Category: Habit of a Successful Salesperson

Too much event-based selling hurts your ability to close

Too much event-based selling hurts your ability to close

Many salespeople fall into the bad habit of depending on event-based selling to move their prospects through the decision-making process. A salesperson should spend a large percentage of their time doing personal selling, rather than event-based selling.

Before the above statement can sink in, I need to explain the difference. Event-based selling is when you have scheduled a meeting with multiple people from the prospect’s organization and maybe numerous people from your organization. Event-based selling identifies with such topics as demos and workshops. 

Personal selling is where the salesperson is simply sitting with the prospect discussing business and also maybe discussing family, weather, sports, or similar topics. This activity usually is one-on-one. 

Event-based selling is essential. It is the primary method of conveying information about your product. This is even more true if the product category is new to the prospect and is somewhat technical. You set up a demo, and you invite several or a dozen people from the prospect organization to attend. These are events. 

Events are important. You will never get the prospect to agree to buy many types of products if you don’t do a demo, a workshop, or a proof-of-concept event. You need to plan and execute these events successfully. They are critical for the success of you closing a deal.

However, events can be a crutch that hurts you in your sales campaign. Too often, a salesperson will try to “make something happen” by offering to do another event. Maybe that event is a “lunch and learn” for more people. Or perhaps that event is mini-demo of an individual feature not adequately explored in the original demo. If the prospect requests those new events, then, by all means, qualify them and do them to educate your prospect. But if you propose those new events as the salesperson, you may have a problem.

Start selling yourself instead of your product

Throughout my book, I discuss that you are selling three things during the sales campaign:

  1. your product
  2. your company
  3. you

You must sell all three things. However, if you are always offering to do additional events, you are likely to spend too much time selling the first two items and not enough time selling the last item – you are not selling yourself.

If you think about all of the sales calls you have made in your career, the questions fall into these three value offerings. At a high level:

  • The prospect wants to know all about the speeds and feeds of your product – a product conversation.
  • They want to know all about the pricing model of the product – a product conversation.
  • They want to know all about the support options and warranty of the product – a product and company conversation.
  • They want to know how long your company has been producing the product – a company conversation but also a product conversation.
  • They want to understand the roadmap for your company – a company conversation and a product conversation.
  • They may even want to meet some executives of your company to be comfortable with its management – a company conversation.

During these sales conversations, they are also learning about the value offering you bring to them. They are learning about you as a person. Are you reliable? Are you knowledgeable? Does the prospect trust the words that come out of your mouth? In short, they are trying to figure out if they should buy from you or, in essence, can they hire you as their representative for this kind of product.

Yes, you are for sale if you are in sales. You are a part of the value offering that the prospect considers in the evaluation. At a minimum, do you offer enhanced value to the prospect over just buying the product over the Internet?

Here is the rub; you are the essential value offering. It isn’t the product nor your company. They are secondary to the importance of you as a value offering.

Let’s be perfectly blunt, is your product that much better or worse than the competition? When you answer questions about your product, aren’t 90-99% of your responses positively responded regarding the customer’s concern? How often do you answer a question, “No, we don’t have that feature.” Obviously, you give that answer at times, but in those cases, you probably are not a good fit for the customer and will lose the deal immediately. If your product doesn’t have that required feature, you will not be talking to a qualified prospect for that product.

Isn’t your competitor’s product in a similar situation? Don’t most of their features match up reasonably well to your own product’s characteristics? I am sure that you do a little better at feature A or B. Although your competitor probably does a bit better at C. When you add it all up, it is probably pretty close to a dead-even tie. Worse yet, it is likely your prospect can achieve their goals perfectly well without buying the best product on the market (yours) because the second best or third best product will accomplish the goals. They don’t need the best; they need the product and company to be good enough to achieve their goals.

Similarly, how many times do you have to explain to your prospect that your company isn’t very good at supporting the product? Do you ever really lose a deal based on company longevity or commitment to the market? Of course not, and neither do your competitors.

As a Trapper, I continuously advise salespeople that features that do not differentiate do not matter. 

Does the car salesperson spend time explaining the value offering of the accelerator on the floor? Of course not, all modern cars have them. 

Does the TV salesperson explain that the remote will change the channel and volume? Of course not, all TVs have remotes with a value offering that does that. 

In both cases above, there was a time when those were unique and differentiating features, but not in today’s competitive market. The TV and automobile manufacturers have added those features as standard, and the features no longer differentiate the products. Since none of these features add a differential value offering, there is no reason to “sell” these features to the prospect. A salesperson that spends a lot of time talking about the value offering of these benefits is simply wasting valuable time.

So why do you spend so much time talking about your company and your product? You need to do the minimum amount to make sure you check off all of the checkboxes, but that is all you are doing. All you are doing is showing that your company and your product are good enough to match the competition. As soon as you achieve that parity, you need to sell the one benefit that only you can provide.

You need to sell you. You need to prove to the prospect that you offer more value than your competitor. You demonstrate this value offering by the information that you share with the prospect. You confirm this value offering by the benefit that you provide understanding your prospect’s business. By helping your prospect improve his or her skills and achieve personal goals, you make yourself irreplaceable.

If your product can help the prospect achieve a goal, your competitor’s product can likely do the same. If your company can support the product and the customer, then your competitor can do the same. You are the only genuinely differentiated benefit to the prospect, and you need to make sure your prospect understands this benefit (and the associated value offering).

You know that you have indeed won the deal if the prospect says they would buy either your product or your competitor’s product from you. You were the most valuable part of the sale. Have you ever heard those words from a new customer?

