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How To Grow Your Accounts In The “New Economy”

Mark Donnolo is founder and managing partner of SalesGlobe. He is also the author of Quotas!: The Innovative Sale and Essential Account Planning.

In this episode of The Salesman Podcast, Mark shares the steps to growing your accounts in the current “new economy” that we’re all trying to sell into.

You'll learn:

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Featured on this episode:

Host - Will Barron
Founder of Salesman.org
Guest - Mark Donnolo
Founder and Managing Partner of SalesGlobe.

Resources:

Transcript

Mark Donnolo:

To look at what’s going to change in 12 months we have to look at where we are now and where we’re heading. Because that’s what’s really going to determine that change. So as we’re looking ahead, what we’re seeing salespeople doing, what we’re seeing companies doing, is they’re trying to find what are the right markets, or the right segments that we should be focusing on, because this is not a monolithic crisis. Yes, it’s happening to everybody, but it’s affecting different segments differently as well. So as we’re coming out of this, we’re going to have to find out where we need to be lining up, in terms of the right segments.

 

Will Barron:

Hello Sales Nation I’m Will Barron, host of the Salesman podcast. The world’s most downloaded B2B sales show. If you haven’t already, make sure to click subscribe. And on today’s show we have the legend Mark Donnolo. He is the founder over at SalesGlobe. And on today’s episode, we’re getting into how we can grow our accounts in the new economy, which is forming all around us right now. There’s a tonne of step-by-steps, there’s a tonne of good ideas in this episode for you Sales Nation. And so with that said, let’s jump right into it.

 

Mark’s Predictions on the Future of Sales Post-COVID-19 · [01:01] 

 

Will Barron:

So we’re going to look at how we can grow our accounts in, what we’re calling here the new economy, or the new marketplace, in this episode. And I want to start by asking you, and obviously this is a prediction, no one knows for sure. But what do you think is going to change in the economy, in the sales marketplace over the next 12 months? What do you think is going to have changed permanently after this COVID-19 pandemic crisis?

 

Mark Donnolo:

Yeah, I think to look at, what’s going to change in 12 months, we have to look at where we are now, and where we’re heading, because that’s what’s really going to determine that change. So we’ve been working with a lot of companies in round tables over the past few weeks, with sales professionals. Just talking about what they’re dealing with. And what we’re finding, Will, is that we’re going through some different phases, or stages here. So the first was really around acclimation, just understanding what’s going on and how we’re going to adjust, in terms of those near close in deals, in the pipeline, and how we’re going to get those closed and how we’re going to communicate with customers. The idea of empathising with customers and just understanding their situation. And then we’re moving into more planful actions. So we get our footing, and we’re in the middle of that phase right now. Where companies are figuring out, okay, here’s how we need to make adjustments to our offers and our pricing, and this idea of building pipeline beyond the curve.

 

“As we’re looking ahead, what we’re seeing salespeople doing, what we’re seeing companies doing is they’re trying to find what are the right markets or the right segments that we should be focusing on. Because this is not a monolithic crisis. Yes, it’s happening to everybody, but it’s affecting different segments differently as well.” – Mark Donnolo · [02:38] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

So that’s a current thing right now. It’s forget about selling, and focus on helping. So we’re in the midst of that. And then if you start to look ahead, in terms of where we’re going beyond the first month, beyond the first couple of months, it’s really about building and adjusting. And I think this is going to really lead to the answer to your question, which is, as we’re looking ahead, what we’re seeing salespeople doing, what we’re seeing companies doing, is they’re trying to find what are the right markets or the right segments that we should be focusing on. Because this is not a monolithic crisis. Yes, it’s happening to everybody, but it’s affecting different segments differently as well. So as we’re coming out of this, we’re going to have to find out where we need to be lining up, in terms of the right segments.

 

“I think what we’re going to see is customers that are facing unprecedented challenges. So we don’t know where they’re going to be. What we know is that they’re going to have different priorities, in terms of how they work with their customers, and the offers that they’re providing.” – Mark Donnolo · [03:24] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

So you may not want to be selling to airlines and hospitality. But you may want to be shifting over to tech, or you may want to be shifting over to other services that are going to do well as we come out of this. So, as you look ahead to where we could likely be a year from now, I think what we’re going to see is customers that are facing unprecedented challenges. So we don’t know where they’re going to be. What we know is that they’re going to have different priorities, in terms of how they work with their customers, and the offers that they’re providing and what they’ve learned. Like what we’ve learned during this crisis, what they’ve learned that’s changed them. So you might be seeing things like your customers changing what their offers are, their products, their pricing. Certainly now we’re seeing changes in pricing policy and changes in how companies are configuring offers. So those things are likely to be continuing.

