Dylis: Hi there this is Dylis Guyan from dylisguyan.com, the place where business owners and salespeople discover how to attract, convert and retain more of their ideal clients and welcome to the Inspired Selling Podcast. I have a fantastic guest with me today George Bronten.
George is a lifelong entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a real passion for sales and marketing, so a man after my own heart.
I absolutely love George’s life motto which is ‘Don’t settle for mainstream’, and he’s always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes. George is also the founder and CEO of Membrain, this is the world’s number one sales effectiveness C.R.M. for complex business sales.
Today George is going to share his story with us as to how he went from mainstream to selling more of the complex B2B sales. He’s going to share the challenges that he had on the way and some of the mistakes he found that he was making himself and more importantly he’s going to share how to overcome those challenges and how to avoid those mistakes so that you can become more of a successful entrepreneur and business person or sales person just like George. So over to you George, please… I’m really looking forward to hearing more about your story.
George: Thank you nice to be in the show.
Dylis: You’re welcome.
George: Thanks for having me. Yes so where should I start, I guess if we go back to my first real business that I founded called Upstream, I really like the brand name of Upstream because like you mentioned, my motto in life is not to settle for mainstream
Dylis: I like that.
George: So I’m always trying to find things that we can improve and with Upstream, it all started really when I found a piece of software, that back then… and this was ‘96 I think, allowed us to share an internet connection between computers in a network. And back then this was new and my little company there, we were two people, we were helping other companies design web pages. Like any other entrepreneurs back then and really my designer was really upset with me because he couldn’t use the internet because I had the internet connection on my PC and we couldn’t afford to have another internet connection and when we found this piece of software that was designed by a person in New Zealand, I was just so amazed with the concept and idea that someone in New Zealand in his dorm room created this piece of software, that was much better than all these tech giants products out there and specifically much more affordable. So I really fell in love with that concept of software, that you can actually create something that makes people’s lives so much better.
That was how it all got started really and I tried to find more of these golden nuggets, these products that were sort of, had the guts and innovation levels to challenge the Microsofts and the Oracles of the world. Then I guess that’s what led me to all of the mistakes I’ve made, when it comes to selling.
We did a big shift after a number of years where we wanted to grow the company and one of the conclusions was that we were selling very low priced products, so with this example that I gave you, it cost maybe €150 per license so we had sell a lot of them which we did, but it still was very difficult to grow the company on that type of transactional volume products.
So I wanted to increase the average order value and we started looking at the customers we had and say how can we get closer to their business challenges? That’s how we thought we could sell them something of higher value. The companies we were helping were IT service companies and after interviewing about 350 of these, in person…
George: Over a year’s time, it sort of dawned on us that “wow” these companies, they’re struggling, not with having too few products to sell or resell or not that they’re not skilled at what they do but their business model was flawed, because they were selling something… they were selling their hours basically, time and material when things broke.
So we wanted to help them change for, instead charging for the guarantee that the IT they delivered, the computers, the networks and all of these things should work, said you should switch your model and we found a piece of software that could automate 80% of the proactive tasks that they shouldn’t be doing to prevent the fire fighting.
George: But that moved us from selling something that cost $150 Euros to an average yield value of about €65,000.
Dylis: Quite a shift George
George: A big big shift…
Dylis: That wasn’t steps was it?
George: Yeah exactly that wasn’t tiny steps, we just… yeah it was a big shift and what I didn’t realise at the moment, is that not only was it a big shift in the average deal value but it was a huge intrusive solution to these companies, because they now had to reshape almost everything inside of their business.
They had to remodel the price model, they had to remake how they delivered their services, how they price it; everything had to be remodeled basically, which is very intrusive and makes the sale, of course, a lot harder. But it went very well, we sold… when I was selling it and I brought in my younger brother and we sold it successfully, but then I started to bring on salespeople and it just didn’t work. I couldn’t get them to sell this product, so I hired people and I fired people I used the best recruiting companies. I paid through my nose but it just didn’t happen, so I spent a lot of money and then I just… sat down and said George, all of these people that you have hired and fired can’t be the problem, you must be the problem.
Dylis: That was very bold of you to do that, because many people would just blame everyone else…
Dylis: That was a great move on your part in fact.
