We interviewed seasoned sales thought leader and award-winning author Todd Caponi on his debut book and international best seller The Transparency Sale, diving into the science behind his methodology to shortening your sales cycle and increasing sales velocity. As Todd shares in his book, “The proliferation of reviews and feedback are changing the world of B2B selling; you can no longer hide your flaws and expect to get away with it.”
In this interview, we talk to Todd about how he developed this methodology for sales teams and how it drives sales velocity, plus how your team can easily implement this mindset without a huge overhaul in your sales department.
PACTSAFE: At PactSafe we’ve been talking a lot about sales velocity and what should be most important to you as a sales leader. In your book The Transparency Sale, you discuss how reviews have changed the B2B landscape. Can you talk about how you first identified and developed this method? (Todd shares how he spent over 3.5 years as CRO at PowerReviews and how he began to dive into the science behind the data he was seeing. The below starts during our conversation about product ratings.)
TODD CAPONI: …The two things that changed my perspective on everything were 82% [of consumers] skip the 5 [rating] scores and look for the 1, 2, 3’s and 4’s. We go right to the negative. When anyone's buying something online, they don’t want to read the 5’s, they want to read the negative ones. And when a review score is between a 4.2-4.5, those products sell better than products that have a perfect 5 score. I’m looking at that going, “so that’s when a website is acting like a salesperson, what happens when a human being is? Does this [still] apply?’ [Then] I went down two paths: One was researching the neuroscience behind this, and I find all the information that confirms if a consumer is on their own, they're looking for the negative first.
I wanted to see if when a salesperson is in the room [with a prospect or customer], if they lead with their flaws and present their solution as being less than perfect—not suck, but less than perfect—does the same science apply? The neuroscience said yes. [In sales], if we lead with our flaws, we disarm the brain’s resistance to being influenced. We become a human being, and we build trust.
The second piece is the fact that there is this massive proliferation of reviews and feedback on everything we do, everything we buy, and everything we experience. So brain science says lead with flaws and be transparent, and if we don’t, our buyers can find out anyway because it’s everywhere. And it’s not just restaurants and e-commerce sites, it's now in the B2B world very dramatically [with sites like] G2 (formerly G2 Crowd) and TrustRadius. Glassdoor has become this massive place that buyers are looking towards to [ask], "What’s the culture like? What are the people like?" And just about every industry has the same issue. Leading with your flaws sells better than transparency, but you have to do it anyway because of this proliferation of reviews.
I went and tried this [methodology on my own] a couple of times—and this is when I had a team of 60 salespeople—and it worked. I ended up having to take a [sales] call on my own, and thought, “I’ll try it”, and the result was magic. What had been taking our sales team 6 months to close ended up taking 6 weeks. I was like, "alright, I’m on to something!"
When is transparency too transparent? How can it affect your sales velocity?
I always joke about Tyra Banks and go back to the concept she coined, “flawsome” (laughs). Embrace your flaws, but know that you’re still awesome. That’s an important concept. I’m not ever advocating for sales teams to say, "we suck and here are all the reasons why.” Flawsome is the 4.2-4.5 [rating referenced earlier]. It’s the, "we’re flawed, but we’re still great", and leading with, "here are the things you may not like about us, and here are the things that may not fit into your environment." Anything more than that is potentially too much.
What’s an example?
One of the companies I’m working with is a product that’s a plugin to Salesforce. What they do is amazing, but they only work with Salesforce. They’re working on integrating with the other CRM solutions, and so the way they lead is starting the conversation [with prospects] saying, “Listen, if you’re not on Salesforce, we’re not great. We’re optimized for Salesforce, so if you’re not a Salesforce client, let’s pause." That saves them so much time, because they’re optimized for Salesforce, so they should be spending 100% of their time there.
There are things like that where your solution doesn’t work in certain environments, or there's an add-on that your competitor has that you don’t, and it's important to [the customer], so get that on the table right away. Identify where the differences are and almost sell on behalf of your competitor. Because they’re going to come in with that message anyway, and if you say, “Here’s what they do great, here’s what we do great," and walk through those things [at that moment] and understand it, you build trust. It’s why e-commerce sites work. Because a consumer can go to an e-commerce site and do all this research and get the pros and the cons, and they can go search competitors’ websites right then and there, and then they have all the information they need in front of them to make a really quick decision. In B2B if you come in as a sales person and give them all the information, the pros, the cons, and what the competitor does, then the [prospect] trusts you, and the sales cycle speeds up. You get sales velocity right then and there.
Then you’re not falling into that trap where you say you have everything the prospect/client is asking for (when you don’t!), and it's not on your roadmap, and then you're 6 months down the road and you still haven’t built out what your customer needs.
