Shannon Sullivan of Paperless Parts: “Build a rapport with your prospect”

Build a rapport with your prospect — Going back to building a relationship with a prospect so you don’t come across as phony, it’s equally as important to continue building a rapport throughout the sales cycle, so that you’re viewed as trustworthy and dependable. As a part of my series about how to be great at closing […]

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Build a rapport with your prospect — Going back to building a relationship with a prospect so you don’t come across as phony, it’s equally as important to continue building a rapport throughout the sales cycle, so that you’re viewed as trustworthy and dependable.

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 Shannon Sullivan.

Shannon Sullivan is a business development representative at Paperless Parts, where she builds relationships with customers and helps them improve their businesses by showcasing the value of Paperless Parts’ software. When not working, you can find Shannon cheering for the Red Sox and Tom Brady, going on runs and spending time with her Golden Retriever, Tessie.

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’ve been in the sales industry since graduating college. Prior to my current role at Paperless Parts, a software company that helps manufacturers modernize and grow, I was in the cybersecurity industry. I’ve worked at both startups and public companies and found myself drawn to the startup culture — everyone is supportive and there is a more tightknit culture. Although I hadn’t had much exposure to the manufacturing industry, I knew that Paperless Parts’ software was a gamechanger, and knew I wanted to be a part of the company. At first, I was told that I wouldn’t be hired, but I didn’t take no for an answer. I emailed the CRO and told him that I wanted to prove him wrong. He loved the grittiness. I’ve been with Paperless Parts since September 2020 and look forward to continuing to help the company grow.

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?

Recently, I found an enterprise-sized shop that I thought would be a good fit to speak with about the benefits of Paperless Parts’ software. Through my research, I identified the employee I wanted to contact, and upon calling, found myself speaking to the receptionist. After introducing myself and where I was calling from, she asked me if I was a solicitor and put me on hold. When she came back, she let me know that the employee wasn’t interested, and I asked if she could share more information as to why he wasn’t interested, but she wouldn’t provide details.

With this information, I decided to call the employee directly to hear why he wasn’t interested in learning about our company and software. The employee let me know that he had never heard of us and appreciated the call because they were in the midst of looking for new manufacturing software. From there, I was able to set up a more formal meeting that same night and close the deal within 15 days. This was a great win because it has been one of the biggest shops that we closed.

Although I was initially told no, I refused to let that stop me. In this situation, I knew that I had to be persistent and not give up, which is a constant reminder in sales.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Right now, we’re working on scaling Paperless Parts and growing our brand recognition. We know that our software makes a difference in hundreds of job shops across the country by allowing them to be more competitive and win more work. By scaling the business and reaching more shops, we’ll be able to empower more manufacturers. If you’re interested in joining a growing company, let’s connect!

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?

There are so many people who have helped me throughout my career. At my past company, I had two female colleagues who were both more seasoned salespeople, and I learned a lot from them. They told me that the most important thing when you’re handling a deal is that you have to be the quarterback — the prospect trusts you to help them, and your team knows that you’re going to get the job done.

Since I’ve been at Paperless Parts, our CEO, Jason Ray, and CRO, Mike Stankus, have had a huge impact on me, even in the short amount of time I’ve been at the company. If I’m having any trouble, I can call either of them to talk through strategies. Both have instilled confidence in me, and the wider sales team, about how important our role in the organization is, which makes us want to churn out great results.

People outside of my professional life have also impacted how I work, too. Rosemary Scapicchio, a criminal defense attorney known for the Netflix documentary Trial 4, is someone I admire greatly. She’s extremely intelligent and well-prepared to handle her cases, and when I start to get intimidated on calls, I try to channel her confidence and precision.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?

Since day one as a business development representative at my first job, I’ve always been at the top of the leaderboards. Even at Paperless Parts, I ended my most recent quarter at 200% of my goal. I tend to be hard on myself and go at 100% or nothing at all. In sales, that’s a good thing. I like to say that you need to ride the wave: some days are good and you ride that momentum, but when you’re having a bad day, you have to ride it out and remind yourself that you’ll survive and come out on top. This mantra has helped me throughout my career and helped me get to the top of those respective leaderboards.

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?

2020 has taught me that it’s really important to appreciate the little things in life. During challenging times over the last year, I turned to outlets that allowed me to be creative or helped me get my mind off of the news cycle. In August, I started a podcast called “The Best Day of My Life,” where I ask my guests to relive the best day of their life. My goal with the podcast is to help others get an inside look into the guest’s story and feel the emotions that the guests felt. Since launching, I’ve interviewed people such as Chris Herren, former NBA player and owner of Herren Wellness; Commander Ken Meehan of the Navy; and Samantha Rinaldi, MasterCycle instructor. This year, I want to be more consistent on recording and publishing episodes.

Beyond my podcast, exercise has been a huge help since the COVID-19 pandemic set in. I’ve always loved running, and I was fortunate that even when gyms shut down, I was still able to maintain my routine by running outside. I also think it’s important to check in on family and friends and see how they’re doing without focusing too much on the news cycle.