Suggestions to get out of the rut of doing too much event-based selling

It is quite easy to break the habit of pushing events rather than positioning yourself. Let’s break it down to two separate types of deals:

  1. Prospect is actively engaged with the next steps.
  2. Prospect isn’t calling you, but instead, you are always trying to do the next activity.

Prospect actively engaged

The first situation above is more straightforward. Your product is resonating with the prospect. However, this is a situation where it is easy only to do events and undermine the value that you bring.

In this situation, you must force yourself to engage with decision-makers. You must make appointments that allow you to interact with them without a demo or a presentation. A good rule of thumb is to do two or three personal meetings for every event based meeting that you schedule.

If your company and industry allow it, it is a great time to take the decision-maker to lunch. If lunch is not possible, ask them to meet in their cafeteria as it will at least allow a more casual conversation. 

Prospect is not actively engaged

This second situation is where the event-based trap typically happens. In this case, the prospect doesn’t seem to be “getting it” after your demos or presentations. You are frustrated as you have this opportunity on your pipeline, but it isn’t moving. 

The obvious, but the incorrect, conclusion is that you need to show them more so that they get excited about your product’s capabilities. Instead, you need to understand their goals and if your product can help achieve those goals. Too often, the customer isn’t returning your calls because you do not understand what is important to them.

A crude but effective opening for the personal meeting could be as simple as, “I am sorry, John, but the product we have been discussing doesn’t seem to impact you or your company. What am I missing? What are you trying to achieve by talking to us?” This open-ended question is something that is difficult to say with a group of people from the prospect or if you have an army of people with you. It is much easier to have this open and honest conversation if it is just the two of you.

The answer to that open-ended question will allow you to start selling the most important differentiator: YOU!

Header Photo by Free-Photos (Pixabay)
Don’t Send Your Prospect Your Sales Presentation

Don’t Send Your Prospect Your Sales Presentation

Almost daily, you are presenting to your prospects from one of your favorite presentation decks. The ubiquitous question at the end of the presentation is, “Can you send me your deck?”

Don’t do it.

While you should say that you will be sending the deck, you shouldn’t do it. Few things are so poorly understood as a well-created deck presentation without a narrative.

An excellent presentation has a minimum of words and explanations on each slide. It contains a few bullet points with maybe an appropriate image or graphic. The content of the presentation is all with the speaker, and the slides are merely there to give examples or prompt the discussion.

If your slides are appropriately made, how in the world would a prospect understand the message without you there to narrate? Worse is if those slides are forwarded to someone that wasn’t in the original audience for the live presentation.

A much more convincing document is a Word (or similar) document that has the slide images embedded into the material, but the “script” is also included. The script can be well-edited with appropriate marketing language and messaging. The end result is a superior document to the original presentation.

Here is a thumbnail of a document that uses this technique. It guides the user through the slides and uses the slides as images to give credence to the written explanation. This is a far superior way to share your slides with your prospect.

Marketing can help but shouldn’t be an excuse

Unfortunately, as with all great things that salespeople have to do, it is quite likely that your marketing department won’t create this document for you. It is one of those things that you will likely have to create to set yourself up for success.

If your marketing department will not create this document for you, it is not an excuse. Salespeople need to understand that they are the last line of defense. It is up to all salespeople to do whatever is ethically required to win the deal. Don’t make excuses. Don’t take the easy way out. Just get it done.

Salespeople should not be afraid to create this document. While it would be helpful for your marketing department to build the foundations of the delivered document, the salesperson should be free to customize the end result.

The reasons for customizations are simple, and marketing departments cannot expect to be able to react. The reasons include:

  1. A specific question or side conversation that happened during the presentation should be further expanded in the written overview document.
  2. Many sales presentations are combinations of other slide decks or a subset of a library of slides. There is no way to know what a finished slide deck will be for any given prospect or any given sales team.

While the challenges are real, marketing departments can mitigate this issue with a bit of thought and effort.

For the first issue above, the sales team wants to react to a specific situation that occurred in the meeting. The marketing department could create a standard “handout” document, but allow individual sales teams to customize it as needed.

In the other situation of a library of slides, the marketing department can easily create a similar library of descriptions. Then the sales team can quickly combine the standard pieces of text to create a handout document customized to the particular prospect.

If you are inspired to bring the handout document to your meeting, resist this urge. Most information handed out in a meeting gets thrown away almost immediately. While your followup handout document may also be thrown away, at least it will happen several hours or several days later, allowing your name to be on the prospect’s mind again. This is far superior to having your marketing message thrown in the restroom trash for the bio-break that happened immediately after your meeting. 

Header Photo by ttreis (Pixabay)
Are You A Salesperson For The Money?

Are You A Salesperson For The Money?

Why are you a salesperson?

Many people that have just begun their careers in Sales do it because they couldn’t find another job. Due to the high failure rate in Sales vs. other professions, entry-level jobs always seem to be plentiful even in the worst economic times.

However, after a few years of staying in this profession, why are you staying? Are you staying because you like free lunches when you take clients to lunch? Are you staying because you can occasionally play golf with clients? Are you staying because you like to be measured every day on your quota attainment?

Hopefully, you are in sales because you have the drive to provide for yourself and your family with the wealth that few other careers offer. Successful salespeople are among the highest-paid people in the community. While doctors and lawyers may get all the accolades and envious discussions, a successful salesperson can often generate more personal wealth than nearly every other profession.

While salespeople can be highly paid, it is not unusual that salespeople have very uneven paychecks. Even with the skills that I teach in my book, Eliminate Your Competition and on this site, you will not close massive deals every two weeks. In fact, if we define a large deal as being at least 10% of your annual quota, you will probably only close five to ten large deals per year. This requires a bit of wealth planning for a successful salesperson.

Immediately invest 10% and immediately donate 10%.

