George Bronten | Your Customer’s Decision Journey

Sales and marketing management is struggling. A study from CSO Insights has the hard evidence. They found that for the last six years, the percentage of salespeople meeting their quota is declining steadily.

George Bronten, founder and CEO of Membrain, has an idea what’s causing the downward trend… and how to turn it around.

Management has to create a standardized “sales environment” that offers guidance and support. And, says George, if you think salespeople hate process and systems… think again.

We also explore…

  • What makes a sales process complex – it’s not price or the size of deal
  • The difference between efficiency and effectiveness (and which one is better)
  • Where today’s CRM systems fall short
  • The surgeon’s secret for more sales
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in This Episode:

Episode Transcript:

Michael Webb: Some people focus on using data and evidence and scientific approaches to improve processes within their business along the lines of lean and six sigma. Other people focus on getting to decision makers, identifying value propositions, and selling value. In this podcast, we focus on integrating those two things. We focus on doing both so that we can help our companies to create wealth for everyone.

My name Michael Webb and this is the Sales Process Excellence podcast. I am really excited by my guest today, George Bronten of Membrain Software. George, thanks for being here.

George Bronten: Thank you, Michael. Happy to be here. Thanks for the invitation.

Michael Webb: Well, this is going to be exciting. As I’ve told you over the years, I’ve been approached by lots and lots of CRM software companies. And as I have scratched the surface of them I, unfortunately, realized these things are built with a bunch of assumptions that just don’t work. They’re not correct in taking a data-driven scientific approach, and systems thinking approach, to improving the productivity of sales and marketing organizations. And then I spent an hour on the phone with you and your systems and I was delighted to see that it’s the closest one I have ever seen. So our conversation today I think is going to be enlightening and fun for everyone.

So I guess everybody knows that you need some sort of information processing. Everybody knows in B to B that it’s a tough business out there. It’s tough to find customers and close them. It’s tough to get all the salespeople up to speed and on board with something that actually works. And it’s especially tough to forecast the future, forecast accurately and consistently improve the productivity of sales and marketing.

And there’s a lot of studies, a famous one by CSO Insights, over the last four or five years that show that sales and marketing management is struggling. They’ve shown in their studies of over a thousand companies each year that the percentage of B to B salespeople that are actually making quota has been declining. It’s like six years in a row. And productivity is not increasing.

So I thought if we could start there. I know, George, that being in this industry you’ve seen those kinds of studies. Which of them do you think are the most interesting and insightful? What do you think that those things are really telling executives who are responsible for sales and marketing productivity?

George Bronten: Yeah. The one you mentioned, CSO Insights, has always done a good job in doing these studies and summarizing them in an interesting way. And I guess the most interesting part of those is to see the trends. Are we trending upwards or downwards? Where are we heading? And just looking at all the technology that has come out over the last decade, one would want to see effectiveness and efficiency and productivity to all be improving, right? But it’s kind of saddening to see those trendlines pointing downwards.

Michael Webb: Exactly. Exactly. The technology tends to be a solution looking for a problem. And that is not the way the investors or the developers intended it.

George Bronten: Hopefully not. (laughter)

Michael Webb: I have some ideas of why that might be happening. But I think it’s an important thing to face and analyze. Do you have some theories about that? What observations have you seen with your clients that give you an idea of what might be the reasons for it?

George Bronten: Yeah. I think from my perspective what I’ve seen happening is kind of a belief that automation will solve all our problems. So marketing automation has been very hyped for the last eight or so years, and these companies, in particular, were touting the end of selling, that we don’t need salespeople. You just need to put some content up online and have a blog and everyone will come knocking on your door to buy your products and services.

So I think that people sort of bought into that a bit too much. I think one of the sort of … I don’t know if I should call it an assumption, but maybe misconception is that selling is selling. Because there’s a lot of variety in selling. It lies on a complexity scale. If you’re looking to sell something to a consumer market, fast moving goods, maybe all you need is a very good online presence and buy Google Ad words and have a lot of content and do the SEO game.