 

Mark Donnolo:

And then if you think about things, Will, even outside of sales, like their supply chains, I think we’re going to see companies making shifts, in terms of where their supply chains are coming from. So manufacturing probably diversifying outside of Asia or China into other areas say Latin America. So that’s going to have shifts on their business. Technology software probably also diversifying out of Asia, into other markets, perhaps Israel, Ireland, other places like that. So they’re going to be having some core business changes. So what’s going to be changing? Well, I think it’s going to be a few different areas. Because we don’t know where they’re going to be, I think what we’re going to see is that we’re going to have to be lining up with this business shift.

 

“I was talking to a company a few weeks ago and they said, “Well, is sales becoming obsolete?” Well, yeah, the transactional salesperson is becoming obsolete. But that’s going to evolve into the person who is the problem solver.” – Mark Donnolo · [05:24] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

And I think that the sales organisation is going to have to become more professionalised consultant. So the sales person who was the transactional salesperson, I think over time, and maybe that is a year out from now, that’s going to start to shift. That’s going to be become obsolete. And that’s going to be replaced by technology, by AI. And this whole idea, we talk about omni-channel, when we sell to customers can they work across channels with us. A lot of those things are going to be solved. So, Will, the way I’m thinking about this, this is really going to accelerate the move to what I’m calling the new problem solver. I was talking to a company a few weeks ago and they said, “Well, is sales becoming obsolete?” Well, yeah, the transactional salesperson is becoming obsolete. But that’s going to evolve into the person who is the problem solver. So I want to talk a little bit about that as well, but I’ll pause for a second. Because I’ve got a couple of other points I want to bring out, about where we might be a year from now.

 

Will Barron:

For sure. Two things here. You’ve just given us an amazing framework for what we should be doing, and thinking about right now, in that maybe this was retrospective for a month or two, but we should be closing any deals in our pipeline that we’re just about to close. Then perhaps focusing on the empathy side of things. And I don’t think salespeople are there for their customers on an emotional level, maybe it happens occasionally, but this conversation of empathy we can touch on as well, and get into that in a little bit more detail. The third step that you mentioned there was talking about changes. So maybe this happens from higher level down to the individual sales contributors of offers and pricing, but perhaps they should be feeding data back up of the conversations that they’re having in the marketplace. So we can touch on that.

 

The Death of Transactional Selling and the Birth of the Problem Solver · [06:40] 

 

Will Barron:

And then finally, hopefully 3, 6, 12 months, or whatever it is, we’re going to be looking at future pipeline. I thought that was a really succinct four step plan that we can perhaps be looking at, in the meantime. But going on to what you shared then, Mark, of future changes, how should sales people be looking at this, from a perspective of what should they be doing right now to start to become a professional, to become a consultant, to become what you call a new problem solver. What should we be doing now so this doesn’t just hit us in 12 months, like a brick wall, and we can start to learn and implement some of these skills right now?

 

Mark Donnolo:

So what’s happening right now is actually shaping the way we’re going to be. When we’re having virtual interactions, and you and I do this all the time, because we’re on opposite sides of the pond, but we’re having virtual interactions with our customers right now. That’s forcing us to try to be more intentional about those interactions, right? It’s no longer just swinging by and saying hi, and just having a regular sales call. So I think in terms of preparation, we have to become better at becoming authentic with remote tools. So when we’re talking in conversations like this, we don’t have the advantage of sitting face to face and building that relationship. So how can we do that remotely? And, you know this, when you talk to people sometimes by video or by phone, it feels a whole lot different than when you’re talking to them in person.

