John Barrows on Tackling Sales Challenges

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John Barrows is a renowned sales trainer focused on driving results with proven techniques and reinforcement tools that impact adoption and behavior change. He uses techniques from MJHoffman & Associated (aka Basho) while building upon his own expertise to fit his clients’ needs. His clients include, Box, Linkedin and many more of the hottest tech companies in the industry.

Interview by Heather R Morgan, copywriter & sales consultant for startups at SalesFolk and Editor at Sales4StartUps.

John Barrows

HeatherWhat are the most common mistakes you see being made in sales on a regular basis?

John: The biggest mistakes I see are mainly focused around reps just going through the motions. Most reps assume if they are busy they are doing good work, but they don’t really think what they are doing. Too many of us don’t take a step back and ask ourselves “is what I’m doing actually working?” It’s important to ask yourself this on a regular basis and put in a structure that will allow for you to observe, learn, and make adjustments as you go so you can get better. This is why I feel it is important to focus on the science of sales and not just the art.

For example, a lot of reps will take a template email and send it out to 500 prospects or they come up with a generic elevator pitch/script and make their 50 dials a day and think they did their job. That is not Sales in my opinion, it’s Marketing. Sales is about being more targeted and thoughtful with your approach and message. I recommend reps develop multiple approaches and split test them against each other to see which ones work and which ones don’t so we can start to find out what actually works.

The other big mistake is thinking the client cares about us at all. It’s an easy thing to pay attention to, but most reps forget. Everyone loves talking about themselves which is the biggest problem in Sales. We say things like “we’re the leading provider of…” and tell clients about all our awards and how great we are. Clients could care less.  All they care about is them so we need to focus on them from the start if we’re going to earn their attention.

Heather: What are some of the challenges you helped Salesforce and Box overcome?

John: Every customer I work with has specific challenges but most of them are fairly similar. Since the main focus of the training is around prospecting most of my clients look to me to help them add more business to the pipeline and improve their conversion rates from cold call to qualified meeting.

Many of the reps I work with struggle with finding the right balance between quality and quantity when it comes to prospecting. They usually have to hit a certain quantity number like 50 dials a day which forced some of the more generic approaches. But they know that if they spend more time researching a client and developing a custom message that the response rates will be much greater than the generic e-mail or cold call.  I work with the reps to help them make the quality approaches more efficient and the quantity approaches more effective and then give them a structure to help with time management related to how and when to use both.

One of the other big challenges I help companies like Salesforce and Box with is getting their reps to actually get on the phones.  Most of them, especially the younger generation, focus most of their time on e-mail and rarely pick up the phones.  It’s obvious why since it is getting less and less likely that people will even pick up the phone or listen to e-mails but it is still a very effective part of an overall contact strategy that helps improve response rates.  I work with the reps to develop effective messaging and give them the confidence to pick up the phone and call an executive with purpose. It’s about having a reason for your call, a short and sweet value proposition and knowing what you’re asking for.  We have a lot of fun and see some great results when we do call blitzes to proactive the techniques.

Heather: How can sales people be more effective?

John: With most reps time management is a challenge and it’s mainly because we are all over the place.  Multitasking is actually a bad thing. There’s a book called “The Myth of Multitasking” which talks about how your brain can really only focus on one thing that the same time and when we try to focus on multiple things we get less efficient with our ability to manage them. The more we focus, the more efficient we get. Blocking and tackling is the way to win.

The three things I talk about as it relates to time management and being efficient are goal setting, prioritization and focus.  If you set good (SMART) goals, prioritize them appropriately and focus on specific activities for a period of time then time management actually becomes quite manageable.

EXAMPLE: I try to do things in hour chunks. I’ll make calls for an hour and then do research for an hour and then do admin work for an hour and so on.  If I focus on one activity for an hour I tend to build momentum and get more efficient with it as I go.  It also allows me to see if that specific activity produces positive results.

Heather: What’s the difference between confidence and ego in sales?

John: There is a fine line but a big difference between confidence and ego and you know each of them when you see them. You’re typically repelled by someone with ego and attracted to someone with confidence.

One of the core differences between confidence and ego in my opinion is about focusing on others instead of yourself.  Sales reps with ego tend to talk about themselves a lot and how great they are or their company is and will try to sell anyone anything because they can.  The reps with confidence tend to be genuinely inquisitive about the client and only tend to push when they know they are the right fit and can make a difference.

Ego is when you tell everyone how good you are. Confidence is when you know how good you are but don’t need to say anything.

Heather: How do you use InsideView to prospect?

John: InsideView is great way for me to keep on top of what is happening with my clients and prospects without trying too hard.

I use InsideView to follow my clients like Salesforce and get alerted when something of interest is happening with their business. For example, if I had to proactively keep up to date on what Salesforce was doing it would be a full time job. They seem to acquire a new company or launch a new product once a week.  With InsideView I can set it up so I get an e-mail once a day with everything that is going on with them and stay up to date.

I do the same with prospects. I follow all my top prospects on InsideView so I can be alerted on events that are happening with their business. I use these events to make connections to and as reasons to reach out to them.