Stacking Your Sales Pipeline + Productive Meetings with IBM Sales Leader Steven Dickens – Episode 55

Stacking your sales pipeline is a key topic for management teams and sales profs alike and Steve is no stranger to building pipeline…

More often than not sales profs and management are too focused on what is already in the quarter to even think about the most important part of selling:- “Stacking Your Sales Pipeline”.

In this no holds barred interview Steven Dickens shares insight from 20+ years in Technology sales. He oversees a team of 50+ sales representatives for IBM.

We discuss the all famous Glengarry Glen Ross movie which would probably be banned in most sales meetings these days.

Steven helps people to understand where they should be spending their time to create the best results. His close link with the marketing department is very refreshing, we are all on the same team after all!

WARNING — AI Transcriptions Below May Cause Grammatically Correct People Serious Stress and Lack of Sleep!

Nathaniel Schooler 0:23
In this episode, I’m interviewing Steven Dickens. And he’s a trusted advisor for clients focused on protecting digital assets, blockchain and building private clouds. He’s actually worked for over 20 years in hardware and software across multiple industries. And now he actually works for IBM, where he leads a global sales and pre sales team of over 50 people. He shares some really great information. And I think you will certainly enjoy this episode.

Thanks for tuning in. It’s nice to speak again, Steven.

Steven Dickens 1:04
Yes. And you, definitely looking forward to this today.

Nathaniel Schooler 1:10
I think should we talk about pricing first. I know it’s a bit of a painful topic. But it’s important to get your pricing right when you’re in business?

Steven Dickens 1:22
Yeah, for sure. I’ve just come from a session actually in the last couple of minutes, before we jumped on this call together. We were talking about how we define pricing for one of the offerings that we’ve got in development, which come out later on in the year, and they have me join these teams, where we are coming up with pricing strategy.

What I’m always amazed with is the amount of guesswork and assumptions that go into how organizations define a price for their solution.

People will go out and build a competitive few, they’ll go out and interview clients, they’ll go out and kind of get this view from the market and take a tiny sample size, and then try and extrapolate that out for how they’re going to approach a market with 10,000 clients. In seven different geographies around the world. So it’s really interesting to spend time with our teams on this. And then much of that guesswork comes into our list price set for a product. And then it’s handed over to sales who then have to go and live with it out in the field.

Nathaniel Schooler 2:36
Yeah, that must be really, really hard. I mean, with lots of different markets as well. And so will the price actually be the same or different in each of those markets?

Steven Dickens 2:49
Oh, IBM operates on seven major geographies. And then there’ll be countries within each one of those geographical areas. We could probably have as many as 50 different prices for the same IBM components. So it’s really interesting. You’ve both got a price to the market, and then price to the local GEO.

So there’s a whole complexity that comes through, which then obviously becomes a sales challenge, once the the offering management team have thrown that offering across and into generally available status so that we can then go and sell it. So there’s just challenges through the entire process, how you define that price, a manager for global deployment for that price, and then how sales goes and executes and lives with that challenge, as they’re tasked with taking that price out into the marketplace, ultimately.

Nathaniel Schooler 3:48
So are sales people over there actually, given any autonomy over, you know, being able to sort of reduce that price, for like volume and that kind of stuff.

Steven Dickens 4:00
We’ve got teams who look after our pricing structures, and they’ve got delegated or authorities to certain levels. And then we’ve got a established process, around how we run that. In order for more competitive situations, we’re trying to win a new client we’re trying to deal with the client who is operating at scale. But all of that becomes a very manual process very quickly. So you’re relying on the good judgment of executives who are seeing across the entire business. So I think if anybody’s sort of wanting to get a feel for how they should be setting the price, they got to be thinking about how they operationally managed that price once it’s deployed out there into the field.

Nathaniel Schooler 4:48
Yeah, that makes it that makes a lot of sense. So what are the most interesting meetings that you’ve signed with pricing and your whole career?

Steven Dickens 4:58
I’ve had lots of them, trying to think of some particular interesting ones, I think, you know, you’re obviously always on the dynamic of the client wants it to cost less, and the sales guy wants it to cost more. And they’ve got competing measures and metrics that drive both of those sets of behaviours. So that’s kind of the first dynamic, you know, there isn’t the classic win – win that everybody talks about; the sales guy wants to maximize his quota, the client wants to maximize their budget and pay as little as possible. And there really is not many ways to square that circle. It’s a compromise from both sides.

So I think the most interesting meetings I’ve been in with clients, as we talk about kind of ultimately price, is really trying to understand what the value drivers are for the client, you know, get beyond what we think it should cost us a supplier. And really understand from the client side, and kind of sit the side of the table where the client is, and understand the value that they’re going to derive from the software.

You know, I did a time and motion studies with a client around a piece of software that we’re going to deploy into their retail warehouse. So this was with the guys and gals in this warehouse, having to walk the floor. And we will put in a mobile solution into that warehouse for the first time. That meant that people would be able to carry around stock information on the tablet, the ROI case for that just lept out because this warehouse was so big that people were doing a 10 minute walk to get back to print something cage to then go back on a 10 minute walk.

So in that situation price melted into the background, because we were both having a value based conversation around the ROI of just real people doing real tasks that we could quantify. So that’s probably one that would stand out. For me Nathaniel as we’re talking about, trying to understand what price means it’s really just a reflection of value. And that’s not value in the eye of the seller, that’s value in the eye of the client.

Nathaniel Schooler 7:15
Right, right. So so that return on investment could actually be well, it could be could mean a lot of different things. It could be actually, you know, obviously, based on figures, right. But you could also you could also say, well, we are more of a robust company. So we’ve been around for however many years, we’re not going to go anywhere, versus a company that perhaps is a bit new, or may have just launched that particular product line, right. So price then becomes secondary, doesn’t it?