 

Mark Donnolo:

So one thing is become good at that. Become facile at that, and become much more practised with that. Because that’s going to be one of the new things. I think barriers are going to drop as well, geographic barriers. So, people are going to still want to get back together. But I think people are going to probably be leveraging technology a lot more. Which means that maybe we’re not getting on aeroplanes as much, maybe we’re not going to hotels as much, but we also aren’t bound by the barriers. So our territories don’t have to be geographical constraints. So we can probably reach out, and it’d probably be more acceptable. Whereas a couple of months ago it’d be, well, I’d expect to see you in person, perhaps it becomes more acceptable to work virtually. So that’s one thing, becoming a better virtual relationship builder.

 

“The reason you need to become a better problem solver is because we don’t know what the challenges are going to be ahead. What we have to do is build our methods for working with clients and customers to not just be pulling out the brochure, pulling out what our offer is.” – Mark Donnolo · [08:54]

 

Mark Donnolo:

I think at the core of this is how can you become a better problem solver? And the reason you need to become a better problem solver is because we don’t know what the challenges are going to be ahead. What we have to do is build our methods for working with clients and customers. To not just be pulling out the brochure, pulling out what our offer is. And I’ll give you an example of this. This is a sales call with a major account that we were involved in recently with a client. And rather than going in and having the conversation with them about what the client wanted, what they did is they leveraged data. And we’ll be seeing, I think, more of that as well. They leveraged data and got information to do work on what was going on with that client’s problem, before they even talked to them.

 

Mark Donnolo:

And the way they structured the conversation was, they went in and they said, “Hey, we want to talk to you about what the problem statement is here. What is it you’re trying to solve for? And then we want to tell you some things that we learned from what you shared with us. And we want to further define out what the challenges are behind that. So kind of in a problem solving method, and then we can start to move ahead in terms of how we might help you”.

 

Mark Donnolo:

And as we watched this, and we trained them on how to do this, but as we watched this we saw just a totally different conversation. Because what they were doing is, they were taking the time to dig in, and understand more about the story behind what was happening. And then the customer was impressed and, I think they’ll end up getting that business. But I see more of that happening. Because if we’re really a problem solver, we’re going to have to be doing more of that type of thing, rather than just showing up. We just can’t show up anymore. So this crisis, I think, is forcing us back to some of the fundamentals of the importance of problem solving, selling, we’re consultative selling.

 

How to Future-proof your Sales Career · [10:53] 

 

Will Barron:

So if we’re talking about using data, being more intentional probably, proactive in our presentations. Before we show up and just vomit a pitch, we’re doing as you described there with your customers and your clients, and there’s a lack of barriers. Do you think that salespeople are going to be now elevated in their roles, and more transactional sales will just disappear? They just will be done by an online order form, and people will become more accepting of that.

 

“So if you think in terms of, what are the things that could be AI-ed or offshored, or removed from the salesperson, those are the things you’ve got to counter against. So the idea of providing information, the idea of product features and benefits, the idea of all those transactional things, that stuff can be automated, AI can take care of that. What can’t be automated is the ability to solve problems, at least yet. The ability to be creative and come up with ideas. Sure, we can teach that ultimately to a computer someday. But, Will, if I can become a better problem solver, and use data to empower that, then that’s going to be to my advantage.” – Mark Donnolo · [11:28] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

I think about this idea of how to future proof your career. And that’s an idea that we’re working on right now, future-proofing your career. And if we’re looking at big Future, with a big F, which this is leading into, we’re doing things like understanding that technology is probably going to take over a lot of these things. So you think in terms of, what are the things that could be AI or offshored, or removed from the sales person. And those are the things you’ve got to counter against. So the idea of providing information, the idea of product features and benefits, the idea of all those transactional things, that stuff can be automated, AI can take care of that.

 

Mark Donnolo:

What can’t be automated is the ability to solve problems, at least yet. The ability to be creative and come up with ideas. Sure, we can teach that ultimately to a computer someday. But, Will, if I can become a better problem solver, and use data to empower that, then that’s going to be to my advantage. So that can elevate the salesperson that turns the sales person into an advisor, which is what we ultimately want. But that’s hard work and not everybody has those core skills. So that’s a lot of what the development, of the building, people have to be thinking about right now, is do I want to be one of the transactional people that are eventually going to be AI’d or offshored, or do I want to be somebody who’s going to be seen as an advisor? And I learn how to become a problem solver.

