As an industry we call ourselves professionals, but that professionalism doesn’t seem to extend to analysing properly why we win or lose a potential deal and then actually doing something about it.
Dylis: Hi there, this is Dylis Guyan and this is the Inspired Selling Podcast, the place where business owners and salespeople discover how to attract, convert, and retain more of their ideal clients and I’ve got a cracking guest for you today in Cian McLoughlin. I hope I said that nicely there Cian
Dylis: From Ireland. Cian hails from Ireland originally but has lived many years in Sydney, Australia. So let me tell you a little bit about Cian. So Cian is the founder and CEO of Trinity Perspectives, a sales training and consulting company specialising in win-loss analysis and sales transformation. He is a 20-year veteran of the B2B sales industry including senior roles in some of the world’s largest software companies. He’s also a regular commentator in the mainstream media and an Amazon #1 best-selling author, award-winning blogger and keynote speaker.
Now, don’t I just bring you the best? Welcome Cian, I’m so excited to talk to you and find out more. So let’s just kick off and look at what inspired you first of all to set-up Trinity Perspectives?
Cian: I think probably two things if I’m being entirely honest, one was a need to escape the corporate world. I’ve been in big companies and corporate roles for I the best part of 15 years by the time I became a cubicle escapee, back in 2011 and I was over it. You know it felt like Groundhog day, it felt kind of like you know every week’s a month, every month’s a quarter, every quarter is the most important quarter there’s ever been. I felt that I had stopped learning, I’d stopped developing and growing and all I was doing was effectively just chasing a number each year.
So, so that was a big factor, it was the need to sort of try something different and maybe, you know, branch out. But I think the reason that I went down the path I went down was because towards the end of my corporate career I started to see a pattern happening again and again.
The pattern was we’d put a whole lot of time, and effort, and energy, and blood, sweat and tears into a sales cycle or a pursuit or a bid or a whatever you want to call it and it might take us weeks, months even on occasions years. At the end we’d either, if we’re very lucky we’d win or maybe we wouldn’t win but in either circumstance we never really fully understood what had actually happened, what had transpired, what had influenced the customers to make their buying decision whether it was in our favour or in someone else’s.
So we moved onto the next one. We weren’t doing any real analysis, anything beyond a sit-down internally and a discussion about what we thought might have happened and I just saw that as a broken model, it felt to me like there had to be a better way.
So I set out to try and solve that problem and initially I started to do it while I was still employed and then I realised that if you’re going to be going to customers and asking them to provide really detailed, frank, open, granular feedback, it makes it much more easier to do if you’re a third-party if there’s a little bit of separation between the vendor and the customer. It makes it easier for them to give that feedback but also when you have that information and insight, it makes it much easier for you to do something with it.
So, that was the that was the sort of the challenge I embarked on seven years ago and we built a business or I built a business doing this now with companies all over the world in Australia obviously, in New Zealand, in Asia, in Europe, and the US. Fundamentally we’re just helping them better understand why they’re winning and losing the big deals they’re pitching for. Then we’re actually moving into now much more and helping them retain their existing customers by us coming in and finding out what’s working, what’s not. So it’s just really sort of you know voice of the customer, customer insight on steroids and then really using that knowledge to get better, to lift our game.
Dylis: Really its such common sense isn’t it? That you would want to do that and yet none of the companies that I worked for ever, we never ever analysed why we won or why we lost a bit of business, we’d just as you say surged forward to the next one and it’s you know a win or a loss and again to the next one.
Cian: You know what, I’ve played sport all of my life and just strikes me as really odd, you see the best teams and the best sports people will always sit down and watch the game tape back afterwards and analyse their performance and analyse their competition and ask themselves what they can learn from it. As an industry we call ourselves sales professionals but that professionalism doesn’t seem to extend to analysing properly why we win or lose and then actually doing something about it. So that to me was just broken and yeah and so we set out to fix it.
Dylis: Yeah, so tell us a little bit more about this win-loss. What sort of information were you gathering when you were having these conversations with vendors and buyers?
