How to Run a Bulletproof Negotiation

Negotiation is one of the most difficult, and in my opinion, poorly understood aspects of the sales process.  If there's at least one thing I've learned about leading sales reps, epecially less experiences ones, they do not know how to negotiate effectively.  Even if they run a flawless sales process, they give up loads of value after having created so much in everything they did prior.  While the customer ultimately gets the better end of this deal, it's not effective for building a business over the long term.  Heavy discounting erodes margin and eliminates a business's ability to invest back into their own people, which in turn, limits the quality of the total customer experience.   

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Inbound Sales from the Front Lines [Part 4 of 5]: The Inbound Seller's Guide to Running a Connect Call

At the end of my second week in training at HubSpot we started to get a good deal of free time. I remember a Tuesday or Wednesday I had more free time than normal and I asked my manager, Dannie, what I should be doing.  She recommended I read a lot of our customer case studies, listen to recorded calls, read the sales scripts, and watch training videos on our sales process.  

My Personal Experience Learning How to Pick Up the Phone and Dial 

I completed that work in an afternoon, taking copious notes the way a good researcher would.  The next day I explained to her that I had completed the task at hand and, in the back of my mind, expected praise for it.  Instead I got the opposite.  Well, not the complete opposite, but some tough love.  I proudly walked over to Dannie’s desk and proclaimed that I had finished my homework assignment, asking, “So what else can I be doing?”  Her response was perfect: “Sig, I recommend you get on the phone and start calling leads.  That’s what we hired you to do, isn’t it?”  

Now take what I’m about to tell you with a grain of salt.  I went back to my desk, sat down, opened up Salesforce, and pulled up my lead view, titled, “My New Leads”.  At HubSpot, we’re spoiled.  Especially in 2012, we were VERY spoiled.  I asked for leads and the marketing gods provided.  There were tens of thousands of leads for us to call on because all our marketing team did all day long was create really high quality content to attract visitors to our site and convert them into leads.  That was the part of the business development process I understood.  It was everything that came after that that was a true mystery to me.  And that mystery was about to become de-mystified.  

The Only Thing I Had to Fear Was Fear Itself 

With my headset on, glass of water full, desk clear, notepad out, pen ready, glasses on, lead record up, their website up, the lead’s LinkedIn profile up, I was ready.  And then it hit me.  I PANICKED.  What was I doing here?  Why did I agree to be in sales?  I HATED doing research calls with customers when I was an Analyst.  I needed coaching all the time to nail my calls.  I didn’t even want to call leads when I was at GiftsOnTime.  I hated calling the vendors and “pitching” them on what we had to bring to the table.  I got sweaty palms before all of our trade shows.  “I SHOULDN’T BE HERE!”, I screamed to myself. 

It got worse.  I realized that not only had whatever confidence I had built up to get to this point had vanished, all of two weeks into my career at HubSpot, the sales floor was deafeningly loud.  It was like listening to a pride of lions feast on the bloody carcasses the lionesses had killed the night before.  It was a blood bath.  It was a room full of sharks.  On top of all that, the guy across from me, who also became a good friend, had a standing desk and it was as if he was yelling RIGHT AT ME while I was trying to make calls.  I couldn’t do this.  I was supposed to be researching things.  Writing things.  Listening to classic rock … “Don’t Stop Believing” … while I cranked out key insights, research briefs, and case studies.  

Somehow, by the grace of God, fate, Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whatever higher power you believe in, I managed to hit the Headset button on my phone and I heard the dial tone.  It was go time.  I don’t know how I managed to make that first call, but I did.  Not only that, the bastard picked up!  I was pissed!  I thought for sure I would get a chance to leave a few voicemails, a few emails, and loosen up, run some wind sprints before I had to have an actual conversation.  But no, David had to answer.  He just had to pick up.  We talked for about 10 minutes and I managed to book another call with him.  I got off the phone and couldn’t believe I managed to get through it.  It felt painful.  I wasn’t ready for it.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I pulled up the activity leaderboard and I stood at one, count it, ONE attempt for the day.  Most reps at the time were cranking out over a hundred attempts daily, the best well into the 120s and 130s.  

It Only Took One Connect to Break the Seal

I picked up the phone again.  And again, another bastard picks up the phone!  I couldn’t believe this!  People aren’t supposed to pick up phone calls from sales reps!  What were they thinking!  That conversation didn’t go as well, so I sent some follow ups and never heard from the lead again (despite trying many more times).  The third time around I thought, “Surely, there’s no way this person is going to pick up the phone.  You’re going to get a chance to leave a bunch of emails and voicemails, you’ll get into a groove, get your activity up, and you’ll connect with some people tomorrow.  It will be fine.”  Of course, wrong again.  The third bastard picks up the phone and there I was -- living the trial by fire -- no idea what I was supposed to be doing.  