 

Will Barron:

I know, just as an anecdote here, something that I just threw into our product here at salesman.org, was the fact that you do an assessment and there’s tonnes and tonnes of training, and it just narrows it down into one page. And using the assessment will give you a customised training plan. I just go, it’s more seamless. It looks better on the screen. It’s almost a visual feature and benefits, was my original planning for it. And that is one of the most talked about features from all of our customers, when we do reviews with them. That they seemingly have access to all of this data, but they don’t want it. They want it narrowed down. It’s not AI, it’s not machine learning. It’s just, it’s very simple plus this, or minus this algorithm that calculates it all.

 

Will Barron:

But that to me was an eye-opener of how simple shifts in a product, because that would be a sales person explaining all the different benefits. Almost a consultant saying, “Well, we recommend you start with this programme, and this platform, and this training, and this module. And if you get great results with this with your team, maybe you should look at that”. We’ve automated a lot of it. And you know, I’m no programmer or developer, we have a team on board that does all that stuff, but I visualised it. So if I can do it Microsoft, all these other huge organisations, must be doing this to exponential levels higher than what I can even think about, if that makes sense.

 

Solving Buyer Problems by Simplifying the Sales Process Using AI · [14:05] 

 

Will Barron:

So is that a shift that we’re going to see that… Or let me ask you this, from another perspective, is this going to wipe out salespeople’s jobs, because clearly that’s coming, or is this something that is going to push salespeople to add more value in other areas and they will still be needed? If that makes sense.

 

“I don’t think sales is ever going to go away. And in transactional selling, they’ll always be a place for that in some form. What I’m talking about is how do you succeed in the next economy? How do you differentiate?” – Mark Donnolo · [14:18] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

Yeah. I don’t think sales is ever going to go away. And in transactional selling, they’ll always be a place for that in some form. What I’m talking about is how do you succeed in the next economy? How do you differentiate? So, I think there’ll always be a place for people to play in the middle of the pack, but how do you get up to those upper percentiles of performance? And I think those are going to be the differentiators. And you point out a great tool there, Will, which is something that you can automate, but you can also do that through problem solving, which is the idea of simplification. So you’ve got all these things that you offer, but it’s too much. And a company may have all these things that they offer a customer, or all these options, but it’s too much.

 

“At the core of problem-solving is simplification and saying, “Okay, well, based on all the things that we can do, or all the things that you could do, here are really a couple of options you should be looking at”. So you could AI that, but in an organic problem-solving situation, that’s one of the principles you’re going to have to follow.” – Mark Donnolo · [15:09] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

So, at the core of problem solving is simplification and saying, “Okay, well, based on all the things that we can do, or all the things that you could do, here are really the couple of options you should be looking at”. So you could AI that, but in an organic problem solving situation, that’s one of the principles you’re going to have to follow. Is okay, how do I take a range of possibilities? And how do I simplify that? And there is method behind all of this. So you’re not just trying to be creatively brilliant on a whim here. What you’re doing is you’re going through a problem solving approach. 

 

“You don’t go into the sale with brochures anymore. You go in with a pad and a pencil, and you sit there and you listen.” – Mark Donnolo · [15:44]  

 

Mark Donnolo:

One of the best organisations that I saw do this a few years ago, they said you don’t go into the sales with brochures anymore. You go in with a pad and a pencil. And you sit there and you listen, and you write your ideas down, and then you share that way. So there are methods behind on how to do this, but I then think you bring up a great point about simplification as well.

 

Adding Layers of Value by Customising and Understanding What the Customer’s Real Problem is · [15:58]

 

Will Barron:

So if we have a simplification as a layer of value, because I can imagine salespeople prospecting and getting meetings on the back of, hey, we’ve looked at, or we’ve worked with three of your competitors, we’ve done this, this and this. Everyone is strapped for cash time, money, and we’ve simplified the supply chain. We’ve simplified this, we’ve implemented our product and removed five other products from the marketing stack, or whatever it is. So if simplification is a layer of value that we could add, are there any other layers of value that we could add right now, that would be still useful in kind of a year, two years from now?

