Consider the buying personas: Companies don’t buy — people do. In a typical B2B scenario there will be multiple personas involved in the buying decision.
I had the pleasure interviewing Sean Broderick. Sean Broderick is the Senior Manager for Product Marketing at Upland Software and is passionate about Sales Enablement. He is an Ambassador for the Product Marketing Alliance and host of the Upland Altify podcast, Revenue Optimization Radio. Sean has spent over a decade working in product marketing management roles in B2B and B2C spaces and resides in Dublin, Ireland.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?
Ireland is a small market so it forces everyone to look outside it’s shores for growth. I graduated from Northeastern University in Boston and moved straight to Japan, to work in Sales for a communication devices company. I spent a decade in telecoms in Ireland in both B2C and B2B companies working with sales teams throughout that time. When I had the chance to work for Upland Altify, the experts in the science of selling, I jumped at the chance.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?
About 12 years ago, I met my now wife while working in the telecommunications company eir. We were together for about a year when I took a job in Virgin Media. It was a great move for my career, and our relationship
Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Are you working on any exciting new projects now?
At Upland Software we’ve been working on pioneering the Customer Revenue Optimization (CRO) category, and we recently launched an enhanced product innovation of the Enterprise Sales & Marketing (ESM) Cloud, which extends that vision. Our ESM Cloud delivers strategy, methodology, best practices, and a suite of industry-leading solutions to help synchronize B2B revenue teams to deliver customer value across the entire buyer journey. In doing so, it is built to drive CRO by enabling revenue teams to connect to customer needs, buying processes and desired outcomes, from initial lead, through relevant and timely content, to customer advocacy with the mutual goal to drive value and revenue growth.
How do you think that will help people?
The revenue team helps people by ensuring their buying experience offers value at every interaction. The revenue team refers to sales and marketing teams. The benefit of the revenue team to the customer is an increase in win rates and improvement of sales execution.
Our ESM Cloud also helps salespeople through its sales-specific solutions, including Sales Process Management, Opportunity Management, Account Management, Content Operations Management, Proposal Management, and Customer Reference Management. These solutions were designed to help guide sellers to follow a structured, proven sales process that improves their ability to deliver a winning outcome for both the seller and the customer. It also automates coaching and content to enable sellers to deepen their understanding of the buyer’s business, ensure messaging is consistent and personalized, with the key goal of leaving the customer satisfied.
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?
I spent 7 years in Openet Telecom and although I learned a lot from many people in that business, the one who stands out is Jon Ross. He was Head of Product Management there and is now Director of Mobile at Zendesk.
Can you share a story about that?
He poached me from Marketing and brought me into Product Management. During that time I learned so much about how products and companies work. He always had my back and supported me on good days and bad.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
Having operated in product marketing and management roles in the B2B and B2C space throughout my career, I know it takes more than a handshake to win deals and that focusing on providing real value to the customer at every point of interaction is critical. I have a deep understanding that the combination of more time spent on humanizing processes and a shift in focus to the customer will help sales leaders more effectively target. This in turn will enable these leaders to evolve the skills to develop their sales funnel, to drive consistent interaction and optimized results from qualification to close.
Shifting 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?
Upland Software believes in approaching families and loved ones with empathy during this time. We believe that by driving home this empathetic approach, this will strengthen the connection for the buyer to not feel like “just another touchpoint.” If you are a customer today and have a pressing need to execute broad customer or employee communications regarding this crisis, we stand ready to help!
Back to the main core of the 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?
This is a question I struggle to get my head around. According to HBR 50% of US college graduates will work in sales at some point. You meet swathes of people with Marketing, HR or Accounting degrees but very few with a sales degree. Perhaps the people with the knowledge on how to teach it best, prefer being out in the market closing deals and making money!
This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”, 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?
Sales must be all about the customer. It must be authentic, informed and grounded in the customer’s success. In today’s landscape, successful customer engagement that results in long term customer relationships and revenue growth encompasses the best of strategic communication, but at the individual customer level — so sellers need to interact with customers based on their preferences.. This is where I believe sales and marketing need to converge — not just on aligning with each other but on aligning around the customer.
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?
We make the B2B buying journey simpler and more connected by shifting away from a siloed model and focusing our efforts on curating revenue teams that work together to drive revenue by providing customer value. I’m happy to share that CRO is the driving force behind this shift, and it is refreshing processes from content operations, through sales and proposal management, to post-implementation reference management that ultimately feeds back into the content and sales cycles.
What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill?
For customers, a revenue optimization model means the delivery of continuous value throughout their buying journeys. Salespeople must offer value at every touchpoint from inception to close. This concept along with providing the right information at the right time, allows the customer to have a personalized buying journey that builds an authentic relationship and makes customers more likely to turn into your advocates by the end. Overall, the revenue team works together to build up a pipeline, improve win rates and provide valuable insights throughout buyer journeys in order to, ultimately, achieve an acceleration in sales velocity.