But if you’re in a complex B to B sales environment, it will definitely not be enough. It’s going to be you have to do it. You have to be online. You have to be there for your prospecting. But once the rubber hits the road so to speak and your salespeople get engaged, I mean you still have to know the basics. You have to do all the work that you need to be able to do as a sales team and a sales professional. And I think that’s where people are falling down.

Michael Webb: I think that’s a fascinating observation. I totally agree with it. I remember years ago I started out in a pretty simple business. Out of college, I sold business forms, right? It’s a weekly business. You’re out there making calls. The hardest part was doing the estimating and entering the orders because there are so many damn details. From that industry, after four years I made a switch. And I had no idea how big of a switch it was going to be, but microcomputers had come out. So I wanted to go into the business world of business computers and software. That was really cool.

So I joined a computer company that sold minicomputers and integrated accounting software to small and medium-sized businesses. And, oh man, talk about a cultural shift. Because they didn’t buy the damn computer because of how many bits and bytes there were or the dimensions of the cabinet or the color of the darn thing. They bought it because of these abstract reasons, right? Their work-in-process inventory would be reduced. The number of errors in the order entry, right? They’d be able to close their books faster at the end of the month.

Well, what differencedoes that make? I had to learn the impact of those things to be able to talk intelligently to the owners of small and medium-sized companies. And I had no background on that coming from the business forms industry. So I mean I was up late at night. I was studying with my APIC examinations, American Production and Inventory Control Society. Getting training and learning this context and this background. And the company I worked for was trying … They had a high turnover among salespeople. And it was trying to bring salespeople in. And I remember they brought in a guy who had a background selling copy machines. And they thought we could turn him into a minicomputer salesman.

George Bronten: How did that go?

Michael Webb: Oh, man. He lasted about four or five months, and he was gone. The conceptual assumptions that had to be in place to be effective selling the minicomputers and the software, he had no idea about that stuff. And he had no ambition to do that stuff. The thing that was shocking to me was that our corporation, our executives, didn’t realize that those things had to happen. So I totally agree with you that the variation … What looks like selling in one industry does not look like selling at all in another.

George Bronten: Exactly. And it’s kind of depressing that this is still happening at such a large scale. People are still hiring the wrong type of people and not onboarding them correctly, not coaching them correctly. One would think that we would have come much further along.

Michael Webb: Yeah. So we’re agreed that there is some sort of context of knowledge about what selling is, and about what the value to the customer is required, that has to be clear if a company is going to have an effective sales process.

George Bronten: Yep.

Michael Webb: And most companies, I would say most companies they haven’t learned how to articulate that. They kind of know it when they see it, but they haven’t … I mean, would you agree with that?

George Bronten: Yes. And you can also have multiple types of selling going on within the same company, right? You could have a specific set of products or services that are more transactional and others that are more complex. So it might be the case that you actually have different types of selling environments within the same company. So you also have to realize that. And people struggle with this when you say technology because technologies haven’t really been designed this way. They’re also based on the assumption that selling is the same basically, and that sellers should just log whatever they’ve done into the system. There’s very little guidance on how to do things.

Michael Webb: Or what information is important.

George Bronten: Yeah, exactly.

Michael Webb: So, I’ve talked with a number of people in the CRM industry and they sort of sense, they know that their customer, their client, isn’t going to have all that successful of an installation. Because they know that they haven’t really got a sales process defined. But they don’t have a model for how to do it correctly. And they get frustrated because they end up talking to the IT department within their customer, right, and so okay we got this quote, we quoted them these capabilities. Let’s just get it done and then go onto the next client. And the CRM systems and a result don’t end up achieving the ambition and the hopes that those companies had hoped for when they started.

George Bronten: Yeah. And it’s interesting when I get contacted sometimes for articles and interviews and review sites and all these people who should be sort of in the know when it comes to technology. They sometimes, or very often actually, ask me the question, So which CRM systems are made or designed for small companies, and which CRM companies are designed for larger companies? Well, that’s the completely wrong question to ask, because it’s not about how much you sell. It’s how you actually sell, or should be selling, which is interesting.

So, you can be a very small company and have a very complex sales environment, or vice versa. And that’s what you need to understand. I think that’s where many people go wrong. And I think CRM also for many it’s just a database.