George: Yeah, I had been blaming other people for quite a while, but at the end you have to just realise that, I am the only common denominator and I’m the issue. So I started to study everything about selling; sales management, sales process, sales methodologies and I quickly realised that yes, I had made a lot of mistakes and my conclusion was really that I was assuming the wrong things. I was assuming that sales people who had sold something for someone else, could sell for me. That was probably the main problem,
George: Faulty assumption that I did and I was also assuming that sales people were disciplined. Which is very stupid of me, after studying a lot of psychology and behavioral motivational books, we realise that we are… we’re not really wired for disciplined as human beings, we have to work on that and then thirdly I had the assumption that the C.R.M. system and the technology that I had in place was going to help me sell.
George: And make the sales people better, but they were also designed with these assumptions that sales people know what to do, they should just log whatever they did, into the system and that’s… it can be helpful, but it doesn’t help them in the how to go about to selling effectively.
Dylis: Yeah yeah, and I think that’s really interesting when you’re talking about assuming that they are able to sell and having the discipline and certainly from my many years of experience, not having the skill can impact also on the discipline.
Dylis: There is still those who have the skill who aren’t as disciplined, but I think it’s impacted even more if you don’t have the skill because… and I’m a true believer that no one gets up in the morning and decides to do a bad job, they do what they think is the right thing.
Dylis: In terms of their skill.
George: Yes and I think we… because we’re kind of lazy by nature if I can use that word.
George: We have a tendency to do what we have done in the past so, sometimes when sales people say to me I have 10 years of sales experience, sort of challenge them on that, do you have 10 years of sales experience or do you have 1 year multiplied by 10,
Dylis: Yeah, that’s right.
George: So because we can get stuck in our ways, I think what you’re saying is absolutely true, if you don’t have the skills, or if you feel challenged in this new world of selling with the hyper-competition that we have, then of course that will affect your discipline because you start doubting your own skill sets so it all goes together right, us human beings.
Dylis: Yeah exactly, so what did you do then once you identify this within yourself that maybe you could do something different with the sales people you were bringing in what happened then?
George: Yes, so then I started to try to identify what I was doing that was different from what they were doing or vice versa and sort of lay that out visually. One typical example and a typical mistake that sales people were making was that they went to the owner of this company in this case the I.T. service company and they said, how would you like to go from 1% profit margins to 28% profit margins?
Of course the owner and the C.E.O. they were all excited and said yeah we want that and they went from one having that fantastic and positive meeting to sending out a proposal and of course they never won or very rarely won those deals because unless you convinced the technical people that this was a good idea, they were very fearful because they thought, okay now that the boss is buying automation to get rid of my job.
George: So of course they became very hostile and negative and try to convince the boss that this is a really, really bad idea that they already had all the technology and tools they needed. So that’s one example that they just didn’t identify all the stakeholders and they didn’t communicate the right values to the right stakeholder.
Dylis: Yeah, yeah
George: A classic talking about price too early, all these things that we know that it’s easy to make these mistakes, and really it’s about skills but it’s also about discipline because even a senior person can sometimes jump ahead. Oh, this was such a good meeting and I don’t think… the CEO told me that he’s going to make this decision by himself, he doesn’t need to get approval from anyone and you sort of take that face value and then you lose the deal and then you said I should have known better.
So that goes back to discipline right. So the conclusion was that I have to visualise what we have to do and which questions we have to ask, how we should ask them, who we need to speak to about what and when, how can I get that out in sort of a map, that a new hire can look at and say hmm, okay, I get that, and what do you mean by this and there’s actually enablement and educational content inside of that map so to speak.
Dylis: Yeah fantastic and again I just really like to pick up on that, because if you create this map and this visual piece of work, that when the new higher comes in, all you have to do is pull that out, you don’t have to keep repeating it and taking someone through that whole process, from cold because you’ve got it there for them to be able to refer to, so you can take them through it but they’ve also got it.
Dylis: I see this missing so many times.
George: Yes, definitely and that brings us to process, so I… when I created this map on a piece of paper, I sort of realise that, what I’m trying to do here is to create a process that is visualised but also contains sort of a methodology and a shared language on how do we speak about our deals and our opportunities and our customers.
I saw that a lot of these sales people, they had sold something for someone else and they’d learned something, go in to sales training and they were using different words than I was using or another colleague was using so that also caused a lot of friction.