Cian: Well I think you know the first thing I’d say is a lot of the this the insights we got from customers were quite surprising and a lot of the feedback we were giving back to vendors, they were very shocked by. In many instances they were shocked at just how far away from reality they were in terms of understanding what had influence a customer’s buying decision.
I’ll give you an example. We did a piece of work for a vendor a couple of years back and they won a huge piece of business, one they didn’t think they had any right to win. When we sat down and did the debrief with the customer, one of the first things they said was this vendor, their tender response was incredibly poor. It was so poor, they nearly didn’t get through to the first round, it was you know clearly it was cobbled together by different people and put together it was like Frankenstein’s bride and then thrown over the fence at 5 to 5 on a Friday afternoon. Anyone you give that feedback to kind of nods and says yeah we’ve probably done that.
But what happened was they did make it through the first round and then they did a whole lot of different things, some big, some small, that spoke to their knowledge and their commitment and cultural fit and spoke to a whole lot of things that weren’t about product and weren’t about price. What we’ve seen and this, this has been kind of proven time and time again is that your product and your price which we think often determine if we’re going to win or lose, that’s actually your ticket to play. So if your product is way off or your price point is way off you’re not going to even make it to the start line or you certainly won’t make it to the short list. The question that should be in your mind is what takes us from the short-list to the selected vendor?
Cian: A lot of what gets you to that final step of the journey is your people and your purpose rather than just your product and your price. That’s what we kept hearing back from customers time after time they spoke about the quality of the individual’s cultural fit, risk mitigation, the credibility, the experience, all of these things that were people and purpose related. So I think gradually over time and this you know I’m pretty dumb so it took me a while to kind of come to this realisation, I’d finally figured it out that as humans we buy with our hearts and then we justify with our heads.
Cian: Or maybe we buy with our hearts and our heads but as an industry we’re selling to people’s heads all the time, we’re not understanding how important a role your gut, your heart, your intuition plays and so much of that comes back to the quality of our people or our purpose. So that was one of the big surprises I think.
Dylis: Yeah and when you talk about purpose Cian, just expand on that because I know we talk about it, we’re very familiar with that term.
Dylis: I think, particularly lots of my audience who are business owners who are selling to bigger businesses, they’re experts in the field but they’re not such experts in the sales and marketing arena. When we’re talking about purpose, I’d really like to put some context around that.
Cian: Yes. So, I think that’s a great question and if I was to catch someone in 6 or 7 years and someone had said purpose to me I’d say “That’s a bit fluffy, that’s a bit you know sort of woo-woo” you know or maybe it’s something that sits on our website or whatever but really, purpose is something which is much more kind of integral.
So why do we do what we do when we strip away making money and shareholder value? Why do we do what we do? What are we passionate about? Are we passionate about helping small businesses grow? Are we passionate about helping you know people move from legacy infrastructure to something that’s going to set them up for the next 10 or 15? What do we genuinely care about as an organisation and as individuals?
If that’s something you can connect to and you believe in and you’re not paying lip service to, then my strong recommendation is to actually talk about that, ideally, 5 ways to connect up you purpose to the purpose of either the organisation or better still the individuals you’re dealing with.
Cian: So if they wanted, they’re a community-based organisation and their whole purpose centres around you know delivering a better outcome to their community or being the most innovative provider of energy in the…whatever it is, understand that first, and then try and find a way to connect back to that. Actually purpose and storytelling and things that operate on a slightly different level to the prefrontal cortex which is all about information and bits and bites, that’s the bit that actually influences us in terms of how we make our decisions.
Cian: So we need to put much more focus on that. I’m not saying don’t focus on product, I’m not saying don’t worry about price you absolutely need to tick those boxes but then the question is, what else have you got, what else differentiates you, what separates you from all the other people who can do the thing that you say you can do and so much of that goes back to the quality of our people and the honesty of our purpose and what we bring to the table.
Dylis: Yeah and I think the other thing around purpose is about that message staying strong throughout the company. I call that keeping the red paint red. I was working with a company last week and what they wanted me to do was in fact to really nail down their mission and purpose and the values that sat underneath those and they brought all of their managers in and I facilitated this, afternoon it was, just based on this mission, purpose and values but it wasn’t just talking about this, it was getting examples of it.