Michael Webb: Yes. It’s just a database, and it can be very useful and helpful to salespeople if the database and its forms are designed correctly. But you have that issue you mentioned a few moments ago. I worked with a distributor one time, not too many years ago, and he had worked with another consultant and they had developed a sales process. And there were eight steps in it. And as we looked at the yield, you know the conversion, he had this problem where the forecast was … We’d have all these nice deals in the forecast but they might get 10% of those deals by close, right? Then the rest of them get pushed forward to the next quarter. It was just so hard to know when these people were going to buy. So the more time and effort they put into the deals in the funnel, the less likely people were to buy, right?

So something was clearly amiss. And as we took apart the undesirable results we called them, the evidence and the data that they did not like, and tried to figure out what were the causes that were going on. He had part of his business that was routinely replacing supplies, components that were consumed. He catered to the printing industry. So printing blankets, and gaskets, and seals, and stuff like that. And this was just a commodity supply type of supply chain type of thing.

But then he also had some product lines that were very complex software for prepress, for preparing the images that are going to be printed. Well, you have to design your whole company around the train of work that goes from getting the order, to doing the prepress, to setting up the press to produce, printing it. These are very complex things. So the selling process for selling them was quite different.

So he had a mix of these software, complex integrated special purpose hardware and equipment and supplies. On theory for a distributor to be able to supply all these things is a great … You know you have your fingers in all these markets, what could go wrong? Well, a lot goes wrong because you can’t manage those sales in the same way. And it becomes very unpredictable. And your salespeople are spread so thin over all those different technologies, it’s difficult to be good at any one of them.

George Bronten: And I think also that technology, I mentioned marketing automation previously. What people are doing wrong as I see it, they are using all these marketing automation technologies. Then they put these leads, marketing qualified leads, whatever you would like to call them, and they put them right into their pipeline. So there’s no qualification from someone having interacted on your website, that could be a student, could be someone who is just having a boring Sunday, could be anything.

So it becomes very, very difficult for sales leaders and front line sales managers to actually trust the numbers. I mean, what’s the win rate? When I ask that question today to sales managers or sales leaders, they can’t even answer it. Well, it depends. Why does it depend? What do you mean by that? Well this and that, and this and that, and this person is doing it differently, and the way we get leads from the website are different. No, it shouldn’t be. You’re just doing it wrong.

Michael Webb: Right. Correct. It shouldn’t be different. It kind of goes to this. And perhaps you’ve seen this as well. One of the hidden assumptions that people make is that selling is about what salespeople do. And in fact, in our world, the customers are out looking for information to solve their problems and decide what to do. They’re looking for into in lots of places that the salespeople can’t go. I mean it used to be that the salesperson, he would do the prospecting. They would let him in the door when he knocked on the door. He could meet people for the first time. He had information about the market that they didn’t have, right? And so he could build relationships and through that network of relationships then he was able to find opportunities and he could handle everything from scoop to nuts in the whole relationship.

But now when customers are looking for information on the internet if your company isn’t there … It’s like the whole company has to be oriented to how do we help customers find us? How do we help them prioritize us? How do we help them trust us? Okay, now they’re ready to actually buy something they might need someone who understands the applications. That’s your sales process. Just that one part of it.

Then after they buy now they have to actually install it, and there’s all sorts of adjustments and changes and training and perhaps startup. All sorts of things that go on there. Did they actually get the result that they expected to get? So these are different functions that your business needs to perform. It’s not all just the salesperson.

And yet if the executives think about, “Oh, marketing that’s about the brochures. That’s about public relations. And, yeah, they’re supposed to stay in budget. Sales, they’re held accountable for results. We give them a quota. And service, yeah, they just solve problems”. They look at it functionally, they’re going to be blind to these changes that are going on in the market around them.

I’m sorry. I’m talking too much. Is that sort of a thing that you’ve seen too?

George Bronten: Yeah. Absolutely. You have to get that holistic view on the entire … I don’t really like the word buying journey but I guess it’s more of a decision journey that customers are on. I do think it’s interesting though to sort of challenge the idea that buyers have gone through x% of their journey before contacting a salesperson. Sure, they’re doing a lot more research, and there’s more information available online and now that information is also higher quality hopefully than it was a couple of years ago. But I’m not sure that buyers always know what they’re looking for. I mean they might have defined their problem incorrectly or not in the right way. So I do think it’s important for salespeople to sort of reset the problem definition if possible.