 

Mark Donnolo:

Yeah. So I think if you have an offer, like you talked about customising and understanding what the customer’s real problem is makes a difference. And I’ll give you another example. And this is a client that we’ve worked with recently, where they were doing pitches to their customers. And some of them were RFP pitches. And these would have been things that normally you would have pulled out and said, okay, what’s the closest thing that we have that’s similar to this, that we’ve done before, because that’s efficient. We can pull that out. And they were, they were pulling those core components, but what they were doing was investigation work ahead of time, looking at the broader context of what the customer was dealing with, with its competitors, its market, doing the research on publicly available information. And they started to front end their proposals and their pitches with this question of the why.

 

“Be actionable about your account planning, particularly now, because you can’t just assume that customers are going to have the same needs.” – Mark Donnolo · [18:17] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

So why do you want to do this thing? And they were building the case for why they would want to do this, in light of the competitive environment. That is just one example. But they were taking something that was an offer, that was a standard offer, but they were really putting it into a context of the customer. They started to see the response rate, in terms of RFP proposals or pitches, go up because those customers are seeing that they were doing deeper thinking behind that. So that’s one thing you can do as you’re preparing. And I wanted to bring up a couple of other points, if I could, Will, on preparation, to get ready for this. And we talked about this in some prior episodes as well, account planning. This one always comes back up, and you hear groans about it, but being actionable about your account planning. Particularly now, because you can’t just assume that customers are going to have the same needs.

 

“Account planning and problem-solving go together. And the core piece of the account planning, strangely, is understanding the customer story and understanding what we can do to make a significant difference for them.” – Mark Donnolo · [19:00] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

So if we’re putting the account plans together, but it’s not just in your head that’s doing it, as a salesperson, but you’re putting a few people together that they either work with you on the account, or you can do these things called brain trust, where you get a couple of people that understand the business, but maybe don’t know your particular customer situation, to challenge your thinking. The idea of putting two or three heads together on the account planning and thinking ahead, post recovery, what’s that client going to be likely needing and how do we keep updating that? That’s a really important skill to have and to build. So everybody that hates account planning, sorry, but it worked. So account planning and problem solving go together. And the core piece of the account planning, strangely, is understanding the customer story and understanding what we can do to make a significant difference for them.

 

Mark Donnolo:

So digging into that story is extremely important. And then you mentioned one other final point, get a better quota. Because everybody likes that one. You need to get a better quota as you’re going out into 2021, because the world is different. And how do you get a better quota? You have to understand what’s going into that quota. And the big components that your company is probably looking at, well sadly, they’re probably looking at history, but they can’t look at history anymore. So they’re taking that in and projecting it ahead. What you need to help your company do, or at least build your case for, is what is my market opportunity? What is my potential? So do your homework and get the information, and a lot of data sources out there on what your market opportunity is, and build your case there. The second side of it is, understand what your capacity is to sell.

 

“Understand what your capacity is to sell. So you don’t want unrealistic expectations put upon you. So look at your prior productivity, and understand what it is you need for tools to be able to increase your capacity.” – Mark Donnolo · [20:00] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

So you don’t want unrealistic expectations put upon you. So look at your prior productivity, and understand what it is you need for tools to be able to increase your capacity. And those tools could be support. They could be technology tools, they could be job decontaminates. So I have to do a certain amount of stuff as a salesperson, that’s not really selling. How can I get that off my back and onto other support resources. And this is a really fundamental thing, Will, track your time, know how you’re spending your time. Because as we’re coming out of this, there’s going to be a lot of stuff to do. How much time are you able to spend on core selling, and even using a time-tracking tool or an app.

 

Mark Donnolo:

We have some of those that at SalesGlobe that we use, Sales Time Optimizer. They’re good for reps or leaders to be able to see how people are spending their time, and to decontaminate those things. And I know whenever I do my time-tracking daily, I always say, well, I want to spend 60% of my time in business development and it never happens. Well, when you track it, then you can correct it. So those are a couple of other big things, to get a better quota and to increase your capacity.

 

Will Barron:

This is one of the reasons I love speaking to you, Mark, because clearly you’re a pro at this. Because you come out this of, the market’s changed, everything’s changed, you need to discuss your quota. I speak to some salespeople and some quote, unquote experts. And a lot of these episodes, I record them, but they never make out into the public on a YouTube channel, or on the audio side of things, because they had approached this as an amateur by saying just rah, rah, motivational bullshit on top of all this. So this is why I enjoy these conversations.

