“Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline.” With Mitch Russo & AJ Bruno

You’re missing the real reason why they aren’t buying your product. I subscribe to the BANT methodology: Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline. You might not have the right people involved in the decision. Or your prospect’s timeline has changed and they don’t want to tell you that. Don’t be afraid to ask your prospect why they […]

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You’re missing the real reason why they aren’t buying your product. I subscribe to the BANT methodology: Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline. You might not have the right people involved in the decision. Or your prospect’s timeline has changed and they don’t want to tell you that. Don’t be afraid to ask your prospect why they aren’t buying and keep digging in with questions. Getting a no quickly is a lot more valuable than wasting time with a maybe.

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 AJ Bruno.

AJ is the Founder/CEO of QuotaPath, an early-stage startup helping sales teams calculate their commissions and track quota attainment. Prior to QuotaPath, AJ spent 6 years at TrendKite, the company he founded and was president of in Austin Texas. At TrendKite, AJ led the go-to-market and sales strategy/execution and took that team from initial product inception through $20+ million ARR and 250+ employees. TrendKite was acquired by the public company Cision for $225 million in January 2019.

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?

Incollege I had a stellar internship with NFL Films in the project management department and I really enjoyed it. Before I graduated I had an offer to join full time. It wasn’t quite what I was really interested in, I was more interested in how could I start a business? I had an uncle that was really successful in real estate and he suggested a career in sales. I didn’t know anything about sales at the time other than the negative reputation of used car sales, so I thought it was going to be awful. I asked him how sitting in a room, making cold calls would transfer to running a business? He told me that I’d learn everything I would need to know: revenue, operations, how to manage people, how to lead, how to communicate, how to be outside your comfort zone. It’s the absolute best stepping stone that you could have for running a company and being a founder or a CEO. And he was right. So that’s how I ended up in sales in general. My career path over the last decade has taken me from an individual contributor in Philadelphia to a managing director of a San Diego office, to founding a company and running the go to market team from zero to 25 million ARR.

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?

I think back to the last day of a quarter where my team was all fighting to hit our goals. I’ve had quite a few of those, but the one that was was amusing to me was when my entire team — all 26 salespeople — were all in the office at 11:00 PM on the last day of a big quarter. Everyone was still in the office, not because we hadn’t hit our goal or office target, but we were waiting on one deal for the one person that hadn’t hit their target. I have a great picture of the entire team gathered around one computer, waiting for the signature email to come in. We were all having fun and laughing, but it’s almost midnight and we’re nearly delirious. The deal actually didn’t end up closing. He was one of our top sellers and we were at like 150% of target that quarter, but the whole team was rallying around him. It really showed me that if a sales team is tight-knit and works together, we get more done.

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

After going through the experience of founding and running the sales team at my previous company that company I took all the challenges we had with calculating commissions and how we thought about goals and built a company around that. So QuotaPath is an automated commission tracking tool that’s freemium. We help sellers understand what they’re not just making, but how they can forecast and achieve goals. Basically teams can use it and adopt it and then it usually gets picked up by the finance or sales ops teams to be used for the organization.

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?

My wife. Sales creates such high highs and low lows, emotionally. She’s been such a great support system in my life that has gotten me through some dark times and kept me even-keeled on high times.

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

I don’t know if anyone is truly an authority on sales. I would say that my authority is just from learning and growing by observing other teams. I’ve observed lots of different sales teams, so I understand a lot of different ways that they’re organized and what makes them tick. And I don’t do it from a consulting standpoint, meaning that I’m not telling them what they need to do with their team. I’m just kind of taking in information. I think that’s helped me become more knowledgeable about the craft of sales. Prior to QuotaPath, I spent 12 years building and scaling sales teams in different ways. Those teams were massively successful, but I’m still always trying to learn and grow myself.

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?

It’s really tough because we ourselves, even as leaders are going to feel anxious. We’re so used to having certainty in our lives and being decisive and knowing what the next six to 12 months look like. But we don’t have that right now. With that said, I’ve been really encouraged by the data coming through. I keep my eyes out for positive things. It doesn’t just have to be the individual stories about delivering PPE to healthcare workers or the 104-year-old who recovered from Coronavirus, but the data itself on like how the curve is progressing or how we haven’t overwhelmed the hospital systems in a lot of cities and metros. I like to share those individual stories. I also want to make sure the employees at QuotaPath feel safe and secure in their environment. Whether it’s their own jobs or making sure that they feel it’s okay to do the work that they’re doing while there’s so much chaos going around in the world.