Michael Webb: Out of curiosity, why is it that you dislike the term buyer’s journey?

George Bronten: Well, I think the wording makes me think of a journey that is defined, that they know where they’re going and how to get there which I don’t think they do, most of them. And I also dislike buying because they don’t have to buy anything. If they have a problem that they need to solve, we know as sellers a lot of times they will end up not buying anything from anyone.

Michael Webb: Right. Goes down to no decision.

George Bronten: Right. No decision or they find internal resources to solve their problem. They might not need to buy anything. So I don’t think buying journey always is correct. I think they’re on a, I don’t know, a solution hunt or outcome chase.

Michael Webb: I think that’s a really good observation, and I agree with you. I’m trying to remember the title of it. There was a really good B to B sales book a number of years ago. And they made a distinction between two major types of B to B sales. And one of them was this supplier, you know commodity type thing for which companies that use them have buyers. You know you might buy electronic components. You might buy paper and ink. You might buy motors and controllers. You can figure into your own product line if you’re an OEM. So you have buyers that are expert in buying that stuff.

But the other type is the type of stuff that the company needs to change its internal systems, and change its way of doing business. So different executives or leaders of different departments are involved in making that decision. Sometimes it’s internally driven. Sometimes somebody from the outside comes in and influences them. But that’s a whole different kind of a sale than the buyer.

When I first read about the buyer’s journey years ago from a book called The Leaky Funnel, I was uncomfortable also with that concept of buyer’s journey and I started calling it the customer’s journey for that same reason. So we were thinking alike there, George.

George Bronten: That’s interesting. Some words, you can sort of trip on them and they don’t really feel right. I think that goes back to like you said, the type of selling environment, or the type of buying decision, or the type of decision they need to make. And I think what you said was also interesting that I think some people may sometimes forget, and that’s the complexity of the sale is not really determined by the sales price or the size of the deal. It is really determined by the perceived risks for the buyer. You could buy something very expensive, 1000 laptops, but that doesn’t make it complex. That’s a simple transactional sale.

Michael Webb: Usually.

George Bronten: But if you’re buying an ERP system that could really put the whole company to a halt if not implemented correctly, and you have to change a number of processes within the company. Well, that’s a huge risk and it becomes very complex and more people become involved.

Michael Webb: Yes. I think that that is one of the sort of tips, you know the iceberg idea. There’s the surface that you see, but there’s a whole lot of stuff underneath that has to be dealt with, with sales processes. And as an example lots of companies, they started up and they grew because there was a demand in the market. And then they just, Golly we could make more of these things. We could make some more money, so the focus is on production. And make that production more timely, less costly. And add a few more features that the customers want.

And so as long as they’re able to do that because of the imbalance in the market where there’s more demand than supply, they can grow and they can make money. And they can go through distribution channels. But let somebody else finance the inventory in, you know, Fargo, North Dakota. We can still make money by selling it to them at a discount. We don’t have to worry about dealing with the customers. It makes a good decision for the company’s own balance sheet.

But I’ve talked to a number of companies and consulted with them over time where that ends up kind of catching up with them. Where the market has changed and their customers are more sophisticated. The competitors are more sophisticated. And where they used to be able to continue to grow just by signing up another market channel for example, that’s not working anymore.

So we have this method that I use. It’s helping people to define the evidence and data they do not like. This undesirable result. And you help them to do a cause and effect diagram to figure out what are the root causes of the current situation. And in one client, very memorable kind of a situation, there was two kind of root causes. One of them was we don’t have a way of knowing what’s actually working out in the field, with sales reps or with their distributor. We don’t have a way of knowing that. And so in process improvement, you take that and you say, Okay, well why? Why don’t we have a … Well, we never needed it before. Well, why? Right? Well, gee, we could always make our numbers by signing up at distribution. Well, why? Because the market was growing. Oh. So market’s not growing anymore. So the market has changed. So that’s why you need to see what’s working and not working in the field, with salespeople.

