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Studies In Selling: One On One With Steven Benson

I spoke to Steven Benson, CEO of Badger Maps and formerly Google Enterprise’s top performing salesperson in the world, about his best sales advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your best sales advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. How did you get here?

Steven: I started Badger Maps in 2012 because I was frustrated by having a problem no one was solving. I knew a lot of other people had the same problem, and I believed it could be solved with software. The way I got into that position was that my career has been spent in field sales, and so I understood the challenges faced by field sales people first hand. When working on the Google Maps team, I got to know how powerful mobile mapping could be and had experience with the types of solutions and apps that mobile was enabling. I was uniquely positioned to solve this problem of field sales given my background in sales and working on the Google Maps team.

In the last years, we brought more and more people on board at Badger Maps and have been growing a lot, opening offices in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Spain and the Philippines. There has been so much professional and personal growth within our team and I’m very thankful to be a part of it and witness the great development and growth of my employees and the business.

Adam: What is the single biggest sales mistake you have ever made and what did you learn from it?

Steven: The biggest mistake I ever made in sales was confusing the words ‘could’ and ‘would.’ When I was in a sales role at a large company early in my career, I had a prospect that needed a feature added to our product. The deal was worth $500k a year to the company (and a nice commission for me). I spoke with the Product Manager and they told me the feature would take 1 engineer 3 weeks to build, and that they ‘could’ build it.

What I didn’t get was the Product Manager’s commitment that they ‘would’ build it. Nor did I get a commitment to a timeframe. The customer signed the deal and paid us, but the Product team had other priorities than building the feature for this customer. In the end, it took about 8 months for the feature to actually get built, and only with a lot of pressure being applied to the engineering and product teams from the sales executives.

Even though the feature did get built, the customer was furious, so no one was happy with the result. An important lesson for me as a salesperson was that you have to make sure everyone involved in a deal is aligned on the details - both internally and externally.     

Adam: In your experience, what are the key pitfalls to succeeding in sales and how can you overcome them?

Steven: The place where I see most sales reps fail is in not learning enough about their customers needs or problems. Instead of listening, reps sometimes hear a few things and then launch into a pitch that focuses on the features of their product or service.
Steven: The place where I see most sales reps fail is in not learning enough about their customers needs or problems. Instead of listening, reps sometimes hear a few things and then launch into a pitch that focuses on the features of their product or service.

Really great reps are so genuinely curious about their customers that they learn all about them and really hear what they are saying so that they truly empathize and understand their problems and needs. Then they are able to precisely map their product or service to that customer’s unique situation.

Adam: What are your three best tips when it comes to selling?

Steven: First, you need to become really good at listening and asking your prospects the right questions. I have found time and time again in sales, taking the time to understand my customer’s business drivers has allowed me to differentiate my solution over my competitors.

My second advice is to optimize your sales process by breaking it down into stages and specific skills. Determine which skills are crucial to the success of your sales team and make a list of those skills. Then coach your reps on those key skills and also have them coach each other if there are some reps that are particularly great at certain things.

Finally, always spend more time than you think you need to generate new leads. Many reps spend a lot of their time leaning on deals and trying to speed up the natural sales cycle to get deals done. If they had spent more time generating more leads sooner, the sales cycle would have started earlier and finished earlier without having to jam it into a shorter sales cycle (often with discounts that made it less valuable anyway).

Adam: Describe your sales methodology. Have you found that different types of prospects are responsive to different to types of styles, and if so, do you adapt your style to the type customer you are selling to?

Steven: My sales methodology is to be consultative and helpful. I try to be a provider of value and resources wherever I can. And you can’t be helpful unless you are asking the right questions, and truly hearing the answers to those questions.

You always have to adapt your style to the different types of customers that you sell to. The biggest differences that I notice are:

  1. Different roles - If you are selling something to a business executive vs. IT or a frontline manager, you will need to sell differently. Know what your customer cares about.
  2. Different industries - They have different needs and priorities, buy things differently, and have different budgets. Adjust accordingly.
  3. Different sizes - Big companies are more conservative and move slower, but the deals are bigger. You need to be patient, but it’s worth it. Small companies can make decisions faster and with fewer people involved, but the deal is often a lot smaller.

Adam: What sets your approach apart from others in your industry? Describe your industry and your best tips specific to selling within it.

Steven: We’re in the SaaS industry, providing a software that helps outside salespeople work more efficiently and close more deals. Since we have created a new category of software, our biggest competitor is our user doing what we do by hand. They have been solving the problem we solve with Badger Maps by hand for years and our biggest job is letting them know that we can solve it for them.

As field salespeople are always on the move, they need mobile solutions more than anyone and Badger stands out with a great mobile experience, not just  desktop. The biggest other products that we have seen people using are MapPoint and Streets and Trips, which were both ways to do similar things but on a desktop computer.

My best advice for selling in the SaaS industry is to clearly structure your sales process. First, define your demand generation techniques that drive awareness with potential buyers. We get a lot of referrals from people using our product - focus on making your customers successful and they will tell people about you.