Dylis: So what does this absolutely mean and then when we’ve done all of that was ‘Right, how’re you going to keep this message strong, keep the red paint red all the way through the business’ so that it isn’t a crimson at the top and then…
Dylis: Just red, a lighter red and then you’ve got white with a hint of pink and then how do we live those.
Cian: How do we live our values, how do we live… yeah 100%.
Dylis: Yeah and how do we articulate that to our customers as our differentiator from everyone else that does the same thing as us and that was what we talked about last week so I’m really pleased we’ve hit on that.
Cian: It really blew me away and I wasn’t expecting it at all. The other thing is purpose then starts to become something that allows you to attract and retain the best people as well. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because if you have the sort of organisation that is very purpose driven that has you know something other than just making money that people can get out of bed and get excited about then that’s the sort of place people want to work.
Everyone really wants to have an impact in some way shape or form, everyone wants to leave a legacy in some way shape or form. So our ability to give our employees the opportunity to do that is huge and then it begets just a virtuous cycle from there. So yeah, that’s one of the things which really took me by surprise.
Some of the other stuff that probably didn’t take me by surprise but frustrated me a little bit because I continued to hear it; why do we think we lose deals? Well often we think we lose based on price, we think we lose based on it wasn’t a level playing field and they were always leaning towards Joe Bloggs and we were never really in the hunt we just made those numbers, whatever.
Actually what we heard back from customers is, “You just didn’t you didn’t listen to us or you didn’t take the time to understand our needs, we saw you as unprofessional or we saw you as high risk, you focused too much on your solution you didn’t focus enough on our problem.
Your content was generic, we could see you had searched and replaced someone else’s name with our name in your tender document. We saw you as too cheap, we saw you as too niche, and we saw you as you know not a good cultural fit.” We did one the other day and I won’t name any names but it was a $20-million piece of business and if I was to boil it all down to one thing the customer said they were arrogant.
Cian: Their product was a good fit, their price point was right in line, they had a relationship with their internal partner that we do a lot of work with… all of that should have stood them in good stead but all of us found them incredibly arrogant and we just didn’t want to work with them.
Dylis: Gosh and how did they take that feedback?
Cian: Well it was very difficult and that’s one of the things that we’ve learned over the years is that if we engage with a new client to do this kind of work, we don’t do it one off, we do it problematically but first thing we do is sit down with the senior leadership team and we say to them, “Are you up for this? Are you prepared to hear some stuff that isn’t necessarily going to be pleasant? Are you prepared to take your medicine?” and by take your medicine it doesn’t just mean listen to this information, it means actually take action off the back of it.
Cian: If you shine a light on this then your customers are going to know that you now know this stuff and your staff or your employees are going to know that you now know this stuff if you then try and sweep it back under the carpet, you’re sending a terrible message.
You actually have to take action. So the best practices or the best clients that we have are the ones that take it on the chin and go away and start taking action and taking action and close the loop and feed it back to the customer and say you know that thing that you told us, well that was very hard for us to hear and this is what we’ve done as a result and we hope that maybe the next time you come out to market we might have an opportunity to work with you or that kind of stuff.
Dylis: Yeah, particularly with something like arrogance because that’s sort of an inherent behaviour that can sometimes be a tricky one to improve on. They have to start and work really hard to change the habit of tonality.
Dylis: The words that they’re using and so on.
Cian: Well that’s lead to a whole piece of work that we’re doing. I probably didn’t explain it properly. So when we started out, I thought doing this was our business. We’ll give you the insights now you go away and work on them. Then I realised actually all that’s doing is giving you a better understanding of your current state, it’s not necessarily improving your future state. So now we go much further down the road and we help the clients that we work with in some areas to take action on some of these things.