 

How Salespeople can Negotiate Better Quotas for 2021 · [21:40] 

 

Will Barron:

And where I want to go with that is, is it appropriate to, hopefully I know the answer to this, but is it appropriate to, if your sales manager gives you an outrageous target for next year, to give them a bit of pushback, to ask them to explain it, and then for you to give your 2 cents on it, to perhaps narrow it back down to something that is remotely achievable?

 

“One of the big problems with quotas is the organisation does it the same way that it’s always done it. They do it over and over. So if you can bring new information to the table to help your manager better understand that, and maybe help your manager to get a better quota for herself or himself, that will help as well.” – Mark Donnolo · [22:15] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Intelligence information can only help the organisation and help you. I think one of the big problems with quotas, and we have a book called Quotas!, Of course. One of the big problems with quotas is the organisation does it the same way that it’s always done it. They do it over and over. So if you can bring new information to the table to help your manager better understand that, and maybe help your manager to get a better quota for herself or himself, that will help as well. So if you look at some of those foundational principles in the book Quotas!, Use those to build your case. 

 

“Quotas are a negotiation. And when I work with clients from a leadership standpoint, they talk about negotiation. They go back and forth with the sales manager and with the frontline. And the better informed the managers and the frontline are, the better quota they get.” – Mark Donnolo · [22:40] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

Quotas are a negotiation. And when I work with clients from a leadership standpoint, they talk about negotiation. They go back and forth with the sales manager and with the frontline. And the better informed the managers and the frontline are, the better quota they get because they can make their case. So this is not a passive exercise. You need to make your case.

 

Why You Need to Start Negotiating Your Sales Quota · [22:58]

 

Will Barron:

Because I’ve never debated a quota in my entire life. I’ve just always accepted it. And 9 times out of 10, I’d hit it and surpass it. But it wasn’t even in my world view, when I was a medical device sales, that I could, not debate it. But I could provide some evidence of, well, this hospital is not doing this, this year. This is going to do this next year. And obviously, as you described, it spread around. I had a geographic region. So I’d know that my next door neighbour, geographically sales rep wise, would be having a really good year. And perhaps I’d be on for a great end of the year. And the beginning of the year for him would be different. And so it seems, now, obvious that we could have negotiated all this and everyone would have been better for it as well.

 

Mark Donnolo:

I think some of it, there’s a reality of, there are some companies where you’re going to get the number no matter what. But think about it from this perspective, if I’m a rep and I go to my manager with some logical thinking, and some good data, and some good information. And that could benefit my manager because they could go, wow, I could use that to get a better quota for myself and for my team, that can flow up hill. So the manager might see some benefit in that. So if the manager is enlightened, and the manager is a thinker, and they’re self-motivated for their team, they can use that information for themselves. So again, it’s about building the case. And we can obviously go deeper into that. But I think you have to be a self advocate as a salesperson, not just about hitting your numbers, but getting a better number to hit.

 

How to Become the Trusted Problem Solver For Your Clients · [24:28] 

 

Will Barron:

Got it, got it. Okay. One thing I want to wrap up on here, Mark, is we want to become a professional, want to become a consultant, we want to become a new problem solver. How do we shift our perception in the mind of the potential customer? If we have not been any of those things so far, maybe through no fault of our own, because we haven’t had to be any of those things to get deals done, and there’s been a relationship built. How do we now elevate ourselves to a professional consultant, a new problem solver, without just rocking up in a more expensive car, in a nicer suit, and now calling yourself a consultant?

 

Mark Donnolo:

Yeah. Yeah. I think there’s the dilemma initially, that if you’ve done this for years with a customer or a client, and they see you that way, you’ve got to break out of that mould. So it can certainly be easier to do, and easier to practise, with new buyers or new clients because they don’t have a predefined image of you. I think if you start to have the conversations… Obviously you can’t show up and go, hey, we’re going to take a whole new approach to things. And here’s how we’re going to look at it. They’ll say, oh, what did this guy eat for breakfast? But I think you’ve got to start slowly with, and I always think questions are the most powerful thing.