Now what was interesting is this company had been asked by its corporate parent to install a Siebel system automation system for Sierra the year before. The general manager had succeeded in diverting it saying, We’re not ready for that. And had they spent that 1.2 million dollars to install that thing without recognizing that one of their fundamental requirements is to have a way of knowing what’s working and not working in the field, right? It would have been a 1.2 million dollar boat anchor. So, they dodged a bullet, right?

I’m tying back to that idea of the iceberg, that there’s so many implications inside the companies about how they create value for customers and if they’re relying on rule of thumb and what always worked before, what worked at my last company, and they don’t have a way of gathering the evidence and the data from the hinterlands, from the salespeople, from the distribution channels, from real customers about what’s actually working and not working. Then they may gradually be becoming disconnected from the market.

George Bronten: Yeah. That’s interesting. I often write about the difference between efficiency and effectiveness, and how people are always so focused on efficiency, just doing more, faster. And I think my industry is very, very much to blame because everything is about doing things faster. Email more people and call more people.

Michael Webb: Quantity instead of quality.

George Bronten: Yeah. It’s always quantity. And I think that’s causing a lot of problems for the sales profession. I don’t know, like you, but I get so many emails every day that I know they’re from some kind of email automation software trying to look like they’re customized for me. But they came with the system, and I just ignore them. I even get upset nowadays when they’re so extremely silly that it’s hurting their brands.

Michael Webb: But do you really blame the CRM industry? To me it’s the B to B companies that you serve, they’re the ones that are asking. They’re the ones that have all these presuppositions and assumptions, and they’re willing to spend lots of money without really examining them carefully.

George Bronten: I wouldn’t say I blame CRM companies. And I think what we’re seeing now or have seen the last three, four years is a lot of startups coming out of Silicon Valley and other places that are trying to sort of fill the holes that are in the CRMs systems. So email cadences, for instance, as they’re called by some of these vendors.

Michael Webb: And the whole sales enablement thing.

George Bronten: Yeah. All these tools that are popping up are trying to do one thing very fast basically. And I think CRMs, the big large CRM players now they’ve just become like large databases with an ecosystem of different tools around them trying to sell to this customer base using that database. So it’s kind of an interesting ecosystem they’ve built, but they are dependent in the one way of not building too much into the core product, but rather have these third-party vendors do it for them. Because they’re going to make money anyway. And trying to broaden their scope by making some acquisitions to go into marketing, go into customer success, and touting this as one beautiful seamless creation.

Michael Webb: It really isn’t.

George Bronten: It really isn’t. And everyone is buying the … or drinking the Kool-Aid. It’s like, Wow. But I think there will come a day where you sort of realize that, Wow, this is really expensive. I’m paying a huge amount for just trying to-

Michael Webb: You’re reminding me I’m old enough to remember back in the ’80s when General Motors made this big announcement. You know they’re under pressure from Japanese and competition. So they made this big announcement, We are going to have automated factories. And they committed billions and billions of dollars to buying robots and automating their factories. And it was very expensive. And it was a gigantic failure. It took them like ten or twelve years to finally admit, because they thought they knew what the solutions were. And they didn’t.

It’s like Toyota, for example, has steadily, gradually, continuously improved its productivity, its profitability, its efficiency, its effectiveness. And they are happy to let their competitors tour their plants because they know that the competitors aren’t going to see what really makes them competitive. What makes them competitive is what’s going on between the ears of the employees, right? And six months later employees are going to come up with new and better ways to do the jobs. And that’s how Toyota does it. And the executives of US corporations, particularly, are less likely to be aware of that.

To me, I see parallels in what has happened in management of production and manufacturing and what people are now kind of repeating that error in sales and marketing. Do you?

George Bronten: Yeah. What I hear you saying is that they believe that the magic sauce is in the tools or the processes themselves, but it’s really about the culture and the mindset and the systems thinking behind it. So, yeah, I do agree. And I think sales is sort of the last outpost when it comes to process and continuous improvements. There’s been too much autonomy, I think, placed on salespeople. We expect and assume that they know how to sell, who to speak with about what, and all these things. So we just need to elevate the sales profession as a whole, I think, on every level. Because it’s not just the salespeople. It’s the sales managers. I think that where we have the greatest leverage. If we can really improve our front line sales managers.