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?

I think it’s similar to like how you don’t learn how to do your taxes in school, but you learn math. Even though you don’t learn “sales”, you do work on communication skills throughout school. There are lots of times you need to do presentations in school or organize a group project — those are skills that apply perfectly to sales, but no one tells us that. So I don’t think the issue is that we don’t teach sales, it’s that we should do a better job of tying communication skills to career paths like sales.

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?

I do. The best sellers that I know are not selling it all. They’re communicating value, they’re having discussions, they’re listening actively, they’re engaging and looking for windows of opportunity. They don’t have a sales pitch because their sales pitch is a conversation. The people who are pushing hard demos on prospects might be able to close some deals here and there through fear, but the best sellers are causing someone to buy, not selling.

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?

I would say “approach” is the most important part of the sales cycle. A good sales cycle starts by understanding who you’re talking to and what makes them tick. The research and discovery step is a critically important part of the sales cycle that most people miss. I tend to spend extra time prior to a call making sure I know who the person is that I’m talking to and what is valuable to them. For example, in 2008, one of my first deals was the Big East Conference. I was selling a media monitoring platform and I knew everything about the Big East because I follow Villanova basketball. So I knew exactly what they were going to be interested in. And I spent probably four hours building out their account and my manager was super frustrated that I had done that, but it made all the difference. They loved the product because of that prep work. Even though it went against the grain and my manager said that was wrong.

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?

Understanding your ideal customer profile is so important. You can knock out thousands of cold calls in a week if you want to, but without understanding whether they would be a good fit, it doesn’t matter. Really understanding who your customers are and what personas are good leads is the key to prospecting.

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’?

Most people come into closing calls ill-prepared. If all you plan for is a “yes” then you won’t know how to respond to a “no”, or even a “maybe”. Instead, spend time before the call preparing for all the different ways that the prospect could tell you “no”. You won’t need to use 90% of the answers you prepare for, but it will help you answer the 10% of the rejections you do hear. People also get disheartened as soon as they get the first rejection. Don’t accept the first rejection as the gospel, because in sales it’s rarely a firm “no”, it’s usually a “no, unless…”.

‘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. Add value. I know this one sounds basic, but if you’re simply running through a canned script without finding out what is valuable to your prospect, you won’t win as many deals.
  2. Create an aligned timeline. At the end of your first meeting (provided it was a good meeting) lay out what the expectations are on both the buying and selling side and what the timing of each part is.
  3. Make sure you understand buying cycle. I’ve seen countless deals stall because the rep doesn’t think to ask about legal review of the contract before sending it over. I always ask “then what needs to happen?” at each step of the buying cycle until I hear “and then we sign the contact!”.
  4. Incentivize around your buyer’s needs. Find out a reason to create a deadline and incentivize around it. If my buyer needs to run commission checks every quarter, I find out when the next commission check is due and plan on getting them signed on before that time.
  5. Know when to cut your losses. Don’t push deals to close when it doesn’t make sense for your buyer. It will burn your relationship with the person who could buy from you in the future.

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?

You’re missing the real reason why they aren’t buying your product. I subscribe to the BANT methodology: Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline. You might not have the right people involved in the decision. Or your prospect’s timeline has changed and they don’t want to tell you that. Don’t be afraid to ask your prospect why they aren’t buying and keep digging in with questions. Getting a no quickly is a lot more valuable than wasting time with a maybe.

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?

Any communication that’s overly aggressive should be avoided. Unless the prospect first initiates it, texting should be avoided. There was a strategy that was gaining popularity for a while where sales reps would spoof their numbers. That should be avoided, it just feels unethical.

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. 🙂

Fair elections. We give our employees election day off as part of the Time to Vote movement. Without being political, I would want all Americans to have the resources to know how to vote and non-partisan research on topics and candidates.

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m fairly active on LinkedIn ( and I post on the QuotaPath blog (

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

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