Exactly. With every conversation you're having, you’re either building trust or eroding trust. It never stays the same. Once you erode trust...it is so hard to come back from that. (Todd shares how promising features to businesses that aren’t on your roadmap only hurts your business in the long run.) ...These days [the customer] has G2, TrustRadius, or wherever reviews are shared to say, “This company lied to me. They told me a feature was coming, and 6 months in, it’s still not there.” And now you’re starting to erode all of your other sales opportunities, because that word gets out so easily. In the end, you may have gotten that initial sale [where you promised something you didn’t have or wasn’t on your roadmap], but you lost long term. Honesty always wins.
Read more about Todd’s thoughts on this concept in this blog post.
You talk about stalled momentum and the sales discovery phase in one of your recent blog posts. As it pertains to sales velocity, how do you take a more personalized approach to discovery calls and develop an efficiency process? Whenever something is more personalized, it generally takes more time, versus using your company's discovery call deck.
It depends on your solution of course, but every company I’ve ever worked with solves 3-5 core problems consistently. And it’s always the same [issues.] The way I always suggest doing it is with the list of 5. When you get in a call with someone, ask, “Why are you engaging with us?” And the prospect states [their issues], and you look at your 5 and see what matches up. There may be 2 that match up, but then look at the 3 they didn’t mention, and you can immediately get into a consultative discussion, instead of talking about why you’re awesome at the 2 things they mentioned. No one wants to hear that. They want to hear how THEY can be more awesome.
When you bring up what they’re missing out on based on “your 5”, you end up getting into a really rich dialogue where you become a consultant, and then you can present your solution however you need to. If your solution is highly customizable, then you probably need a more customized high-touch type discovery. But if your solution is your solution, do your due diligence on the backend around what the 5 things you solve for everybody are, ask why these companies are investing time in you, reinforce that those match up, and then ask about what else you solve for. That’s when you get into that much richer, consultative type discussion.
(Todd continues and shares how this works for e-commerce sites.)
On the other side of it, like with an e-commerce site, take a look and see what they’re not doing, and prep your reps to address that when you have your discovery call. Discuss the opportunities they have and be proactive. Then you’re a thought leader and not a sales person in your prospects’ eyes.
So, adapting this approach to sales velocity shouldn’t be a massive shake-up to your business/sales department. You’re simply using the tools you already have to accelerate sales.
Yes. I see so many companies that are separating the two. They do this broad discovery because somebody told them they should, and then they do a demo on the next call, and the momentum’s lost because the initial excitement has probably gotten beaten down by the other challenges between when they sent in the lead and when they’re seeing it. Then you do the demo, and it’s generic. If you end up giving generic demos, that’s cool, but you can use that discovery to broaden the discussion so that your solution is the only one that fits.
OK, so to recap, the key to sales velocity is stop talking about yourself. Make it about the customer.
Totally. And you see this everywhere. Take a look at reality TV: makeover shows, (Netflix’s) Queer Eye, they all follow the same makeover choreography. It’s super interesting to watch. On Queer Eye, for example, the [subject] they’re making over agrees to be on the show, so they’re recognizing they have a problem, much like we see in the business world. Then five guys go in and connect with the person and talk about why [the subject] agreed to be on the show. The [subject] walks through improvements they know they need to make. The guys then start to dive into the other areas they can help him/her with—and these are things the subject didn’t bring up, but they’re all things that solve the problems he/she wants to solve in a much more improved way. They're making the person see improvement they didn’t know was possible. Queer Eye makes it about the subject, not about them, and at the end it’s a massive success and they’re all sitting around a picnic table crying together (laughs.)
That’s what you want in sales. The prospect volunteers to have you get involved, then show them you understand why they brought you in, point out a couple of things that maybe they weren’t thinking about, show them the logic behind why that matters and the reward for doing something about it, and then talk about yourself. You don’t talk about yourself until the end. Flip what you’ve been doing and magic happens.
Imagine if every time an episode of Queer Eye began, the five guys talked about themselves and how great they are. That would suck! But that’s the [current standard] in today’s sales environment. That’s the problem, we come in and talk about how awesome we are, and the customer tunes out. And then when you’re ready to talk about them, they’re looking at their phone or thinking about their next meeting. These are all simple fixes, empathize with who you’re selling to.
You can purchase Todd’s book, “The Transparency Sale” today on Amazon. Todd Caponi is author of the award winning / international best-selling book, The Transparency Sale. He's also a speaker and workshop leader as Principal of Sales Melon LLC, and Managing Director of Chicago’s VentureSCALE. Previously he served as the CRO of PowerReviews, building them from the ground up into Chicago’s fastest growing tech company. He's also held sales leadership roles with 3 other tech companies, including ExactTarget, where he helped drive the organization to a successful IPO and a $2.7B exit through the acquisition by Salesforce.com.