So we will do a piece of work for this particular client around soft skills and you know active listening and you know a whole lot of things which aren’t about product or aren’t about technology but they’re about how we interact as people and how we, how we listen, how we respond and what we’re portraying in the way we talk and what we’re portraying in the way we listen. So we’re going to do a whole piece of work across their entire sales force.
When I said that to them they weren’t surprised, that was probably the worst thing of all you know. Quite often that’s what happens. I’m sorry to say quite often when we give feedback, you know vendors are like “Yeah, probably makes sense” even if it’s quite negative feedback you think hang on a second surely you should be shocked by this. They’re like “Well, you know, we kind of suspected that but now you’ve got it from the horse’s mouth from the customer so we can’t disagree with it so we should probably take some action on it”. I mean that’s extraordinary to hear but it happens all the time.
Dylis: Yeah, well I’ve got a very close friend actually and she is the head of learning and development for one of the big banks here in UK
Dylis: So they have these, what they call the beauty parade. So they’ll put out you know requests for tenders and then they select from there just as you referred to before. I was talking to her actually just last week about it and what is it that she loves, what is it that she hates? She said you know with the bank now or she now has introduced this conference call and everybody gets a number so they wouldn’t know who the other ones were. So let’s say there was half a dozen on this conference call and let’s say I was number one and I would say, “I’m number one, my question is…” and I would ask my question so that they’re actually allowed to get some sort of insights.
Cian: Okay, good.
Dylis: But she said then there’s those who come and tell us what our problems were when we told them what our problems were.
Cian: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Dylis: We know very clearly what our problems were and are and what we’re experiencing. But the ones who made the greatest impression on them was the ones who said and companies that we’ve worked with in a similar situation to yours, what we found was this and here were the pitfalls and here’s what we can help you with, and here are some insights that we can bring you. It really goes back to that trusted advisor situation.
Dylis: Where it’s not about product and service, it’s about the problems you can solve but as they had already identified that it was good that they reviewed those but she wanted more.
Cian: Yeah. I think it’s so undervalued the importance of that. With a client I know, one of the things they do is they talk about some of their failed projects? They’d say, “We’ve had some failed projects and this is what we’ve learned and this is how we’ve addressed those gaps so that the next time around…” So they’re not pretending that it’s everything sweetness and light and that you know every project that they ever had.
This to me is just blows me away because you know reference calls aren’t as valuable as thy used to be back in the day when you’d say, “Oh I’ll introduce you to one of my clients” because now what happens is, because everybody’s so connected, as soon as you put up a slide with and logos, I’m scribbling that down and I’m immediately reaching out to my connections and I’m already doing reference calls behind the scenes.
But if you as part of your reference checking introduce me to a client that had a failed project or a project that had a lot of issues or something and then you got through it, that would be a really huge point of differentiation to be that open and that candid to say ‘look not all of our projects have gone brilliantly here’s what we’ve learned and by the way you could talk to one of our clients, they’re still with us, we had some issues, this is what…’ I just think it, you know it’s treating people like human beings and not pretending we need to be you know winning on all fronts.
That’s a lot of stuff that we hear when customers talk about why do we pick these people? We like them, we trusted them, they were you know really, really good at understanding our problem and then playing back to us in their language how they felt they could deliver an outcome for us.
Cian: You know it’s a whole lot of little things that the best and the brightest do that everyone else has just I don’t know, just don’t do it.
Dylis: Yeah, yeah. It’s amazing. So if you were to pick out let’s say the top 3 tips that you would share with my audience to help them position themselves better with their potential buyers, what would they be?
Cian: Well I think the first one I’d say and I’d say this head and shoulders above the rest is to answer the “So what?” question. What I mean by that is, if you picture an interaction with a client or perspective client, we have this kind of show up and throw up mentality when we just get into pitch mode and let me talk about my solution, I’ve got… it’s all irrelevant unless we’re giving them context.
Information and isolation is just totally pointless. We’ve got to find ways to contextualise so that could be through telling stories as you described so this is what we did with another client in a similar industry etc. Great, now you give me the information you give me context around it. Don’t tell me that you’ve got a thousand employees because why should I care, tell me that you’ve got really good employee loyalty and that means you’ve got tenure and you’ve got much better experience and I can benefit from that.