I also recommend offering a free trial. People appreciate the transparency of being able to take the solution out for a test drive. By the time they are making the purchasing decision, they are comfortable with what they are getting, which really reduces the risk of a purchase.

Adam: What do you believe is the hardest step in the sales process and how can it best be navigated?

Steven: The hardest and most misunderstood step is what I call the ‘qualification and discovery’ phase, where you need to ask your prospect the right questions to find out what their specific needs and problems are. I like the word ‘discovery’ because it helps me stay in the mindset that I am curious and want to discover things about my prospect.

With respect to qualification, it is crucial to ask the right questions because it will help you find out whether the prospect is a good fit for your solution and if they’re ready to make the next step in the sales cycle. The questions depend on how your customers could go down the funnel and it’s different for every company. I see way too many just use a default like BANT which is a mistake.

On discovery, focus the conversation on the prospect, not you and your product. Listen more than you talk. Have a list of questions ready that you need answers to. You should ask questions that help you find out whether the prospect is actually experiencing the problem you solve and what impact the problem has on their organization at large. Understand your customers business and what they are trying to do, and be able to empathize with them before you start talking about your product.  

Adam: What are your best tips for improving your close rate?

Steven: So many sales reps think the problem is in the way they are closing, when really, the problem is that you’ve walked a deal through your sales process that never should have been there in the first place.

If you want to improve your close rate, you need to look at your qualification process first and the types of questions that you are asking up front. Are the questions eliciting responses from the prospect that help you evaluate whether they’re a good fit for your solution and whether they can move forward with the deal? Not all leads that match your customer profile can or should be pursued. If you only invest time and efforts on leads that have the potential to convert, you’ll ultimately close more deals.

Adam: What is your best advice around making the ask?

Steven: Give to get. If you are asking something, whether it is for a close or a meeting, you need to be giving. Always look to provide value where you can for your customers so that they feel like they are getting a lot, then they are happy to give you what you want in return.

Adam: Language is obviously very important throughout the sales process. What are key phrases or words you have found have helped or hurt your chances of success?

Steven: I like to say “I think it would be appropriate if we”. Because no one likes to disagree with something that is appropriate.
Steven: I like to say “I think it would be appropriate if we”. Because no one likes to disagree with something that is appropriate.

I also like to ask “Would you be opposed to…” because people don’t like to oppose things.

Put yourself on the same side of the table as your prospect by using “We” instead of “I.” Use team language.

I like to say “Yes, And” and I avoid saying: “Yes, But.” Even if you disagree, do it in an agreeable way.

When a prospect says something that I agree with, I like to say, “That makes a lot of sense.” It really validates what they have said and makes them feel heard.

I like the word “impacted” because it shows cause and effect. For example, “How has that impacted your sales cycle or sales numbers?” Then you can map your solution to the customers results.  

Adam: On a scale of 1-10, how important are ethics to succeeding in sales? Explain.

Steven: I’ve watched the software industry really transform over my career on this one. When I started out, a software purchase was a one time thing. How successful a customer was with your product was often not that important. The goal was to maximize the potential value of this one deal.

Today, the majority of software is paid for monthly or annually, so a customer’s happiness and success with the product is of utmost importance. If they aren’t happy, they will stop paying. They are also empowered to spread the word about their bad experience on various platforms. Therefore, software companies invest a lot in helping the customer roll out the software successfully, and usually have Customer Success Associates (CSA’s) that help customers stay successful. Companies are behaving in a much more ethical way today than they were in 2008. Word travels fast, and ethics are more important than ever.

Adam: What is your best advice on how to best manage and stay on top of leads?

Steven: Having all the information about leads and customer in one place allows reps to connect with them in a more authentic way while increasing their productivity. Every company should have some type of CRM or similar tool to help their reps stay on top of deals and make sure they don’t miss any opportunities. The tool should enable them to see in which stage of the sales cycle leads are, keep track of information gathered about them, and any additional things that are relevant to moving the deal down the line. If your reps can’t handle all the incoming leads, they need to qualify who they are choosing to spend time with harder.

Adam: What is the single best piece of sales advice you have ever received?

Steven: Mark Flessel, the manager of my sales team when I was at Google, was always telling me to “Slow down and listen.” I was too eager to jump into talking about our product. He was like a record player on repeat with this piece of coaching and he was right every time

Adam: What sale are you proudest of? Walk through how you made it happen and its significance.

Steven: The sale that I’m proudest of was not my hardest. It was the first big company to buy Badger Maps in a short period of time. It was exactly a 9-day sales cycle for a 6-figure deal.

The reason I was so proud of this sale was that I was able to understand what the prospect needed and provide them with it in just a few days. And they were able to kick the tires on our product and verify that it met their needs and did what they needed it to do in the same period - which represented a big accomplishment for our company too.

Adam: What is one thing everyone can do tomorrow to become better at selling?

Steven: Everyone can sit down and listen to the sales pitches of a few of the best people on their sales team. Record the pitch, and go back and study it. Pay careful attention to the questions, the phrases, the pauses, the positioning they use. Write it down and craft the words of what a great call sounds like. Combine the different pitches into one outstanding pitch, and see what you can incorporate and learn from.

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