My first suggestion before you do anything with the commission (after paying any applicable taxes) is to donate a portion of the commission. Do it immediately, before you get other priorities. Taking care of your fellow man is one of the most important charters of well-to-do professionals. Many people do not have the blessings and capabilities that you enjoy, and it is your responsibility as a caring human to make their life easier.

While everyone has different targets for sharing their wealth with others, I strongly suggest that you set 10% as your goal. Giving 10% of your income to charity has been a template for caring for others since words were written on bark, animal skins, and parchment. It is a time-honored tradition and has proven to be completely within the capability of anyone who has been given great gifts in life.

The next thing that you should do with your big commission check is to pay yourself. Regardless of your effort, you will hit a dry patch of revenue. Maybe the industry or locality that you are in will suffer a recession. Maybe your company will fall behind the competition, forcing you to find new employment. As with everyone, eventually, you may want to not sell every day and may want to sit on a beach, visit family, climb mountains, or tend a vineyard. No matter how much you love your job, someday you will want to do something more enjoyable.

To save for that rainy day or even that day when you don’t want to work, you need a plan. That plan is well described in my book The Confident Investor, but it starts with paying yourself first. It starts with taking 10% of that commission check and putting it into an account where that money will work for you and grow. My book The Confident Investor and its accompanying site can help you make that money grow more quickly than most methods, but the first step is to set the money aside.

So right now, before you get that check for the big deal you are working on, prepare for the commission. Find two or three charities that you can support. Find out how to efficiently donate to them. You don’t need to set up a trust or anything fancy – just find out where to send the check. If you don’t have a specific charity, consider a donation to your neighborhood church or The United Way.

After the charity has been found, open up an investment account. There are multiple brokerage companies that you can consider and my book The Confident Investor will help you find them. If you don’t want to buy my book, consider opening an account with Fidelity, TD Waterhouse, or Schwab.

Header Photo by geralt (Pixabay)

Give Yourself A Trophy For Big Wins

Give Yourself A Trophy For Big Wins

I was recently interviewed by Colin Stewart on his podcast “Predictable Revenue.” It was an enjoyable experience for me as Colin is a great interviewer with a lot of experience in B2B Sales.

In that podcast, Colin asked me about intermediate rewards during the course of the business year. I gave some examples of how I used to reward myself when I was a direct salesperson. In this post, I would like to expand on that topic more than I did with Colin.

Winning the deal is important. You will receive more financial security in the form of loyalty from your employer as well as increased commissions. However, you need to put an internal incentive into your mind to help you through the tough times of the next sale.

We all know that there are times in the selling process that are just plain frustrating for the sales team. The prospect may be asking questions that are very basic. Or the prospect may be making it difficult to create a positive relationship. Whatever the frustration, it is helpful to have a little extra incentive to motivate you through the tough times.

Think of a sprinter in a track and field event. The sprinter wants to win so that her team will get more points and win the event, but that is not the sprinter’s only motivation. The sprinter is also motivated to beat her personal best time. The sprinter is also motivated to beat her arch-rival in the lane beside her. The sprinter is motivated to hear the cheers of the crowd and the accolades of her teammates, friends, and family. 

This personal motivation is used by the sprinter to fight through challenging practices. She visualizes winning the race when she is trying to do that last painful lift in the weight room. She visualizes the first place award when she practices her first three steps over and over for hours. She doesn’t visualize the team winning; she visualizes her personal win. It is the personal win that inspires the extra effort and sacrifice.

The sprinter’s job is to score more points for the team. That is why she is on the team. While she wants the team to do well, she also wants to do well and needs her own motivation. You are like the sprinter, and it is your job to sell your product. Selling the product keeps your company afloat and helps to employ all of the people in the company. Just selling the product and having your company do well may not be enough to fight through those challenging sales calls.

You should develop your personal win award. You may think that your manager should do this for you, but you cannot depend on others for your success. You need to create a personal win that will motivate you to push through those tough sales calls.

I suggest that the personal win is something that you greatly enjoy, but you can live without it on a daily basis. Set aside one activity that you will only do when you have won a deal of 5% or 10% of your annual quota. Once you have identified that win, never do it without closing a deal. It is your trophy activity.

Celebrate Any Win Over 5% Of Your Annual Quota

It is not possible for me to select your trophy activity. I can give you suggestions based on what others have selected. None of the following list may be personally motivating for you, but hopefully, it will give you some ideas.

  • Massage (or if you get massages frequently, a stone massage)
  • Dinner at a specific restaurant that you only go to when you win a big deal
  • A trip to the casino
  • Tickets to the local sporting event (or maybe better tickets than normal if you regularly attend)
  • A specific bottle of wine (or other favorite beverage – in the podcast, I discussed tequila)
  • A round of golf at a specific course (make sure it is not your regular course – you want this to be a special treat)
  • A new handbag or pair of shoes
  • Tickets to a show

It is worth repeating the one rule regarding deal trophies. Whatever activity you select as your trophy, make it an activity or purchase that you never do unless you win a deal. So if you chose to purchase a pair of shoes, a handbag, or attend a show, perhaps it is a certain style of shoes or handbag, or it is shows that are only at a specific venue.

After a couple of wins and the resulting reward, you will be able to visualize yourself doing this activity again when the sales process is challenging. You will be able to fight through the tough times because you know that there is a trophy at the end.

Photo by mohamed_hassan (Pixabay)
Salespeople Affect The Decision-Making Process Of Their Prospects

Salespeople Affect The Decision-Making Process Of Their Prospects

I was recently interviewed by Colin Stewart of Predictable Revenue in his podcast. I have posted links to that podcast as well as the transcript.