So then I looked at the C.R.M that I had at the time. This was a Norwegian piece of software which was quite nice, I really liked it as a pure C.R.M. or you logged stuff, but I couldn’t get that map into it because I had that visual on my piece of paper but because I’m a software person, I wanted it to be in the computer, I wanted them to work with this process every day and they’d be reminded, ‘Oh I forgot about the technicians this time, I have to go back’ not to go look at some kind of laminated piece of paper that they have in the office but they should live and breathe the process so it become second nature to them after a while.
Then all these C.R.M. systems weren’t really designed for that, which was the idea behind my new company Membrain. Really how do we make a process both informative and actionable and that’s a big big big challenge.
Dylis: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
George: Because process you know, when you start talking process a lot of people roll their eyes, like oh.
Dylis: Yeah and they have to see the why behind it, don’t they. They have to see the benefits of being able to use that and how they can use it not just to track the business, not just to follow the process and get success but also to use it as a business development tool for future business.
George: Yeah, many of the next thing I realised pretty early on in this, with this work is that, what really drives someone to perform better? When I thought about this, it’s really for myself, what has made me perform better is when I’ve had someone, of course motivation to go from A to B, but also had someone who had coached me, asked those intelligent questions, that make me… help me identify the obstacles and how to get over them without actually telling me how to do it.
So, having a good coach I think is invaluable in selling and I realised that a lot of sales managers don’t do this well and they’re just bogged down in all these reports, excel spreadsheets forecasting that’s always wrong. So coaching sort of became also one of my passions, how can we make it easier for managers to coach? And how can we get some of these boring parts of management off the tables so we can free up time to coach?
So that’s also one of the things that I’m really passionate about, how to do, how to help and I’ve written a lot about this lately, about just having the right mindset to coach. I could talk about that forever, I think we’ve made a lot of mistakes there, we promote the best sales people who don’t have that mindset and then we wonder why they don’t perform as managers.
Dylis: Yeah, and I’m sure that you’ve seen this too where managers they will monitor results so that… they’ll just monitor the numbers, they monitor the activity that is given those results and then it stops. And they just… they say well, you need to do more of this, or you need to do more of that, or you need to convert more of these, rather than going deeper and looking at the competency or competencies that drive the activities that then in turn drive the results and it’s that… it’s improving the competencies and this coaching that is so, so important.
Honestly you’re lighting my fire George because this is my passion absolutely, everything that you have said is resonating with me 100%. I’m loving it and I’m hoping that the listeners are getting a lot from this.
George: Yes I think when it comes to coaching, what I found was difficult was if I was looking into my old C.R.M., what I saw was a pipeline of different deals, in different stages and those stages were tied to probabilities, but I had to work very hard to understand why the salesperson had put that into stage three.
So, I had to read a lot of activities and ask a lot of questions because there was no… there were no milestones and activities within the stages to get to the next, so it’s back to that assumption that the salesperson knows exactly what to do and when to move things and there were no toll gates like do you actually have the customer on the same page as yourself when you say you’re in stage three and you’re forecasting this as a 80% likelihood of closing.
They would look at me and its like, what do… what do you mean exactly? Do you have the technicians on your side? Hmmm, yes I’ve spoken to some of them and they seem to like it, and you hear that this is not… this is not good enough. I need to know… I need you to always ask these three questions to these people and that’s what I want to systematise if that’s an English word
Dylis: Systemise, yeah.
George: Systemise, yes I wanted to go in, to this map, look at the map, see the process, what have you done, what have you not done, who have you talked to? What do they think about this? What questions have you asked and what were their responses? Not your interpretations of their replies and their actual responses and based on that I don’t have to ask you any questions I would know, how this particular opportunity feels or the health of each opportunity.
That becomes so much easier to coach because then I can go in and I can say… okay, doesn’t know how they will make their decision, okay, so why are you planning to go and present your solution, if you don’t even know on which criteria this client is going to make their decision you’ll just have to rewind the tape, like three weeks because you’re just happy ears, you have happy ears on, this is not going to close.
Dylis: Exactly, yeah, yeah can you give us an example of that George? Just to kind of put some context around it.
George: Of what specifically?
Dylis: Of this…one of your sales people, where they’ve just assumed that it would go into stage three but they weren’t on the same wavelength, they weren’t you know, they haven’t…asked the right questions to ensure that it absolutely was robust and could move to that stage three and been 80% or more likely to close.
