We recently had the privilege of speaking with Jill again – the first Sales Expert to be featured a second time on our blog! – on a variety of subjects, including her transition from sales to sales consultancy, the importance of sales reps learning new skills and….elephants chewing rocks? Read on to learn more about Agile sales today.
1) Explain the concept of Agile Selling. What does it mean and why were you personally inspired to write about this subject?The concept of Agile Selling is not a new model, a la consultative selling or The Challenger Sales methodology. It’s really an add-on to an existing process. What it means to a salesperson is how to keep up to speed in today’s ever-changing sales world. It’s about being agile and nimble and quickly learning information, developing new skills, seeing what’s different with your clients and how you need to adjust your own behavior. It’s all about testing and experimentation. Buyers are fundamentally changing, technology is changing, how people make decisions, the online world…as a seller, I need to be flexible and nimble and be able to adjust myself. Agile selling is really about what it takes to succeed in a world that’s extraordinarily dynamic.
The experience that most inspired me was when I was speaking in South Africa. My husband and I went on a safari and what really resonated with me was encountering the elephants. The guides told us that elephants go through six sets of teeth in their lifetime – every two years, their teeth move from the back to the front and they replace all the teeth in their mouth. They do this 5 times in their life and it’s an extraordinarily painful process, and during this timeframe, they chew rocks to ease the pain. I remember thinking, “Oh my god, that is just like selling!” It seems like you’re chewing rocks all the time these days. Everything I do, I’m learning all the time, chewing rocks. It’s always something pushing my old molars out and I’m always in between. It dawned on me that I’m not the only one feeling that way – everyone was chewing rocks.
For many years I worked on product launches, learning new things, which meant I was chewing rocks a lot. My job was to go in and quickly identify what were the crucial knowledge that they needed to learn now in order to be most effective in launching a new product or service. There were some years I was working on 10 or 12 different product launches at a time, with different companies. I became an expert on rapid immersion. It’s why I developed a system and a methodology. I became an expert at sifting through and identifying, “If I want to get these salespeople up to speed, what do they need to know right away?”
2) What is the biggest lesson that sales managers need to impart on their reps about Agile Selling?
You can look at any aspect of the sales process, and experiment and improve there. (Click to Tweet!)
- Jill Konrath
The biggest lesson is really related to experimentation – we’re always here to experiment and try to improve. You can look at any aspect of the sales process and experiment and improve there. For example, I’m working with a sales organization now where their reps are sending me example emails – some are good, some are bad. But let’s start experimenting with different things to see how we can get a higher response rate. It’s constantly creating that experimental mode, always trying to get maximum impact from every interaction we have. Everywhere there is potential failure and drop-off in the sales process is a chance to experiment. If people are focused on this, ultimately your whole team gets better because you’re coming together and taking the creative energy of the group and implementing things sideways across your organization.
The key is not to say that it’s a failure, but it’s an experiment. We may not get a response but it’s simply data, not a failure. It’s data that we use to get better, not, “Oh my god, we blew it!” If that’s what’s happening, you get fewer options and you’re less able to get results. Everyone should be focused on constant improvements and getting better.
3) You talk about learning and mastering new skills as a natural part of this future sales landscape. What would you say are the most critical skills reps need to learn today, that they might not have considered 5 years ago?
I would say in the last 5 years, there’s been such a big change in LinkedIn, with new demands that salespeople need to master. Some people in the technology sector are very strong there, but if you’re not in the tech sector, I see a lot of people who don’t really understand how to leverage LinkedIn to prospect, identify leads, find connections, do deep research, look sideways and extend your contacts within an account. That’s the most obvious challenge in the past 5 years.
The reality is salespeople have to be valuable resources to customers. (Click to Tweet!)Also, when people call into your company, they’re calling in from a very different perspective. We have to learn to treat people calling in very differently than we did 5 years ago. They are now very educated and if we do a sales pitch to them, we’re missing the boat. We have to learn to collaborate with people who are already partly through the sales process and bring out ideas and share expertise that makes them realize we’re not just price-quoters – we’re valuable assets. The reality is salespeople have to be valuable resources and unless they’re adding something to the decision-making process, they’re not worth talking to and they’re going to be very limited in this profession. There’s a real need to become a good resource.
- Jill Konrath
4) Early in your career, your company focused on selling to big companies. What’s different about working enterprise or corporate accounts, and what’s the key to success there?
It really relates to what we were talking about, in terms of being a valuable asset. Unless you are a resource that continually challenges their thinking, expands their concept of what’s possible, shows them new ways to be effective, reduce costs, reach specific objectives, etc, you don’t have a reason to be there and you will be bumped out by someone else who has those assets or can offer something at a better price.
The other thing with corporate accounts is the sheer amount of collaboration that has to go in. You should be a guide to the sales process. People don’t make decisions on these kinds of products often, and they really need you as a salesperson to really guide them through the process and to collaborate with their people throughout the entire process. One of the things that people forget is how complex the decisions are within these bigger accounts. If the pitch starts in sales, but then it has to go to IT, marketing needs to check in on it, before finally the CFO gets involved. A smart salesperson today will start condensing the process, not by trying to rush things but by engaging these other people early on to try and uncover any issues or concerns early on.
5) As an early pioneer in sales enablement, you’ve really seen the evolution of that niche portion of sales. What has changed the most since the early days, and what do you think are the most powerful sales enablement tools today?