We used to do an exercise in the business I was in where you’d do your dry runs before a big pitch and you invite some of your colleagues and they’d all get a piece of cardboard and they can hold it up and it said, “So what?” on it and so every time you gave a piece of information without giving the context in isolation they got to hold that up and they took great pleasure in holding that card up.
Dylis: Yes, I bet.
Cian: Forced you, it forced you to give context around the information so I think that would be a big one. The second thing I want…
Dylis: Can I just ask you Cian because I absolutely agree and three words that I share with everybody that I work with is, “Which means that” because it forces you, it absolutely forces you to give the context. The more times you say “Which means that” it takes you deeper and it gives you deeper context. You don’t have to use those exact words but that’s what you’re doing, you’re going deeper into the “So what” really.
Cian: Yeah you are.
Dylis: You’re expecting the “So what?”
Cian: Yeah you are 100% so I think that’s, that we’re kindred spirits and that sense.
Cian: I completely agree. The second one I’d say and you know this is in no particular order now but you know there’s that add value, that expression which almost means nothing anymore. Actually what it means is, you know value, just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder so we need to understand what people care about and then connect that back up and that’s where the value comes from.
So I think the best salespeople and businesses in general give value at every attraction, they don’t just say “Oh, you buy our thing and then we implement it or whatever and then you get some value.” We find ways to give value at every attraction because I think if we start to treat customers like customers before they ever become customers, they’re going to be much more inclined to think “Oh, this is what these people are going to be like to work with. They’re going to be good because they’ve been good all the way through the process”.
Dylis: Yeah, yeah
Cian: That would be the second thing I’d say. Doesn’t have to be big stuff, it can be little, little stuff all the way through but what it does is…
Dylis: Give us some examples Cian, could you?
Cian: Alright so, so yeah absolutely, I’m terrible, I always forget to give examples. So you know if for example you and I were talking about something and it’s a topic that we’re both quite interested in and there’s a book I know that I think you might interested in, I just pop on Amazon and get the book and I send it through to you with a little note or if we’re chatting about something and I come across an article and I go to LinkedIn and I post the article but I pop your name in and say, “Dylis, remember we were speaking about this, you might find it…” so like tiny, tiny things.
Cian: But it’s the thought that counts and what that does apart from anything else is it triggers reciprocity, it triggers that you’re more inclined now to want to reciprocate because as a human being that’s how we interact. So if I do something nice for you no matter how small it is, then instinctively you store that away and you want to reciprocate and how you reciprocate might just be returning my phone call when I reach out to you or responding to my email and that’s absolutely perfect.
Dylis: Yeah, yeah.
Cian: So I think that’s a really important one. The last one and you know there’s a million others and I’m sure you have a million but for the purposes of time focus on your customer’s customer. I think that’s a really important one.
Dylis: Yes. Brilliant.
Cian: So we have this tendency to focus on the person across the table from us or you know the one that we’re sending emails to but almost always, they have either an internal stakeholder or you know other business group or an external customer or someone else they’re actually doing the thing for so quite often they’re an intermediary. So don’t just think I have to sell you this thing or I have to do this project, think what are you trying to achieve for your audience.
Cian: How do I get around the same side of the table and say right how are we both going to deliver on this. I think it’s not up to us to just flip them, flip past the technology or the product and say right now you’re on your own, it’s okay, let’s sit down I’m on your team, let’s work this through together. It’s a really subtle one but it’s incredibly huge.
Dylis: Its massive isn’t it.
Dylis: Yeah and because hardly anybody’s doing it.
Dylis: I can’t imagine my friend who I was talking to you about before, the head of learning development. I can’t imagine any of her vendors have said “Right, let’s get on, get round the table because I’m working with you to deliver for your customers”
Cian: Yup, yup.
Dylis: Because that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.