During that interview, I made the point that sales is nothing more than affecting decisions. I contend that it is the job of a salesperson to influence the decisions of a prospect. I will take this one step farther and say that a salesperson tries to affect the prospect making a favorable decision in the desired timeframe.

Making a decision in an organization is a very complicated process. It is not like the criminal TV dramas where the wise old judge weighs the evidence and renders a sound decision. It is more like jury trials – relationships between individuals and their personalities are far more powerful than the facts. The reader is encouraged to read “12 Angry Men” or watch the movie starring Peter Fonda and George C. Scott. It is an excellent example of emotions getting in the way of making an impartial decision. It also shows that a poor salesperson (the defendant’s lawyer) can blow the sale. Peter Fonda’s character is an excellent example of a Champion who can sway the emotions of the decision-making group.

The team making a decision is not trying to select the best solution. They will settle for a product that satisfies the majority of their perceived needs. They will look at enough options to make themselves confident that they have a good market sampling.

If you have ever wondered why a company bought a competitor’s offering and not yours, perfection is not the goal in most buying decisions. In many cases, the goal is simply to make a choice that isn’t terrible. It is your job as a salesperson to put your product into those decision criteria.

Do you know how your prospect is making their decision?

This is a common question by every sales manager for all time when reviewing the deals in the pipeline. The question comes even more frequently if the individual salesperson is relatively new or tends to lose deals too often. The simple fact is that your deal is at a significant risk if you do not know the answer to this question.

Of course, if you do know the answer to that question, you may still be at risk if you do not understand that it is your job to influence that decision-making process. The first step is to understand, and the next step is influence, but you cannot affect what you do not understand.

If you want your boss to get off your back about your deals, then know the answer to that vital question AND understand how you will affect that decision. Once you have those two things under control, your manager will be much more interested in the timing of the deal and if you have the resources to execute on your plan to influence the decision.

The four types of salespeople

The four types of salespeople

I was recently interviewed by Colin Stewart for his podcast “Predictable Revenue.” I spoke in great detail about the four types of salespeople. I created a transcript of the conversation, but that still might have been moderately difficult to understand the differences. I am hopeful that this blog post eliminates some of the confusion.

There are four types of salespeople in a corporate sale. Every salesperson exhibits traits of all four types, but invariably they gravitate to one or two. The goal of this book is to help salespeople develop Trapper-like tendencies.

The four types are:

  1. Gatherer
  2. Farmer
  3. Hunter
  4. Trapper

It is possible for a Gatherer, Farmer, Hunter, or Trapper to close an order. We have all heard the old adage: “Even the blind pig occasionally finds an acorn.” Farmers, Gatherers, and Hunters close orders and can have a successful career. Trappers, however, close more orders that are larger, and they do it more consistently. In fact, the most successful salespeople may self-identify with one of the other three traits, but invariably they end up looking very similar to a Trapper.

Gatherer

In some cases, a Gatherer is naturally another salesperson trait, but at the particular account in question, they act like a Gatherer. They act like they own the account and primarily try to be a trusted adviser to the company. They are the incumbent and therefore are susceptible to trying to protect the status quo. A Gatherer can also be a senior salesperson who has sold to the prospect earlier in her career while working for another company.

Because all traits are morphed to a Gatherer, their actual tendencies can be varied. In some cases, they can even be a Trapper who has gotten lazy. Typically, a Gatherer can only work for a great company and sell a great product deployed in many different use cases. They have generally established themselves with a lot of experience. Often the company that employs a Gatherer puts this person in roles that allow them to generate repeat business rather than new business because of their tenure and familiarity with the customer.

Gatherers are incredibly difficult to beat. Multiple studies have shown that selling more to an existing client takes a fraction of the costs of acquiring a new client. This reduced cost directly correlates to making it easier to win more business with the customer. A Gatherer has a significant advantage in any sales contest and even smaller or niche competitors can be difficult to beat once they have the benefit of an existing purchase relationship.

Farmer

Farmers can be quite successful in a territory. This is especially true if the salesperson is selling a well-known product and they are familiar with the majority of the companies and individual buyers in their territory. Farmers tend to grow relationships and use those relationships to introduce new technology. 

The failure of a farmer is consistency, especially with new products and unfamiliar decision makers. A farmer will take quite a long time in growing a new patch simply because there is very little targeted prospecting or targeted selling. A farmer’s revenue performance is typically shaped like a rollercoaster because they do not control the success of their prospecting and leave it up to the customer to decide the outcome of the sales campaign. Therefore they cannot regulate their successes and failures. 

The Farmer is most susceptible to losing deals to “No Decision.” If you squander 30% or more of your deals to “No Decision,” then you must begin to think of yourself as a Farmer.

Hunter

Most hiring VPs instruct sales recruiters to find only Hunters. Hunters have developed the skill of ‘stealing’ to great advantage. A true Hunter doesn’t have the patience to spend time on future customer projects, but rather focuses on prospects who have already identified a need for the product. Hunters will often have extremely short sales cycles because they like to find prospects who have been cultivated by other salespeople. The Hunter steals the forecasted deal from another unsuspecting salesperson.

The revenue stream for even the best Hunters can most easily be described as a rollercoaster because they work real hard to steal, leaving them little time to work on their pipeline of customers. If there are no existing salespeople who have created a new opportunity and convinced the prospect to solve a problem, the Hunter will starve. The Hunter needs prospects to come to the conclusion that a particular type of product is needed. Once the prospect has identified a goal to satisfy, the Hunter will aggressively pursue the opportunity.

The Hunter rarely loses to “No Decision.” She rarely spends time worrying about opportunities that are not in an active buying cycle. Because of this late entry, No Decision is simply not a reasonable conclusion.