The biggest change is that today, there actually are sales enablement tools. So many companies have things that can really help the salesperson. To me, sales enablement is any kind of tool that can give you insight into the sales process and help you understand more about what’s working and most effective – not just data for your own personal improvement, but also from a management perspective to see what your reps are leveraging and where there are gaps. Anything we can do to help our people get insight into what is really going on – vs. what is self-reported – is crucial to improvement.
You want to improve, so it’s important to track data to know where you are.(Click to Tweet!)I think sales metrics are important, but it’s only a numbers game. You want to know how to focus on improvement, so it’s important to track data to know exactly where you are. Where are you not closing the gap? Are you not moving people through the pipeline? Are you not using tools the top reps are using? Is your first call conversion rate lower than other people? Any metrics that help move you toward improvement can be helpful. The reality is in sales, short term success is the key to long-term success, so anything we can do to help get people learning information quickly and figuring out where they need to improve is what will help that individual to become successful, and help the sales team deliver the revenue as well.
- Jill Konrath
6) You moved from a direct sales career to a sales consulting career nearly 30 years ago! What do you enjoy about sales consulting, especially compared to just straight-up selling?
That’s really easy for me to answer. The most fun I ever had selling was on things that were new and different. You heard me say I like to learn new things and I became an expert at learning new things. My way of operating when I was in sales was that I loved to throw myself in there, learn as quickly as possible and then share what I learned with other people. For me, the fun part was always figuring out the problem – here’s where we’re stuck, what does it take to solve the problem, and then how can I make it so not everyone has to go through the same learning curve? Because not everyone will get it, most people will struggle, and I like the challenge of helping them.
Now, I’m really more of a change agent and I’m out there kicking butt a lot, saying, “Hey guys, wake up! We need to learn faster because it’s all changing faster.” So I’m in a different role today, because I’m really trying to change the industry and get people to be more agile learners and be aware of what they can do to change the industry, to stay at the top of their game and excel.
7) Let’s bring it back full circle to talk about Agile. In what ways do you try and stay agile in your own personal career? In other words, how do you ‘practice what you preach’?
It’s absolutely crucial that I stay agile. One of the things people don’t realize that I’m constantly doing is monitoring the 30-35 year old guys out there in the industry because they are the loudest voices about some of the changes that are going on, and I can learn a lot from see where things are going and it keeps me sharp, monitoring what’s happening in the industry.
The truth of the matter is I don’t like technology. It’s really hard for me, but I have to force myself into doing all of these things, I know I have to do it, because everyone else is doing it. I’m constantly learning new technologies and figuring out what it takes to leverage technology and see where the business case is. If I can get how a technology will improve my workflow, I am all over it and will shout it’s benefits to everyone.
Another important thing for me is I read everything, especially books outside of the sales world. I’m really finding a lot of literature outside of sales that I find is really helpful. Right now, one of my favorite books is by David Rock called “Your Brain at Work.” I’m reading a lot of stuff about neuroscience and how that can be brought in to sales. I’m reading a lot from the Harvard Business Review, about what’s happening and what their research is showing it takes to be successful. I go to webinars that other companies are offering, I listen to my colleagues speak, I pay attention to what’s going on.
But that’s my job! I’m a change agent. I have to be as edgy as possible and constantly be dealing with the feeling of insecurity that you get when you’re not totally proficient at something. That’s how we are all these days. We’re all back to chewing rocks.
8) A big message you espouse – both in your writing and with your own career – is the concept of evolving and adapting with the times. Looking into your crystal ball, how do you think sales professionals will have to evolve, and what do they have to adapt to, over the next 5 years?
I think there’s just so much interesting technology out there that can tell you so much about the context of your customer today that a lot of companies haven’t even dabbled in! Some of the more forward-thinking companies have looked at that, but to know what customers are thinking and doing, how they’ve interacted with your website – 95% of companies aren’t there yet. This will make a difference and I think we’ll be expected to know this information prior to reaching out to people.
The movement toward content marketing is also huge, and I would hope that salespeople would learn to leverage the content that marketing people are creating, and I would hope that marketing people would start creating content that salespeople could use better. There is a perceived gap, because the marketing department in many organizations has not caught up with the educational need for content. Not promotional content, but how-to and what’s-happening content. The reality is that the salespeople who are going to be successful are the ones who learn that their job is not too necessarily sell, but to have business conversations with people and to create value for them in every interaction. As a result of doing that, they will sell a lot more with minimal competition.
9) What is the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done in your life?
Back when my kids were little, I wanted to show my children that you didn’t have to be good at something in order to do it. It’s ok to be a learner. We were at church camp and they announced that they were having a talent show and my son said, “My mommy can play the guitar!” I wasn’t very good, but still got up in front of about 300 people and encouraged them to sing along and help me get through the whole song. I think they thought I was kidding. Of course, I froze during the song and had to catch up. To be up in front of people doing something that you don’t know how to do, trying to show your kids that it’s OK to not be perfect, was scary. I know it’s not dangerous like driving in the Indy 500 or bungee jumping, but it felt dangerous for someone who wasn’t use to doing presentations in front of people at the time! That was hard, but it was funny and I lived through it. I did get better, and I actually recently got pretty good at the guitar too!
Connect with Jill on LinkedIn or Twitter – or buy her new best-seller “Agile Selling: Get up to Speed Quickly in Today’s Ever-Changing Sales World” – to learn more.