 

Mark Donnolo:

So if you start asking good questions of your customer about what they’re trying to solve for. And I usually get into questions about, and it’s the classic, the who, what, when, where, why, how kind of questions. I ask questions about, well okay, let’s take quotas, because I’m a consultant. So we want to fix our quota process. Okay. Well we know how to fix your quota process. Well, no you don’t, because you don’t even know what my problem is. So I would start with questions and I would say, well tell me why you want to fix the quota process. How did this start? Who was involved? When did it happen? Who else in the organisation was involved? And I would start to understand the story. So if you start asking story-based questions to your customer, and I used quotas as an example, about why you want to solve things, or solve that particular problem, that will start to open up the conversation. You’re not trying to be brilliant. What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to understand, then it could be in the same conversation, or a follow-up conversation.

 

“I’m asking questions about two things, the story; I want to understand what really happened. And then I’m asking questions about what it would look like ahead. And from that you can then start to pluck out, well, here are the things that we want to solve for.” – Mark Donnolo · [27:10] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

You flip it around and you say, okay, we’ll talk about the idea of a solution vision. Well, what would it look like, Will, if we were able to fix this particular quota problem? Well, we’d have 70% or 60% of our people hitting goal. And would it be certain parts of the organisation? And how would we make that happen? And why would the organisation want to do that? And you start building the case. But all I’m doing as a salesperson, is I’m asking questions about two things, the story, I want to understand really what happened. And then I’m asking questions about what it would look like ahead. And from that you can then start to pluck out, well, here are the things that we want to solve for. So I think it’s incremental, in terms of changing your position with a customer. I think questions are the easiest place to start with.

 

How to Solve Problems at Every Level Within an Organisation · [27:33] 

 

Will Barron:

Is there a level within the organisation that this works best at? Because I imagine if you, Mark, sat down with a CFO, you could ask these questions, you’d get an intelligent series of answers. Hopefully you’re going to ask a question, that’s going to provoke thought, and it’s going to create a new connection and a new answer that wasn’t on the table, or in the CFO’s mind before. So great, it works with you, as a true legendary consultant in the space and a CFO of a large organisation, but perhaps salespeople aren’t selling to CFOs, they’re selling to not end users, but middle management, does it still work? And is it still appropriate to that level as well?

 

Mark Donnolo:

Well, I always want to get to the person that’s creating the vision for where they want to go. However, if you’re selling to a middle manager, they still have a problem that they’re trying to solve, of course. They’ve been given this problem, but there’s something in their mind that they know, because they’re going to make the decision. There’s something in their mind that they know is going to help them to make that decision. And from a narrow standpoint, it might be okay, well, I can help them with those decision criteria, but if I can help them expand their thinking a little bit, by talking a little bit more broadly, perhaps I can differentiate. So they’re not going to hear that.

 

Mark Donnolo:

What I want to do, Will, even if it’s selling to a middle manager, what I want to do is I want our conversation to feel and sound different than the conversations he’s having with my competitors. And I want him to go, wow, these guys are thinking about different things and, maybe that’s something that’s above my pay grade, but they’re actually more concerned about what we’re doing. And I think we’re going to get something different. So whether you’re working narrower or trying to expand, I think you can still do that with somebody who may not be the most senior person in the organisation.

 

How to Differentiate Yourself From the Competition · [29:16] 

 

Will Barron:

Got it. And that answers my question about perception as well, because if you can ask those questions, and at the end of the conversation the perception has changed, because they see you as different to the competitors. I guess what I’m asking here is, is contrast what we’re aiming for with just, it sounds like a good sales title of a book there, of contrast selling or something along those lines. But is contrast what we’re looking for, versus the competition, versus other people’s marketing materials, versus perhaps even what we’ve done in the past to change this perception.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Yeah. I want them to see me, even if I’m selling a commodity, I want them to see me as somebody that’s thinking more broadly, and as a better problem solver. But then as a customer, I’m going to want a good price on that as well. And you can get to that as a follow-up. But I want them to see me differently. When I talked about some of those win situations before, that was the common thing, is the customer was seeing those sellers as different.

 

“I want them (the buyer) to see me differently, and I want them to see that okay, well, for about the same price or maybe a little bit more, I can get this better solution, this better answer to maybe beyond what we’re even trying to solve for. It’s a bigger, better answer.” – Mark Donnolo · [30:33] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

And the thing you can also get to is, the manager might say, well, okay, I think I need you to talk to my boss because there’s some stuff here that I really don’t know the answers to. And as soon as you get that click, then you’re you’re headed in a different place. You’re not always going to get that. But I want them to see me different, and I want them to see me that okay well, for about the same price or maybe a little bit more, I can get this better solution, this better answer to maybe beyond what we’re even trying to solve for. It’s a bigger, better answer.

