge of their business. Remember that sales are supposed to sell value. It’s hard to sell it, however, if you can’t cover this value with some history, data that will ensure your preparation before the meeting. In my career, I don’t even want to count the leads that I burned with the “I’ll come in and sell” approach without proper research before the meeting.
Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously, every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
To generate good, qualified leads we use our network. As I mentioned before, our network began to build in the early stage of our careers and it is still working pretty well. Moreover, we use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to generate more leads. Our sales team highly value it, this tool is easy to use, highly intuitive and really helps us in everyday work. Moreover, we generate leads through our Clutch profile which is often used when it comes to B2B services. We also use Hubspot and we highly recommend this tool for marketing and sales operations. The more sales actions you can automate, the better and easier for you. But whatever tool you use, you need to communicate how you can meet the needs of your potential clients. Always make them the center of your attention. Don’t focus on yourself, don’t talk too much about your company — have in mind your client, their problems and challenges.
In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?
Well, it is a very individual matter and I would like to return to the previous answer. In life, you will not be prepared for any challenge from the client and their objections if you do not know them if you do not prepare for the meeting and do not anticipate possible questions in advance. For example, your prospect has just collected an investment round. You found out about it from Crunchbase, thanks to which you can easily break all price affronts that your product is, let’s say, too expensive for their estimated budget. They have the opportunity to check it, because they have been given a development round.
In another case, the marketing manager of the company you are meeting with has joint contact with you on LinkedIn (your colleague from the same industry), during the conversation you accidentally ask them about it. This way, you have just acquired a potential referrer, etc. Preparation for the meeting and lead analysis is the prediction of any objections your lead may have. We always do it, and from my experience, I cannot imagine a better strategy to handle objections from the client.
‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.
- Timing is key, it does not seem to be super innovative, but from my experience, it is worth analyzing your sales cycles well. Before closing, ask your prospect directly → what makes you not convinced yet? It really used to be an ultra salesman from a cheap sales manual, but it works.
- Be sure to offer your client exactly what they need. Don’t stretch anything, it always comes up. Offer them what they need, no less, no more if they are not interested. After they see how you work, there will be time for an up-sell. The satisfied client almost always comes back or recommends your services to others.
- Be transparent — communicate how actually you can help your client. If you will not provide satisfactory services to your clients it even worse than if they would not buy your services. The unsatisfied client will tell many people about their dissatisfaction. Always remember that. Don’t make fake promises.
- Be straight with your client. After all, you are both here for a reason. The prospectus knows you’re selling your product or services, you know it too. Addressing the last doubts at the right moment (after heating the lead) is crucial. And let’s not be afraid to communicate certain things directly to the prospect.
- Be human. You would be surprised how much more you can win when you show some empathy rather than being pushy and demanding.
Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?
The best strategy in this aspect is simply — do it. With us, in the case of an outbound, most leads come only after sending 1 or 2 follow-ups. People are busy, especially the management of the companies you are reaching out to. So remind them, effectively. Try to make contact in a natural and human way. Do not follow-up after a week, because you don’t do it by talking to your accountant. Follow up every 2–3 days. It is not overeager, it is human.
As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?
I personally hate cold calling, but I heard it can sell well too. Maybe I just have too little experience with them. In my opinion, it is not that there is a better or worse communication channel, it is just the way you do it. I find that it works best when you differentiate contact in b2b.
Mail — mail — mail — mail — mail
Another bad example:
Phone call — phone call — phone call — phone call
Mail — phone call — LinkedIn Message — Google ads — mail — phone call — LinkedIn Message, etc.
Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I just believe that if you are given something, try to give back. Do good and give back. If you lucky enough to not struggle during the global pandemic, right now, try to help others. At Applover, we are often operating with this idea in mind. That was why we decided to join Tech to the Rescue initiative and support NGOs that help fight the Covid-19 pandemic, as mentioned earlier Altruisto.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow me on LinkedIn, where I try to share some updates from Applover’s life. Moreover, to be always updated on what is happening at Applover, you can follow us on social media and visit our blog.
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!