Trapper

The Trapper is a thinker, a planner, and a worrier. The Trapper is constantly worried about competitors that he knows and those that he doesn’t know. Those competitors also include “No Decision,” which is a perennial competitor in most early buying cycles. Because of this worrying, the Trapper plans for a battle with each and every competitor and lays Traps to be sprung on the most likely competitors.

The Trapper is constantly trying to understand the prospect’s business. This is second nature to a Trapper because just like a “wilderness” trapper, the business Trapper understands his quarry and understands the environment. The Trapper studies the habits and peculiarities of his prospect as well as his competitor. 

The Trapper isn’t just versed in the obvious parts of the business, but also in how the prospect really makes money and, more importantly, how the prospect loses money. The Trapper knows that if he helps the prospect avoid financial losses, the funding for his project will be ensured. Also, by focusing on financial rewards and losses, the Trapper is often in a completely different relationship with the prospect than the competition.

All of this worrying and thinking requires planning. The Trapper anticipates what is going to happen and makes plans to capitalize on it. He doesn’t wait until the last minute to understand the prospect and cultivate relationships. Rather, the Trapper makes an effort to completely understand the politics and driving forces of the prospect so that he is extremely prepared when an opportunity comes up to sell more products.

Transcript of 151st episode of podcast Predictable Revenue

Transcript of 151st episode of podcast Predictable Revenue

As I discussed earlier on this site, I was recently interviewed on the 151st edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast, by co-host Collin Stewart. If you go to my earlier post, you can play the podcast right here on my site. This posting is the transcript of that podcast.

Throughout the pod, Collin and I discuss how to update the traditional Hunter-Farmer sales model to better reflect the responsibilities of today’s sales professional.

Highlights include:

  • the problem with the Hunter-Farmer sales model [3:18],
  • specializing sales roles [20:11],
  • what does a good Trapper do that too many salespeople do not? [22:32],
  • the makings of a great salesperson [35:15],
  • my unique celebrations after closing a big deal [42:55],
  • and cold call with Colin for my current company, Agile Stacks, Inc. [48:46].

This article has multiple pages for your reading ease. They are:

  • Page 1 – Opening and the discussion of a Trapper
  • Page 2 – Discussion of decision-making timeline
  • Page 3 – Strategic Selling, Solution Selling and building the need with the prospect
  • Page 4 – Three things that every salesperson needs to sell (and only one matters)
  • Page 5 – Goals and Rewards (TEQUILA!)
  • Page 6 – Cold call with Colin

Following is the transcript of the 151st podcast of Predictable Revenue. The podcast is a conversation between Colin Stewart, as host, and myself, Sean O’Shaughnessey, as the guest. I am doing this interview in my official capacity as the Chief Revenue Officer of Agile Stacks, Inc. and the author of Eliminate Your Competition which is available wherever books are sold.

You may purchase my book, Eliminate Your Competition, from your favorite book retailer. The ebook version is available at the most popular retailers such as Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble. The paperback version is also widely available at such retailers as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books A Million.

The transcript has been slightly edited for readability but no substantial content was changed from the original recording.

Colin Stewart 

Welcome to the Predictable Revenue podcast, where frontline sales leaders teach you how to build and scale an outbound sales team.

Welcome back to The Predictable Revenue podcast. I’m your host, Colin Stewart. Today I’m joined by Sean O’Shaughnessey. He’s the CRO over at Agile Stacks, and author of the book “Eliminate Your Competition.” 

Sean, welcome to the show.

Sean O’Shaughnessey

Thank you very much for having me. Appreciate it.

Colin Stewart 

Yeah, great having you on. I don’t know if you can hear the difference. Or you can certainly see the difference. But because we are now in self-quarantine, and everybody in the office is working from home, I am dialing in from my bedroom. I am really hoping the kids on the other side of this wall, don’t wake up and start screaming. If they do, they may come and join the podcast. Hopefully, that naptime lasts for another 45 minutes or an hour and a half would be great. But no promises. No guarantees.

Sean O’Shaughnessey  

Yeah, it’s kind of amazing what we’re having to go through as an economy right now.

Colin Stewart  

It’s interesting. 

I’m super grateful that we had set the company up to work remotely from day one. Even though we had offices, everybody uses laptops. There’s no paper. I fought for us to never buy a printer so that people didn’t get tied to paper. And our accounting team finally snuck one in, they just went out and bought it, which is something I would do and so I gotta respect that. 

We’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to transition from living in offices to being fully remote. I’m hoping everybody that is listening is doing the same, and they’re safe and healthy and happy with the transition, even if it is temporary to be remote. 

Talking about the episode today, Sean, you’re not a big fan of the old Hunter-Farmer model. You actually wrote a book about the Trapper model, and the book is called “Eliminate Your Competition,” but we’re not going to go into the book here. I’m curious. What’s your beef with the old Hunter and Farmer model?

Sean O’Shaughnessey   

So the traditional Hunter-Farmer model is just a bit too simplistic, and that’s my big beef with it. It’s just too simplistic in a relatively complicated world now. I’m going to be kind of forthright. I have always been involved in B2B sales. Selling products that are fairly complicated to sell. Long decision times with lots of people involved in the decision-making process. It’s not unusual for me to go six months to two years to close some deals. So the Farmer model or the Hunter model is just too simplistic. 

And I’ve seen salespeople that don’t say that they’re Farmers. That’s kind of a negative connotation in sales. But they’ll say that they’re Hunters and I also see them just losing deals because of their Hunter mentality. I concluded there’s got to be a better way. That’s when I actually came up with this model. I break it down into four different categories. I contend that we still have Hunters and Farmers. But we also have salespeople called Gatherers, and we have Trappers. 