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?

In my view, sales isn’t always taught in school because it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. I’ve found that in order to be a good salesperson, you have to be willing to develop your own method and continually work at it every day. In school, I think there’s a need to teach students the importance of communication, asking the right questions and handling negotiations. These skills are valuable and apply to professions beyond sales. Teaching these fundamentals will help those who choose a career in sales develop their own methods so that they can be successful.

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?

I do think that it is something to be avoided — we’ve all had experiences where we are bothered in a store by a pushy sales associate, and it comes across as phony to the customer or prospect. If you can establish yourself as a person who asks questions to build a rapport and a relationship, you position yourself less salesy and more interested in helping their situation.

However, there is a time when a salesperson can push, and that is when a prospect or a customer stops answering. When I find myself in a situation where a prospect has not been answering my calls, I usually send emails before a scheduled call that say, “Are you going to leave me at the altar tomorrow?,” or, “Permission to close your file?” and these emails usually get me responses. I believe it’s okay to be pushy in this situation because you don’t want to waste a prospect’s time, and they should be respectful of the salesperson’s time as well.

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?

One thing I love about sales is the ability to get creative when I know there is a company that would benefit from Paperless Parts’ software, so prospecting and approach are the two stages where I excel. I know who my target audience is, which helps me identify the right prospects, and the approach stage allows me to express my creativity.

For example, there was a prospect I wanted to land and wasn’t getting a response. Looking a bit deeper, I saw that he had two kids and thought that sending him a dad joke would get his attention. I framed the joke as one he could share with his kids and said that I hoped to hear from him soon. Shortly after that, the prospect responded to me and said he appreciated the effort I put into my approach and he would schedule a conversation. It was great to land a conversation with this prospect and it reinforced my belief that salespeople need to use every tool available to them to be successful.

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?

Like I mentioned above, using every tool at your disposal is so important for salespeople to remember. Whether it’s platforms like ZoomInfo or LinkedIn to identify the right employees at a particular company, or social media like Facebook and Twitter to see how you can make a personal connection in your approach, doing your research and finding a connection gives you a better chance of landing a conversation with your prospect.

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’?

To be better at handling objections, it really comes down to knowing your product. For example, in the manufacturing industry, prospects ask very in-depth and technical questions. To best address those questions, it’s important that you know the product and can anticipate what they’re going to ask before they ask it. Being prepared and knowing the product inside out ensures you come off sincere rather than just repeating the same old sales pitch.

‘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.

  1. Build a rapport with your prospect — Going back to building a relationship with a prospect so you don’t come across as phony, it’s equally as important to continue building a rapport throughout the sales cycle, so that you’re viewed as trustworthy and dependable.
  2. Remember the little things — When following up with one of my clients, I remembered that we had discussed his plans for Christmas, so in an email, I made sure to bring those plans up. Remembering the personal details shows prospects and clients that you care about them as people and are not just trying to push a product.
  3. Respect their timeline — If I’m doing a demo but I know the prospect isn’t planning on buying for a few months, I know that there isn’t a need for me to continually follow up.
  4. Be knowledgeable about your prospect’s problem — Understanding a prospect’s issues and what they are trying to solve helps you explain how and why your software will help solve for that problem — or multiple ones. Remember, at the end of the day, you have to sell the value of your product.
  5. Provide successful customer stories and facts — Having demonstrable results from other clients shows the prospect exactly what he or she can expect from an ROI standpoint. For example, Paperless Parts can help estimators send quotes out in 20 minutes instead of two hours.

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?

It’s okay to follow up to come to a resolution when a prospect is not returning calls or emails. At that point, it’s okay to ask him or her where they stand, especially if there are metrics that need to be met. I also think that it comes down to respecting each other’s time — by sending a quick, “Thanks, but not at this time,” email, the salesperson and the prospect can turn their attention to other matters.

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?

When closing a deal, I never use text messages. Since there are multiple people involved, it would be easy for information to get buried or lost in a text message chain. However, texting prospects is okay if they have texted you in the past to initiate the conversation, or if they let you know that text is the best way to reach them. I find that earlier on in the relationship, emails work best. As the relationship progresses, I schedule phone calls to continue building the rapport.

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. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement, I’d want to empower women and girls to become saleswomen and know that they can be great in this field. This starts with instilling confidence into young girls. A common misconception that I’ve noticed is that some people, especially women, feel that they don’t have the grittiness or don’t think they can endure the grind found in sales. However, I know a lot of women who have been successful in sales, and I have experienced more success than a few of my male colleagues. I’d want to show these young girls role models they can look up to and understand they can also be great in male-dominated industries. Even as a woman working in the manufacturing industry, which is also historically male-dominated, I’ve felt welcomed and supported by my colleagues, and the industry has evolved.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn, and make sure to check out my podcast!

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

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