Cian: If she’s head of learning and development then she’s got a whole lot of different business units inside the bank who you know go to her and say I want to train my team so they’re all of her stakeholders. Help me understand what are the timeframes that you’re working to? What are the constraints? How can we help in terms of how we structure this and how we do that and whatever? What are the issues you’ve had with other providers in the past that we can make sure we avoid? All of that sort of stuff would be music to her ears because what you’re saying is we’re in this together you know, we’re in a safe pair of hands, they’ve done this before.
Dylis: Yeah, indeed and this latest project is performance management, a whole new performance management structure in. So it’s all about the people.
Dylis: And then it’s not just about the direct people, it’s the people then that follow on from them, the ones who have to learn how to carry out a good performance management review but, then it’s the people they’re reviewing.
Cian: It’s really interesting and if you can do things there and say look, help me understand what your KPI’s or what your milestones are and maybe we’ll put some payment triggers in place so that until you get that KPI then you only trigger the second payment to us so you know really kind of connect it up, even in the commercials or in the legals to say this is how committed we are to delivering on this outcome rather than we’re going to dump and run.
Cian: Which happens all the time. So I think it’s almost like a mind-set thing. It’s having that heart of a teacher rather than the soul of a salesperson.
Cian: If you know what I mean.
Dylis: Yes, indeed. Cian, I could talk to you all day cause there’s so much that we could dig into here so maybe you could come back another time and we could have another interview. In the meantime, I didn’t ask you to prepare for this maybe you haven’t but have you got any books that you would recommend for our audience?
Cian: Well I do. Well I have mine but I wouldn’t recommend that. No, I’m only teasing. No, look I think there’s a few. The sort of books I read aren’t all kind of directly sales per say because I think a lot of selling is about people interacting with people so I’d say anything by Dr. Robert Cialdini – “The Power of Influence and Persuasion” I think is really interesting.
There’s a fascinating book by Daniel Pink called “To Sell Is Human” which I think is a really good one. You know, you and I both know Tony Hughes and I think his book “Combo Prospecting” is a really interesting one as well because it just tells people what to do, don’t go single threaded. You need to have a multi-faceted approach so I think there are a couple just off the top of my head.
Cian: There’s some great books out there. Oh sorry one more Mike Adams wrote a book recently on storytelling in business, “The Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell” and I’ve read that recently and that’s a cracking read as well.
Dylis: Fantastic and I’ve just listened to an audiobook actually by Daniel Priestley “Key Person of Influence” and I’m listening to it again. Now that’s not something I would normally do. I’d be moving on to the next book. It was fascinating, I absolutely loved it. Five stars.
Cian: Well I can tell you not only have I read that book but, I also did that program a couple of years ago the Key person of Influence.
Dylis: Did you?
Cian: In Australia. Yeah so I can certainly speak to the value of that as well yeah.
Dylis: Yeah, excellent. So Cian, if any of our audience would like to get in touch with you how they might do that?
Cian: There’s a couple of ways. So they can just search for me on LinkedIn and connect and have a chat that way, I’m normally pretty responsive so Cian McLoughlin or they can head to the Trinity website which is www.trinityperspectives.com.au Heaps of videos, blogs, and resources, all freely available, we don’t gate the content so feel free to come and browse and reach out.
I think Dylis, we talked about it before we jumped on the call that you and I have a shared philosophy which is sales can be a tough gig. If the ways that we can help elevate people give them some things they can use and then they become more successful then that’s something I think we’re both passionate about so.
Cian: The more people that want to reach out and grab out stuff or ask me questions, the better.
Dylis: Fantastic and I just want to reiterate you name really because it’s not Kieran its Cian, C-I-A-N. Cian McLoughlin. Love it.
Dylis: Cian, thank you so much. Stay on the call and I’ll speak to you again very soon. Thank you, brilliant insights.
Dylis: Thanks a lot. Bye
Wow. What an insightful interview that was with Cian McLoughlin. So, as I always say, if you haven’t joined my free Facebook group Inspired Selling please pop onto Facebook just search for “Inspired Selling” and come and join us. It’s a great place to ask question, to get support, to give your own insights and collaborate with others but more importantly become known for what you do.
So until the next time, have a fantastic time selling and see you soon. Bye for now.
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