So a lot of the things I talk about in my book, and when I explain this concept, I also fall back on the 1700s or 1800s generalization on being a Trapper. What does a Hunter look like? What does a Farmer look like? So I use those as my examples as I am talking about it. It’s just too simplistic to say there are only Hunters and Farmers. There are bad things that Hunters do, and there are bad things that Farmers do. On the flip side, there are good things that they do.

Colin Stewart  

So talk to me about the idea of a Trapper from how we evolve and how it’s different from Hunter and Farmer. I’m thinking you’re getting into some like, “Is this person using NLP to trap them into agreeing to sales?” Help me understand your thinking because I doubt it’s that nefarious.

Sean O’Shaughnessey   

So let’s use those examples from pioneer days because everybody’s a little familiar with it. You’ve watched Daniel Boone or whatever on TV. Let’s use those examples a bit. Let’s start with something that everybody knows. 

“What is a Farmer?” Farmers typically have their farm. They have their 40 acres or 80 acres, whatever. They have the land that they’re working on. They are going to put a lot of work on that land. They’re going to keep going to it over and over and over again. They’re going to cultivate it. They’re going to put good seed on it. Those are all good qualities. Let’s be honest, those are all good qualities. However, you get a bad rainstorm, get a bad hailstorm, get a drought, and suddenly the Farmer is now starving. 

That doesn’t mean that a Farmer doesn’t close deals. I know people that I would categorize as a Farmer, and they close deals. That’s the downside of saying the Farmers are bad. Because they do close a significant amount of deals. But they also tend to have ups and down years where things aren’t going well, their patch is not doing as well that year. That’s the problem with a Farmer. 

Now, for a Hunter. Hunter sees and shoots. That’s really what the Hunter is doing, walking around the woods in the traditional Hunter mythology. He or she walks around the woods, and sees an animal or sees prey and shoots. That’s wonderful! You saw something you were able to get, and you were able to win the deal. And you closed it. That’s fantastic! Those are good traits. 

However, just like with a Farmer, there are some bad things about that too. What if you don’t see anything? What if you can’t find prey to actually go after? So that’s the problem with the Hunter. The Hunter always has to have a deal to trip over otherwise what’s he going to catch? That’s a problem because if you can’t find it, then you aren’t going to be successful. So in mythology times or in pioneer days, you roam wide and far looking for game. We’ve heard about Native Americans back in the back in the day, and they would follow the bison herds across the plains. They would travel long distances. They’d have houses that were very portable so that they can follow animals around. That’s what they had to do. And that worked really well, but it had lots of problems. 

That’s the problem with the model being simplistic and saying, “I’m just going to be a Hunter.” I look at the good things about Farmers and suggest, let’s turn them into Gatherers. 

Let’s think about what a Gatherer is. A Gatherer is somebody that looks for berries or roots or whatever. They went out, and they kept on gathering. They have to really know their area to do that. 

I categorize Gatherers, in the sales model, as people that have good relationships with high-quality companies and work for a high-quality company. So they are in the account every day or every other day. Maybe three times a week. They are constantly trying to grow the business at that account. That’s not a Hunter, you would think that’d be a great thing. But that’s not a Hunter.

It’s also a very important trait. There are whole companies that have set up their entire methodology to make Gatherers successful. They become trusted advisors, and being a trusted advisor is a great thing. A Hunter that runs around and is only trying to look for the next deal rarely turns into a trusted adviser. We all hear that trusted advisors are a good thing. We need our salespeople to be trusted advisors. 

If you take all the good things for all of those personas, we turn that into a Trapper. Let’s think about what a Trapper does. A Trapper does look for game. He’s always moving around looking for prey. But he also understands the kind of prey to catch. He’s not just shooting anything that moves, he’s only trapping the prey that he can sell. 

A Trapper also understands where to put the traps? How do I relate my traps to the customer? Of course, a lot of this came from the standard sales methodology of setting traps to win deals or not lose deals. So I developed that terminology because of that use case. 

We have this very complicated and long sales process. You have to know exactly what you’re doing in order to be successful. And you have to think ahead about your prey. And I’m not saying that customers are prey, but my prey is going to walk down this path to get to this waterhole, and I need to put a trap there to get that right. Or, in the case of beating my competition, my competitor is going to go down this path, so I’ve got to trip him up. I need to set a trap here so that my competition does not proceed farther. 

I developed those methodologies when I started to think of how to make this model better since the Hunter and Farmer terms are just too simplistic. If we look at this traditional four-quadrant chart, which is similar to what you would see in any personality test. I’m a firm believer that nobody is actually a pure Hunter, a pure Farmer, a pure Gatherer, or a pure Trapper. If we look at it, they are different instances of different capabilities. The instances are actually growing from each other. A Farmer can easily become a Gatherer if that relationship is stronger and become a trusted adviser.

A Hunter can start to become a trusted adviser when they start thinking ahead and planning again. The Hunter becomes a Trapper. A Gatherer obviously can move over to become a Trapper as well. 

The strongest salespeople, in my opinion, are Trappers that are in a Gatherer position. It’s almost impossible to beat a Gatherer in an existing account. 

Let me give you an example of that. I am a salesperson selling for a high-quality company, not a fly-by-night company, but a company with decades of experience with a lot of great products that are dominant in their industry. That person’s job is to maximize the revenue coming from this large company, a Fortune 500, and probably a Fortune 50 company. We know these people, they might even be a vice president level salesperson assigned to one account. That person is totally entrenched. That salesperson is talking to the CEO and talking to the board. Potentially talking to various vice presidents in the organization. You want to compete with that person? Good luck! That’s gonna be the hardest deal that you’re ever going to do. You almost never can be a great Gatherer in a deal. 