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?
Sales professionals must communicate with buyers to understand their desired outcome before pushing their own product. In short, a one-size-fits-all approach is what not to do. Companies look to salespeople as trusted allies in the search for a solution to fill a need they have, yet customers and prospects today are well informed and thus more demanding than ever before. To generate good, qualified leads, every sale must be tailored to the specific needs and desired outcomes of each particular customer or prospect, understanding their organizational structure and their buying process. Each interaction with the customer — whether it involves marketing, customer success, sales or even finance and legal — will yield valuable information that helps deliver value and unlock new revenue opportunities. Every conversation with a customer or prospect is an opportunity to demonstrate credibility, bringing insight to the conversation, creating and delivering — not just communicating — value.
In my (editor’s) 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?
Until value exists in the mind of a customer, any price will remain too high. To effectively handle objections, a salesperson must:
Be able to express value, clearly: You need to be able to articulate clearly the value of your complete product or service offering in terms the customer understands and values.
Engage with only well-qualified leads: Time is gold! In the complex selling space, you must spend a considerable amount of time sourcing resources, curating relationships, gaining access at multiple layers in an organization, examining how your solution can be applied best to the customer’s business, and determining how you can add value best. Overall, make sure to select customers and opportunities well, and then decide to do what it takes to win those deals.
What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?
In the end, the ability to handle objections well all comes down to the individual sales professional and their relationship with the customer. People buy from people they like. People buy from professionals. Most of all, they buy from people they can trust. The following attributes are fundamental for success:
Effective communication and presentation skills: A salesperson is an effective messenger whose verbal communications, presentations and proposals are informative, inclusive, inviting of comment, context-sensitive, substantive, and powerful.
Negotiation skills: Seasoned sales professionals will have practiced their negotiation techniques, understanding the structures of strategy and counter-strategy, and know how to satisfy needs by uncovering them whilst knowing when to walk away. Negotiation requires clarification of assumptions — yours and theirs, and the ability to separate real interests from cemented positions. Remember as you sell, objection is often about negotiation of information.
‘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?
Sales professionals need to look inwards and lean on strong customer relationships in order to close deals. Bottom line, strong customer relationships are crucial, and every interaction has value — no matter who it’s with or the circumstances. Whether it’s a reaffirmation of an existing relationship or an expansion into new ground, every conversation with the customer is important. The key to elevating and expanding your relationships to successfully close deals comes down to five key principles:
- Start with the ‘typical’ customer problem scenario: All customers are different, but few have truly unique problems — just problems that are not sufficiently well understood at a detailed level in the context of that customer.
- Consider the buying personas: Companies don’t buy — people do. In a typical B2B scenario there will be multiple personas involved in the buying decision.
- Make it interesting — add intrigue: While it is important to address the buyer’s stated needs, and demonstrate your understanding of how the buyer might deploy your solution to meet those needs, it is a lot more valuable if you can create that ‘Aha’ moment. You want to teach the customer something that you want them to learn. You have to bring something new and intriguing to the table and make it interesting.
- Lead to your solution!: This is where sales enablement and product marketing / management teams converge to deliver dramatic value to the sales team by synthesizing those specific capabilities that your product uniquely delivers that the customer should value, based on your understanding of their business.
- Do not overtly self-promote: In every interaction you should provide intrinsic value. Bear in mind that you are asking the buyer to spend their time consuming whatever you provide, you should be using each touchpoint to build credibility.
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?
Sales forecasting is notoriously inaccurate. On average, just one in four deals close as predicted. Statistically, that’s worse than flipping a coin. It’s worse than guessing. In order to follow up and bring things to a conclusion, you should make sure you have automated visibility into what changed in your key deals since your last touchpoint, so you can spend time talking about what to do next. After all, following up is just another opportunity to strengthen the relationship.
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?
Sales teams, more than any other profession in my opinion, are cognizant that successful communication with leads and prospects is mission-critical. Whether it be by email, Zoom, a phone call, or text, it’s important to leave a personal touch from inception to close. Personalization enables a true relationship and trust to be developed between two parties and can go a long way in sales since there is an opportunity to establish authentic connections at all stages of the sales cycle. If you’re doing this, the mode of communication is secondary.
Here is the 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. 🙂
All employees and particularly salespeople give so much of themselves to their jobs. If their physical or mental health fails them, they need to be supported by their employers with full pay. This is particularly important in the midst of a pandemic that we are experiencing now. Removing that financial stress is a massive boost to anyone’s recovery.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you for all of these great insights!