George: Yeah, I think the number one problem people make or salespeople make there is that they speak to far too few of the stakeholders.
George: So they have one or two people that they’re very comfortable speaking to, they’ve built a pretty solid relationship with, those two people, but they have not asked those difficult questions about, okay how will this decision be made internally, which of the people will be affected by this decision if you would go ahead and say yes. What happened the last time you did something similar? Which people were involved back then? How did that go, what do you think? Just talking through how a decision will be made is something I see very often is forgotten.
George: In the eagerness to sell and of course another one would be competition, not really understanding the incumbent so what… because I think going back to the laziness of people and most of us are lazy, which is why most of the time the customer ends up not doing anything, not buying the competitive product, but they just sticking to what they had. Maybe they do some tweaks, but they keep using whatever they were using before. They know it’s not perfect, but it’s much less energy for them to continue doing that than to go out and make a big shift.
So I think those are two classics and of course there are others that could be brought up, but I think those are really the main ones, not understanding the decision team and we’ve read this right, there’s so much… all of these studies coming out, saying that this couple of years back Corporate Executive Board of the Americas brought out this number that everyone was repeating that there were 5.8 stakeholders in average B2B deal and now they’ve brought that to 6.8.
I think that’s just because of the world becoming a more complex place, everything is more inter-connected especially in IT, all the systems talk to each other, so you have to involve all these different department heads in order to get them to reach consensus. So the world is just becoming a lot more complex.
Dylis: Definitely, so from your experience then George when you… we know you have to involve more stakeholders, what would your advice be to people, in terms of being able to bring those different stakeholders together, either on a call or a conference call or in a meeting whatever, and to be able to have a conversation that will resonate with each one because each one will have a different motivation to buy or a different motivation to say yes to move to the next stage.
George: Yes I think that’s a very interesting question because I think it can be done wrong, I think if you’re having…in marketing now there’s a lot of talk about persona, you should have different messaging based on each persona. I think you can make some mistakes there because you have to have sort of the joint value proposition for the entire group, if you start making that into too many different value propositions I think you can actually shoot yourself in the foot so to speak, and actually delay the decision or end up losing the entire deal.
So I think it’s really important to have that shared value proposition of IT automation, if you talk about that as an example because that’s what I talked about with Upstream, it’s really about becoming more profitable from the business perspective. It’s becoming a better service provider so you have higher quality of service for your clients, it’s about your clients having the business continuity, it’s a hot word in that space, customers want their machines to work all the time They’re not happy that they have to call you and you come up and fix it, they’re happy when it just works right,
Dylis: Yep, yes.
George: So I mean, there has to be a shared value proposition and then you can get the motivation of each individual that’s I think when you need to come down to maybe more specific propositions, like for the technicians we usually said, do you like sitting at the office every…once in a month when Microsoft has released all their patches to make sure that they’re installed on all your customers machines and you’re sitting there eating pizza and it’s really boring work. You really… is that why you became an IT Technician and they say, no I hate that.
You can get rid of that, you can automate…that’s a typical task that you should not have to do and instead of doing that, you can free up time that you can do the fun projects. So, that resonates with them so you still have the overarching value that you’re providing a better service to the clients, while also increasing the profits for the company that allows you to get more competitive and learn more and get more educational skills and that good stuff.
Dylis: And of course when you are working with more of the same clients, so you’ve got these particular clients as ideal clients you become much more knowledgeable about the feelings within the company, the feelings within the different departments, and the reactions within the different departments, the benefits within the different departments, if that makes sense in terms of your experience with a similar type of industry.
George: I’m sorry you broke up a little bit there, I didn’t hear the question completely.
Dylis: Okay, what I was saying was, when you’re working within an industry, and you’re working with different companies within an industry, you become familiar with common problems, with common aspirations, with common objections, like you know you brought in about the technical department thinking, oh my goodness they’re going to automate, we’ll lose our jobs and what would be the benefits to those and so having an ideal client or clients gives you those insights makes you more knowledgeable and helps you be that trusted expert, where people are looking for insights and knowledge.
George: Yeah, exactly, and we see that now in selling alright. Everyone is afraid that they will be out of their job because of artificial intelligence.