So we need to think larger than just Farmer and Hunter because too many people that are Farmers and Hunters constantly lose to Gatherers. Many salespeople avoid Gatherer accounts. Salespeople will say, “That account is sold on XYZ competitor. If it’s not painted blue, or it’s not painted purple or not painted red, then that company won’t buy my product because of the sales team that’s on that account.” That’s a significant benefit to that company with the Gatherer. We all need to get that good at selling to most of our customers.

Colin Stewart   

That was a lot of Hunter-Gatherer-Farmer-Trapper. Let me see if I can kind of place this into how into the roles that I see in the world here. 

If you just go back to that graph. It feels like the Farmer is really more of the account manager type individuals where they’re more focused on servicing the account and dealing with upsells, dealing with contract extensions. Almost like a customer success role. 

Sean O’Shaughnessey   

Almost. Yes. 

Colin Stewart   

And then the Gatherer seems like it’s two different archetypes. Like two different sides of the same archetype. Where there’s like the light side and the dark side. And on the light side, it’s the Gatherer that has all of the benefits of being a Farmer, but you’re just ratcheting it up. You’re being more proactive about getting into your accounts, whereas the Farmer seems slightly less proactive.

Sean O’Shaughnessey   

And that’s the keyword on both sides. That is being proactive. Even on the Hunter-Trapper side, it is that proactivity capability. That ability to think ahead. To figure out what I have to do for my customer for the long term or even short term, but what am I going to have to do? And how am I going to position myself? As opposed to a Farmer, I’m just going to pick up things off the field. I’m just going to take deals as they come to me. That’s great if you can. But if you can be a Gatherer, and actually going out there looking for stuff and making things happen, it becomes a little bit better.

Colin Stewart  

Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha. If we look at the difference between Hunter and Trapper, when you were describing Hunter, it really sounded like you are sort of a lone wolf sales rep that’s solely focused on closing the deal and not associated with any follow-through.

Sean O’Shaughnessey   

Not actually. It’s more than the decision process of the deal itself. In a typical decision-making process, you’re never going to make the pitch where the customer goes, “Oh, I gotta buy that.” That just doesn’t happen in my world. I’m sure it happens in other products that are out there. But it doesn’t happen in the complicated products that I tend to sell, and we sell at Agile Stacks. We have to think ahead longer. 

The customer may actually be trying to figure out how to solve a problem before they’re ever willing to talk to a salesperson. And in reality, we see this in a wide variety of industries. Depending on the metric or study you believe, the decision-making process is 50%, 60%, or 70% done before the salesperson is contacted.  

I think we can all agree that when I was a young man, and I’m not anymore, the decision-making cycle was when I showed up at the door, and that’s also when I started the sales cycle.  That was when you couldn’t get information from the internet. Now the reality is, most decisions have already been figured out and decided upon before any salesperson gets involved. If you’re a Hunter, you may be so late that all you’re doing is reacting to what is going on as opposed to positioning yourself to be ahead of the process. So ‘proactivity’ is a big word.

Colin Stewart  

Gotcha. And so in this model, is the Trapper, more of an account executive? Like an AE in a full-time closing role? Is that what you’re suggesting?

Sean O’Shaughnessey   

Yes. My salespeople that I try to get to be Trappers are pure salespeople. They’re account executives that have a territory. They have a bunch of accounts that they’re going after. On the accounts that matter to them, I’m asking them questions like, “Are you positioning yourself so that when the prospect actually starts the process, are we going to be in a driving position and getting the deal?” As opposed to being  Hunters. 

I am probably compartmentalizing it a little bit too much, but a lot of times, Hunters are being driven. We’ve all heard this problem. You received an RFP, or RFP, or RFQ (whatever your RFx happens to be), and you didn’t have anything to do with affecting how that was written. Just about everybody will tell you, “Don’t respond to it.” There are various philosophies on that, but my philosophy is you probably shouldn’t respond to that. You’re probably column fodder. That was a very popular term in another book that was written 25 years ago. The ability to influence that RFx, as opposed to reacting to the RFx, is a big deal. Hunters tend to react to the RFx. Trappers tend to influence the RFx. Gatherers tend to take the RFx off the market.

Colin Stewart   

Gotcha. It seems like Gatherers are in the best position if they don’t even have to do the RFx.

Sean O’Shaughnessey   

Yeah, Gatherer is a great position to get in. But remember you have two criteria for Gatherers: you have to work for a fantastic company, and you have to be calling on a company that loves your employer. 

I mean, you have to work for a company that people buy without even knowing why they are buying from that company. There’s not a lot of companies out there that are in that space and have that much influence in their marketplace. So you have to work for that kind of company. You have to work for a company that literally you can live in one account. Maybe you have five or six accounts, but that’s it. 

Colin Stewart   

Yeah, I’m feeling like these are the big companies, like the SAPs, the Oracles. I hesitate to say Salesforce because I know they have some competition, but I know people that are reps over at Salesforce, and the sales culture there is crazy. They work super hard. So it’s not like anybody sitting back and just relaxing and throwing their feet up.

Sean O’Shaughnessey   

And that’s the other thing that I frequently say. There really is no bad thing about Farmers, Gatherers, or Hunters if you’re going to work your ass off. If you work your ass off, you’re probably doing enough of the good things of those other quadrants on this chart that you actually can be successful and get your deals. 

I know Farmers that make their number all the time. I know Hunters that make their number all the time. I know Gatherers that make their number all the time. And I know Trappers that make the number. So you can be one of them, or primarily one of them. But if you work your ass off, you can probably be successful too. It is just easier if you adopt Trapper tactics.