 

Why You Need to be Growing Your Existing Accounts in the New Economy · [30:48] 

 

Will Barron:

Got it. That makes perfect sense. Mark, I know you did a little bit of preparation before we called today. Is there anything that we need to include in this conversation? Is there anything I’ve missed? Is there anything that we should emphasise?

 

“The current customers are like a vein of gold, and we don’t pay enough attention to them. So if you think about the three components of growth, it’s retention of what you have in your current customer base and current services, its penetration of your current customers, and then it’s acquisition of new customers.” – Mark Donnolo · [31:32] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

Well, I think that when you’re approaching this, we had talked about the idea earlier, do you want to go after new customers or do you want to go after current customers? And I’m a big proponent of current customers. And it’s for this reason, which is the glory, the flash everybody thinks about in sales is, wow, we took down these new customers. It’s like talking about all your wins on the stock market, but not talking about the base of the portfolio and all the stuff you didn’t win at. The current customers are like a vein of gold, and we don’t pay enough attention to them. So if you think about the three components of growth, it’s retention of what you have and your current customer base and current services, its penetration of your current customers, and then it’s acquisition of new customers.

 

“Acquisition of new customers takes more work. It is more expensive in terms of the cost of sales, it is lower probability. And you go into the retention and the penetration, much higher probabilities, and your cost of sales and your effort is much lower. And most accounts are under-penetrated.” – Mark Donnolo · [31:49] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

Acquisition of new customers takes more work. It is more expensive in terms of cost of sales. It is lower probability and you go into the retention and the penetration, much higher probabilities, and your cost of sales and your effort is much lower. And most accounts are under-penetrated. So that’s where I’d be going first. 

 

“And the thing about your customers that’s great is you really know them well. So you can probably problem-solve better for your current customers, than going out into an area where you don’t have as much information, and there may be incumbents that you’re trying to unseat anyway.” – Mark Donnolo · [32:15] 

 

Mark Donnolo: 

So you really have to think about those components. And do your groundwork on your customers. And the thing about your customers that’s great is you really know them well. So you can probably problem solve better for your current customers, than going out into an area where you don’t have as much information, and there may be incumbents that you’re trying to unseat anyway.

 

Mark Explains Why Salespeople Should Focus More on Growing Their Current Customers in the New Economy · [32:35] 

 

Will Barron:

Got it. Well, with social distancing, I’d be careful of talking about penetrating customers too much, Mark. But with that mate, should that be our go-to then? Should that be, we should be focused on everything we just discussed, tied up in a nice little bow, and focus on our current customers right now for the next few months, until we get some resolution to everything that’s going on around the world?

 

“Your current customers love you. Focus on them, help them. Help rather than sell. Build a pipeline beyond the curve and understand how you can become a better problem solver because that’s what’s going to pay.” – Mark Donnolo · [32:50] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

Your current customers love you, focus on them, help them. Help rather than sell. Build pipeline beyond the curve and think, and like we talked about, understand how you can become a better problem solver, because that’s what’s going to play. And we don’t know what the problems are going to be in a year. But that’s what’s going to play, is to the better problem solvers.

 

Parting Thoughts · [33:09]

 

Will Barron:

Got it, love it, Mark. I enjoyed this conversation, as I always do, mate. Tell us where we can find out more about you and everything that you’re doing.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Well, you can go to salesglobe.com and find out more about us. We have a new book out called Quotas! with an exclamation point, Quotas! Design Thinking to Solve Your Biggest Sales Challenge, and that’ll help you negotiate a better quota, and also help you set a better quota for your sales manager. So check that out and it’s got some great stats on quotas, some great tools, and also some ideas on creative problem solving and design thinking, because that is one of the big problems.

 

Will Barron:

Got it. [inaudible [00:33:37] to the website, the book, and everything else that we talked about in this episode of the show over at salesman.org. Well now, Mark, genuinely, I kind of stroked your ego midway through the show, but I genuinely appreciate your thoughts and your insights on this. And so thanks for joining us again on The Salesman podcast.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Thanks, Will, always great talking to you. Take care.

 

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