This charade went on for a couple more weeks, but in that time I realized a few important things:

  1. I realized that once you start calling, it gets exponentially easier.  It becomes like breathing.

  1. After you make enough attempts, you start to understand what it is you’re doing wrong and you can course correct, fine tuning along the way.

  1. In that barrage of activity, you actually start to sounds pretty polished.  You sound like you KNOW what you’re talking about.  And the reality is that you actually DO know what you’re talking about even if you don’t feel that way.  

My Advice for Anyone with a Fear of Picking Up the Phone

My advice for anyone with a fear of dialing, or trying to get into a rhythm of attempts, keep this guidance in mind:

  • Your prospects are just people
  • You had a good reason (or should) to call them in the first place
  • You will get better over time
  • You need to flip a lot of stones to find your diamonds
  • You should act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t, and your knowledge will catch up with your “acting” quickly

Why You Should Love Your Marketing Team If They're Generating Inbound Leads for You

What really struck me as different, however, about calling these Inbound leads, was how the conversation started.  Stripping away all else, I was calling them because THEY started the conversation.  They were the ones that came to our website.  THEY were the ones that filled out our landing page form for an Ebook, Guide, Checklist, etc.  And THEY were the ones that actually filled out the form with real contact information.  So my “pitch” wasn’t really a pitch at all.  My opening line, every time I called someone was (and still is)...

“Hi [PROSPECT], You came to HubSpot’s website and downloaded [INSERT NAME OF CONTENT].  Is there something you were looking for help with?”  

This opening line is GAME CHANGING.  Why?  Because it does not REQUIRE you to pitch anything, whatsoever.  Whoever you’re calling came to your website and was looking for help with something regardless of whether or not they were willing to admit it.  That said, your call will still probably go something like this:

PROSPECT: “Hello?  Who is this?”

YOU: “Hi Prospect, I saw that you came to our website and downloaded [CONTENT] on [TOPIC].  Is there something you were looking for help with?”

PROSPECT: “Where are you calling from?”

YOU: “[COMPANY NAME].  My marketing team sent me a message because you were on our website somewhat recently and downloaded [CONTENT].  I thought I would follow up to see what you were researching and if I could point you in the right direction.”

PROSPECT: “Oh, yea, now I remember.  I did download [CONTENT] but I haven’t had time to read through it.  It’s sitting on my desk in a stack of papers now.  Can you call me back some other time?”

YOU: “Understood.  I could call you back, but I have a couple of minutes now and could save you the hassle of reading the [CONTENT].”


The conversation may go on and on like this for a bit.  What you need to make sure you do as the sales rep is to position yourself as a “helper” first, above all else.  If you lay on a pitch, start talking about your company, start asking probing questions that the prospect isn’t ready to answer -- and frankly, questions that you have not yet earned the right to ask -- you will miss sales opportunity after sales opportunity.  You need to find ways to GIVE before you GET.  Once you do that, you will in fact get.  

Where am I getting this from?  Let me explain.  

One of the best sales books and researcher studies ever done, in my humble opinion, is The Challenger Sale.  The book outlines many important concepts and draws conclusions about what the BEST sales reps do.  What interested me the most about this study, however, is the data shared about why decision-makers decide to purchase a product or service from one company and not another.

Here are the key finders of what drive customer loyalty, and ultimately, the decision to purchase or repurchase from a given vendor.  

What’s amazing to me about this data is that 53% of the decision-making process is driven by the experience a company has during the sales process itself.  Most notable, are the sub-components that go into this sales process and what buyers value the most.  The top four factors on this list:

  1. Sales rep offers unique, valuable perspectives on the market,

  2. Sales rep helps me navigate alternatives,

  3. Sales rep helps me avoid potential landmines, and

  4. Sales rep educates me on new issues and outcomes

What does this all add up to? 

The sales reps that are the MOST helpful, and lead with an education approach to selling, are those that will achieve the most superior outcomes.

Breaking down each of these four categories, here’s how you can use these known drivers of sales outcomes to your advantage, especially during your connect call with a Prospect:

1. Sales rep offers unique, valuable perspectives on the market

Put yourself in the decision-makers shoes.  You’re not the only person they’re dealing with.  They’re a person just like you.  Yes, they help you pay your bills, but they have real goals and challenges -- both professional and personal -- just like you and me.  Figure out what those goals and challenges are.  Relay back how their world is changing.  Why it’s hard.  What other peers in their group are doing about these management challenges.  And how you and your company can help them address those challenges or goals faster, better, or stronger.  