George: So we all have to think about okay how can we… how can we provide more value, how can we as salespeople be the value and so and that comes back to skills, knowledge, process and value propositions so definitely we have to be that value today.
Dylis: Yeah. I don’t think you can survive without being that and being really good at what you do.
George: Yeah, yeah….
Dylis: Sorry, go on.
George: The opposite is also true right if you’re selling something very transactional, you can automate that today. So you don’t really need a salesperson if I’m going to buy a new PlayStation game for my son, I would just go online search for it and buy it. I don’t have to call anyone and ask how to get it.
So I think there’s definitely a polarization going on with e-commerce simple things can be sold transactionally, but on the other side of the spectrum that’s where it’s getting more complex right and you have this hyper- competitiveness and you have to be the value.
There’s such a big gap, you and I seem both to be very passionate about coaching and about selling as a profession but when I talk to clients a lot of the times the basics are not there, like you mentioned with the goals they only of revenue goals, they’ve not broken those down. or they don’t even have a process. They believe they have a process because they have a drop down in this area but that’s not really a process.
Dylis: Process that’s right, yeah.
George: We can do so much better by just taking one step at a time and becoming more professional in how we execute a sales strategy.
Dylis: I talked about this many times and some of my listeners may have heard this before but, I have seen where a salesperson will join a company, they get masses of product training, they can get about that much sales training. Then if they’re lucky to get about half day out with the manager, if they are very luck they maybe get a one-day sales training course.
They get practically nothing on prospecting, the manager gives them their target and the manager checks the numbers as to where are you against this target. If they’re not reaching it which in many cases they’re not because I read some researches recently where 18.6% of sales people are leaving their employer every year. That is big numbers and big cost to the companies too.
So they don’t hit their numbers, the manager puts pressure on, the sales person feels a failure, they get frustrated they get into the blame culture, eventually they lose the passion that they had when they very first started and they leave. Because they are a salesperson as a profession, they join another company and they go through rinse and repeat.
George: Yeah, I agree. It goes back to that assumption right that they’re sales people so they should know how to sell.
Dylis: You said something really quite interesting before, when you said they were using different words to the words that we use in our company, but they wouldn’t know your words unless you train them and you’ve got to actually train people how to do something then you can coach them.
George: Yes and then when you train them, what happens is that unless you reinforce that training they forget it.
George: That’s what I see a lot, we do work a lot with sales trainers and sales strategist in order to prevent what…their problems which is, they go out, they do a training with the customer salespeople and sales managers and then these people go back to their daily work and there’s nothing connecting the training with their daily work, because they’re just going back to login their stuff in the C.R.M. and all that stuff.
So I think it’s really, really important to reinforce the training or the… another thing that I’m seeing is that you train the salespeople but you don’t train the sales managers which is complete madness. How are they supposed to train the salespeople on a training they haven’t even attended? So there’s so many crazy things happening out there today and I think it needs to go back to basics.
Dylis: Yeah, I absolutely 100% agree and it’s not hard, but people are not taking the time to get it right in the beginning. So you know companies need to get their sales managers up and effective and then in turn the sales mangers can bring on sales people and help them to become effective and efficient with everything that you’ve talked about in terms of the skills that you need, the attitude that they need and the disciplines and then having a system that sits behind that to be able to take them through, like the system that you’ve been referring to.
So George this has been absolutely fantastic. I’ve loved having this conversation with you, so if anyone wants to get in touch with you where can they do that? Or how can they do that?
George: LinkedIn is my favorite social platform, so just Google for me from LinkedIn send the connection request, I accept everything unless it’s something shady and of course go to Membrain.com where we share a lot of resources, write papers on process and methodology how to set that up and those are all free so that could be useful.
Dylis: Fantastic and just spell your surname for us again George.
George: Bronten B-R-O-N-T-E-N
Dylis: Excellent it’s actually spelt very simply, it’s just not pronounced in quite the same way.
George: Yeah it’s the E that messes it up.
Dylis: Yes exactly, so thank you so much for your insight, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed talking to you and I hope you’ll come back and talk to us again and give us some more insights…
George: Thank you very much.
Dylis: As to what you’ve found particularly from that research of a hundred and fifty clients which must have given you some massive insights.
George: That was good fun
Dylis: Excellent thanks a lot then George.
George: Bye, bye.
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