Colin Stewart   

Gotcha. I’m curious how you see this. So one of the things that our company stands behind is the idea of specialization in sales roles. Sort of separating the sales roles. Pulling out the handling of inbound and outbound appointment setting. Having dedicated account execs. Having a dedicated account manager and customer success people. How does that fit into this model?

Sean O’Shaughnessey  

This is primarily for the account execs, the people that are selling and closing the deal. For SDRs or BDRs trying to get appointments (and I love that model as well), that model can actually relate to this a little bit. But typically they’re going to be Hunters, or they’re going to be Trappers. I mean, let’s be perfectly honest, they’re not just farming the account. They’re not, because that’s just not what that role does,

Colin Stewart   

So unlikely or a model I got, yeah,

Sean O’Shaughnessey   

It’s just unlikely. And in that role, they just can’t do that. However, if you’re just a person who picks up the phone and makes a phone call to a name, that you got off of some lead list, especially if it was a cold lead list like you went to discover.org, and you found a name. Good luck to you. Have fun with that. So that’s extreme Hunter. You’re not gonna have a lot of success doing that. 

However, if you took that name and you really analyzed this title as to what makes sense. This is what this title needs. And you have some ideas on what to say to that title. This company is in this industry, and these things are affecting this industry right now. This title in that industry is affected this way. Now, you’re starting to think a little bit more like a Trapper. 

When a BDR does this, you’re starting to plan ahead. Maybe you’ve done some research on that company. Maybe they bought other things like this. Perhaps they bought other competitors’ products or maybe they bought complimentary products. You did a little bit more research, you’ve got ahead of it a little bit. 

Once again, you were proactive before talking to the customer. You’re proactive about understanding what the problems are, and what the company’s needs and goals are.  Maybe you just open up the annual report and read it, which, I really wish more salespeople would do.

Colin Stewart   

Let’s get into it. Let’s see if I understand you. This quadrant really applies to people specifically focused on that account executive role. If we’re thinking through the lens of specialized sales roles, we’re probably looking at the Hunter-Trapper as the light and the shadow archetype. Help me understand what a good Trapper does? I think I get the model here, but what are some of the best practices? What are some of the things we can learn from good Trappers?

Salespeople need to stop asking oxygen questions

Salespeople need to stop asking oxygen questions

In my position, I frequently have salespeople reach out to me to pitch their product or service. I try to listen to as many of these as possible. I believe there is a chance their product could help me achieve my goals or the goals of my company.

I firmly believe that there are better tools or capabilities in the market that can help my company achieve our goals. For this reason, I will happily listen to a salesperson that makes a persuasive pitch.

I get most frustrated in these opening pitches when the salesperson asks an “oxygen” question. Something like, “In all of my conversations, we have found that salespeople do best when they can breathe oxygen. Do you find that in your own business?”

Really? You just asked me a question that everyone in my position would reply with a “Yes” answer. What good came out of you asking that question. You are now starting in negative territory for having any credibility with me. I have immediately categorized you as wasting my time. Good luck trying to dig out of that hole.

I am not a chastened buyer. We have all seen the comic of the medieval king that is battling his foe with swords. The helpful salesperson is trying to get his attention to sell him a machine gun. 

But if that machine gun salesperson started his pitch with an oxygen question, maybe it is that is the reason that the king doesn’t want to listen. 

I am not suggesting that a successful salesperson shouldn’t make small talk to create camaraderie with the prospect. In fact, I wrote about creating small talk a short time ago

What are oxygen questions?

Oxygen questions are designed to get a positive response. A long time ago, salespeople that sold at the kitchen table (e.g., insurance, pots and pans, vacuums cleaners, Tupperware, etc.) used the philosophy of asking many questions that required a positive answer. The theory was to get the gullible prospect used to saying, “Yes” and eventually saying, “Yes” to the final price.

When you ask an oxygen question, you are suggesting that your prospect is gullible. Is that the impression that you want to give?

Examples of oxygen questions

All of these questions are no better than asking your prospect if his team needs oxygen to do their job. Of course, they need oxygen; everyone needs oxygen.

A lousy question to the VP of Sales: “In our experience, VPs of Sales for young companies are trying to grow. Are you trying to grow your company’s revenue of your venture-capital funded startup?”  This was the oxygen question that I received this morning and gave me the impetus for this post. Aren’t all VPs of Sales trying to grow revenue, especially those in VC funded companies? This question does nothing to advance the conversation.

A lousy question to the Head of Supply Chain: “In our experience, supply chain managers need to drive efficiency in the operations. Are you trying to make your supply chain operation more efficient?”  The sarcastic answer to that question is, “No, I want my company to be less efficient.”

A lousy question to the CFO: We have noticed that CFOs are worried about the accuracy of financial reports to their board and shareholders. Are you concerned about the accuracy of your financial statements? Are you kidding me? What CFO wants to go to jail for knowingly having inaccurate financial statements? How is the answer to that question going to give the salesperson any information?

Use better opening questions

Your opening questions should not be similar to, “Is oxygen important?” Instead, the wise salesperson or business development representative should spend a few minutes researching the company. It won’t take long. You should look at the company website and see what is essential to the prospect. Maybe read the CEO letter in the annual report. Figure out the industry and look at other companies in the industry.

The more a salesperson understands the business of his prospect, the more he can start to add value to the conversation. 

Even starting with a statement about what you do is better than asking an oxygen question. If you cannot take the time to understand the issues confronting that company, start with your value pitch: “My company helps young companies rapidly increase their revenue generation. Can I spend a few minutes explaining how we do that?”

That opening statement is not the best opening, but if you make that pitch to me, I will likely give you a few minutes to hear more. But to be honest, I am a sucker for a good sales pitch, and I hate bad pitches.