Michael Webb: Yeah. Greatest opportunity. I definitely agree there. And the interesting thing to me, I’ve talked with numbers of VPs, like VPs of sales, or even company presidents. And they’re nervous. They’re worried if I bring this process stuff in, my salespeople they might not like it. They’re allergic to process. But when we get in and start working with them we learn the salespeople are dying for this because their biggest problem is not selling to customers in a lot of cases. It’s getting their own company to go along with what needs to be done, right? And so to have an orderly data-driven way so that you can tell who’s doing a good job and who’s not. So you can predict better.

The salespeople embrace it in my view, because if you handle it correctly because it’s about the system. It’s about value to the customer. It’s about evidence and data. We don’t blame people, right? Salespeople can’t control the system that they’re in, and unfortunately most in the B to B sales profession, whether they come from CRM or from sales training, they still have this mindset. Oh, we have the outside expert. You’re going to do the Miller and Heiman approach in this company, right? It’s like, wait a second. Some of that may be good, but some of it isn’t. We have this know-it-all sort of mentality when it comes to what B to B sales ought to be instead of an experimental mentality that allows the salespeople to experiment and learn and change the system that they live in so that it makes it easier to sell. I’m riffing off here, but that’s ….

George Bronten: Yeah. I agree with you. I agree with you. I read a very interesting book a couple of years back called The Checklist Manifesto by a surgeon.

Michael Webb: I’ve heard of that.

George Bronten: Yeah. It’s a surgeon who talks about the high amount of complications that occur after surgeries and a lot of deaths that occur. And researching this they found that it was often because of simple problems like them not washing their hands correctly, or the timing of anesthesia being off, etc. So they started looking at other professions where lives were at stake, and they saw, for instance, pilots. They use checklists. And in construction as well. You don’t take off until you know that there’s fuel in the tanks and etc. etc. And they went back to the surgeons, said, Hey, let’s do this. Let’s introduce a checklist so we make sure that we don’t miss important steps that could cause someone to die. And everyone, of course, was very negative about this. Like, I don’t need a checklist. I’ve been a surgeon for 25 years. Don’t tell me what to do. But they introduced it in multiple hospitals around the world, and they reduced the number of deaths with 47%. That’s pretty staggering. I found that so interesting. I often tell this story to sales leaders and salespeople when it comes to process.

It’s like, we’re not designed for discipline. We make mistakes all the time. Who do you think makes the most mistakes? A surgeon in a two-hour operation, or you in a nine to twelve-month sales cycle? Where you have 20 different stakeholders and there’s politics involved. People’s jobs are at stake. Or this person who’s lying still and they’re operating on him for two hours. And that sort of lowers their guard a bit. Like, Yeah, you’re right. We could view process as guidance, support, structure, that would help us really do our job better.

Michael Webb: Yeah. So engaging your team to develop those checklists and then manage themselves according to it.

George Bronten: Exactly.

Michael Webb: You turn the whole sales process … The objective of the sales process is not to bring in customers. The objective of a sales process is to improve how you bring in customers, right? That’s why people get engaged with it, because they can do better. Their ideas can be adopted. And so it should be these standards and checklists should be changing and improving over time. That’s the purpose of the process. And that’s what the software in my view should support.

So if you look at the clients that your company services around the world, they come in. What percentage of them are ready actually for automation in the manner that we’re talking about? They’ve got this stuff thought out. They have good managers. They’re ready to start learning from the data. And what percentage of them are just looking for some sort of technology solution without having thought through all this?

George Bronten: That’s a good question. Because we sell through partners, usually customers come to us through a partner who has already helped them design the strategy and the process. So most of the clients actually have it for that reason. But we also get requests for information and customers coming through the website online, and there it becomes very obvious that most have a very, very poor understanding, from my perspective, of what a sales process should contain and the depth of it.