2. Sales rep helps me navigate alternatives

The first time a prospect brought up a competitor I was insulted.  I was defensive.  I was FUMING.  But that was a me problem.  It wasn’t their fault.  I had been on their side before and wanted to make sure I was making the right buying decision for my company; I don’t want valuable capital to go to waste.  So if your prospect brings up an objection related to competitors, tackle it head on.  Address it.  Don’t be defensive.  If you can’t handle their objection, tell them, or get off the phone until you know how to handle it.  Nothing replaces superior product and service knowledge; if you don’t know how to articulate the differences between your company and your competitors, how are you supposed to expect your prospect to?

3. Sales rep helps me avoid potential landmines

Be ready to do a little “war room” planning with your prospects.  Help them think through their worst case, best case, and likely case when they decide to do something AND when they decide to do nothing.  Educate them on how similar companies are addressing their issues.  What their competitors may or may not be doing.  How the approaches have worked or failed, and how you will be able to help them cherry pick the right solution for their business.  

4. Sales rep educates me on new issues and outcomes

Can you help your prospects see their future?  Again, if you are not actually adding value to someone's life -- making it easier, making it more lucrative, making it more efficient, or making it less risky -- then why, oh why, would they ever talk with you?  To keep someone's attention, you have to -- you MUST BE -- a source of valuable information that the prospect cannot get anywhere else.  Because if they could, they wouldn' t be dealing with you!!

But I Don't Even Have Inbound Leads to Call in the First Place!  This is Irrelevant!

I realize some of you reading this post at this point don’t have the luxury of Inbound leads.  I understand that not all businesses have adopted the Inbound Marketing model; or, if they have, their lead flow isn’t heavy enough to warrant 100% of the sales organization’s focus on Inbound Selling.

However, I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of businesses have at least some sort of a marketing list that they can use to start driving Inbound Leads.  

My advice to any sales rep that is not currently benefitting from Inbound Leads -- go to your Sales Director, VP, etc, and DEMAND that your company should adopt an Inbound Marketing approach.  If you want help with explaining why, I would start here:

How to Prove the Value of Inbound to Your CFO [Free Kit] (courtesy of HubSpot)

If Your Company Won't Budge on Inbound Marketing, There Are Alternatives

If getting that approach is just too big a mountain to climb, here are some alternative solutions that will help you start selling the Inbound way faster:

Sit down for an hour and ask yourself, “What are the most common questions that prospects ask?”  If you haven’t been on enough sales calls, listen to them with other reps.  Or, just ask other reps what types of questions prospects are asking.  Take it a step further and start asking yourself exactly which challenges your company solves for.  Think about how your prospect might articulate that challenge in the form of a question.

Once you’ve created that list -- I would recommend starting with 20 questions or so -- turn those questions into statements.  For example, challenge: “How do I generate more leads on Twitter?”  Turned into a statement: “How to generate more leads on Twitter”.  You can even take this a bit further, putting some sales and marketing “flare” on it: “The three most effective ways to generate leads on Twitter”.  Again, keep in mind that even though you are writing this as a statement, it originated as a question.  

Now that you’ve turned your questions into statements, it’s time to either start or join the conversation.  Easy ways to do this include:

  1. Create your own personal blog and publish 1-2 posts per month.  The article doesn’t have to be perfect.  Just write it and ship it.  You should spend no more than 600-800 words on this and it should not take you more than 1-2 hours to write.  

  1. Don’t want to manage a blog?  Fine.  Publish your articles to your LinkedIn profile.  This is a highly effective way to give yourself even more exposure to prospective buyers than you would have had otherwise.  

  1. Are you too lazy to write a blog?  Suck it up.  The sales reps that are going to win in the 21st (and 22nd Century) are those that are the most knowledgeable and most helpful.  You need to start helping your prospects answer their questions now.  At the same time, if you truly have writer’s block (which I’m convinced per a speech from Seth Godin does not exist because there’s no such thing as “talker’s block), join the LinkedIn groups and start following the blogs that your prospects are a part of and follow.  Make sure you join the conversation and add value.  Offer a new perspective.  Share industry insights and stats.  Do storytelling.  And remember, DO NOT promote your company.  Inbound Selling is predicated on leading with value.  Again, you must give, and give feverishly, before you will be able or deserving of a “get”.  

  1. Promote your knowledge and ability to help others more broadly.  Again, do not promote your business specifically.  I cannot stress this enough.  But if you do write a new article, have an insight on a new piece of news that came out in your industry, or a perspective on an article someone else has already written, share it through social media.  At a bare minimum, you need to be sharing through Twitter and LinkedIn.  Even if you’re convinced that your key decision-makers and stakeholders aren’t finding information through these channels, you can bet your next commission check that they have an army of influencers that are.  Why do I know?  Because I had to do it for over five years myself.  

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Brian Signorelli
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