So for most, they have sort of the definition of the sale process being a number of stages, because that’s how it’s been represented in CRM systems. So they have four or five stages and sometimes they’re called like a selling language, like engage, design, proposal, etc. Or they’ve been modern and they’ve looked at it more from a buying perspective. But it doesn’t really matter. There’s no depth into it. It doesn’t really go into how we help a client to define their problem, or how we help them define a possible solution. How we help them verify that that solution could work. And all these details that we have to help the customer go through, they don’t have all of that. So I would say 90% that comes from the website to us don’t have that defined in a good enough manner.

Michael Webb: And if they did their return on investment would be way, way better.

George Bronten: Yeah. One of the reasons I started this company and designed the product was that I sort of had a realization in another company that I owned that I was really failing in making salespeople productive. And I sort of sat down and thought about the main problems these salespeople were doing, and the main problems I was doing. And I have a thesis that if we can just reduce the most common problems, we can increase revenues with 20, 30%, of course depending on what you sell, and how much, and what industry you’re in. But that was in my situation back then.

So we were selling automation tools for IT companies. And a very common mistake my salespeople did was that they did not involve the technical people. So the business benefit of the IT automation platform that we sold were huge for the business. You could go from 3% profits to 30% profits if you made everything in the right way. But of course, the technical people got super afraid, because they thought their jobs were going to go away. If things were going to get automated, wow, I’m going to lose my job. So they became real stoppers for any deal to happen. So that was one of the typical, simple problems that the salespeople were making. Was like, okay, you have to involve these people. You have to talk to them about their pains and their gains. Super simple thing, right? You think any salespeople would understand that, but they didn’t. And I had to coach them and we had to design it into the process so that we did those actions at the right time, and we provided the guidance and the speaking points, and the questions, and the dialogue that they needed to have.

So I think just reducing simple mistakes, like not washing your hands as a surgeon can have pretty massive impact. Or just qualifying deals like I mentioned earlier.

Michael Webb: Absolutely. And I can echo that. I’ve seen exactly the same thing happen with my clients. We can help them to do simple things, like defining the observable characteristics that make a prospect or an opportunity more or less likely to buy or to be successful. And have everybody use that checklist if you will, and you can convert those observations into numbers. And all of a sudden, unwittingly … I mean big problem in sales training is getting everybody to use a training. Here, we didn’t do any training and people are doing things in a more constructive, consistent way. Right? And it makes a huge difference in forecast accuracy, in close ratios. I had a client tell me their margins went up a full percent without raising prices because the entire company knew how to focus on those deals in the pipeline that were most likely to buy. That just the way of operating makes everything work better.

George Bronten: And then the win/loss is another important aspect of it. Really to understand why are we winning, why are we losing. And then redirect your efforts to where you can win more. And that’s a simple thing you would think everybody is doing, everyone is doing win/loss analysis. But not really. And my experience is that they are done quite sloppily and they’re not very data-driven. They’re more based on assumptions, again, from salespeople, why a lead deal was won or lost. But we need to drill down in the data to say, okay, what are we really seeing?

Michael Webb: And the methods of doing that so that they’re efficient and effective. People need to learn this more kind of scientific approach.

So, cool. We could go on for a long time. I’d like to do this again. This was kind of fun. Let’s see how the audiences react to our conversation here. I suspect we’re talking about things a lot of people would be interested in. And I really, really appreciate the insights and perspectives that you’re bringing to this.

George Bronten: It’s good fun. We have a shared passion.

Michael Webb: So if someone wants to learn more about Membrain or learn more about George and follow up with you, how would they do that?

George Bronten: I think the easiest way is to connect with me on LinkedIn. I’ve very active there. if you want to learn more about the product we’re building. And we’re also creating sort of a business impact assessment we call it, it may be too big of a word. But we try to figure out if we increase sales effectiveness how would that impact a business. It’s a very fun exercise to do. So that’s a free exercise we do with potential clients. The output is a number of documents that are useful, for any investments not just in our products, when it comes to sales effectiveness.

Michael Webb: Very interesting. All right. Well, again, thanks for your interest and your support for the Sales Process Excellence podcast. I would love to have you again in the future. And hope the business does well, and these clients and prospects can learn from what we’ve been talking about, and make better business decisions in their sales processes. So thank you, sir.

George Bronten: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.


Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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