Steven Dickens 7:51
I think it’s how much overhead is built into how you define the price in so one of the key components is the corporate tax, the overhead you need to build, you know, you’ve got to pay for the offices, you’ve got to pay for the HR department.

You’ve got to pay for the car parking spaces, you got to pay for the security guard, you got to pay for the person who sits on reception, you know, all of those have to be amortized across your revenue stream. So obviously, the larger the organization you are, the larger that overheads going to be. And this is why we see, obviously, so many organizations focused on cost cutting measures of non revenue generating staff. Because that obviously impacts the price that they can charge in the marketplace, and ultimately, the top line revenue.

So it’s size and scale of your non generate revenue generating kind of operations really does filter into the overall price you can charge. And I think whenever we’re having those conversations, that’s just a grim reality see that we have to build into all of our costs decisions, and that cost equation.

Nathaniel Schooler 9:05
Overhead, fixed overhead.

Steven Dickens 9:07
Just fixed overhead. It’s how you go about doing that. And managing and constraining that fixed overhead.

Nathaniel Schooler 9:16
Yeah, and how you look at that product as well like, is that product, just a product to get people in the door, so then you sell them somewhat more expensive?

Steven Dickens 9:25
It’s interesting. In a world where so many of the born on the cloud vendors are out there trying to win market share, I think you’re seeing a lot of artificially low priced offerings and solutions. And I think whilst that might be good for the early entrance, you’ve also got to be aware as a client, that’s not going to have stuck be the situation for the long term. I think we’re seeing this with some of the big public cloud providers.

Nathaniel Schooler 9:55
Right

Steven Dickens 9:55
They’re doing a lot to get people on their platforms is that in the best interest of the customer in the long term, in a predatory pricing to get in and build a market share for big cloud provider is maybe not where you want to be as a client, because the only way that big cloud provider can turn to profitability is to rack up the price. And if you’ve moved all your data in and moved all your environment to the cloud, then they’ve got an exit cost that you hadn’t bargain down. And they’re ratcheting up the price.

Nathaniel Schooler 10:33
Yes.

Steven Dickens 10:34
So there’s lots of I see it increasingly, you know, nothing is ever as cheap as it would appear on the surface. And people have got to build that into their thought process. What’s my cost of getting out of this situation? Not what what my cost is of getting into this situation?

Nathaniel Schooler 10:53
That’s a very good way to look at it. Never thought about it like that.

Steven Dickens 10:57
Well, just ask yourself how much it costs, get your data off some of the big cloud providers. So you decided to fall out with no, I’ll pick on Amazon because they’re big, you know, you decide you want to fall out with AWS in three years time, and you want to move to an IBM Cloud, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, any other cloud, but you just decided you want to terminate your relationship with Amazon, what’s the cost to get out?

But then that’s, that’s never factored in. Obviously, AWS are doing a good job of telling you how cheap it is to get in to their cloud. That’s, that’s a lot less hidden of what it costs to get out of that cloud. And I think, you know, that rush to the cloud, we’re starting to see a lot of people now as the cloud market matures, get caught out by that very situation and, and realize the cost of moving and how hostage you are to some of those cloud providers.

Nathaniel Schooler 11:57
Wow. So all of that is in the small print?

Steven Dickens 12:03
Yeah, definitely buried on page 38. In, you know, eight point font stuck in legal ease, that you’re not going to get your head around quickly. And I think if something’s too cheap. There’s a catch! Would be my advice to a lot of corporate buyers and procurement teams out there.

Nathaniel Schooler 12:24
Yeah. That’s, that’s painful. I can only just imagine how upsetting that must be, for some people out there, you know, especially if they’re trying to use some sort of different apps or something that they’re not found on that particular providers list, or not to the standard that they could get somewhere else. I’m learning a lot about cloud at the moment.

But our listeners there, they probably know what Cloud is because most people do now, but they don’t know about, you know, most of this kind of techie stuff, to be honest. But it’s the same, though, isn’t it? It’s the same like anywhere, like when you when you sign up to a mobile phone contract, and then you work out, you know, new customers are getting eight gigabytes of data, right. For the same price that that you’re getting four. It’s like, hold on, you’ve been with the company for how many years? Shouldn’t you get like, preferential rate just for customer loyalty? Surely?

Steven Dickens 13:25
You would think so as the client.

Nathaniel Schooler 13:27
Yeah.

Steven Dickens 13:27
But what the what they’ve done is built in the cost of acquisition of the client. So you know, you as a client, there’s a cost to acquire you. Yeah, cost is, you know, in the first year, I’ve got markup within cost of sales and General Administration as DNA costs. I’ve got the teaser offer price that I want to offer you to get you onto my platform built into that model is price increases on the back end, because there’s a cost to you have money moving? How many people actually move? TV provider, mobile phone provider, Gas and Electric provider?

Yes, those markets have become more competitive, and it’s got easier to move, then it was maybe 15 years ago, but so many of the people just stay and let the price ratchet up because they haven’t got time, or the effort or the inclination to move.

Nathaniel Schooler 14:26
Yeah!

Steven Dickens 14:27
Everybody knows that to setting these prices. And that’s built into the five year business case when they were not offering the new service. Right.

Nathaniel Schooler 14:35
That’s interesting. So you’re looking at it on the back end. I get it. Okay. Yeah,

Steven Dickens 14:39
Businesses have got to be profitable. And they’ve got to get that profit. Somehow they might get not get it in the year one or two, but they might get it in two years. Three, four or five.

Nathaniel Schooler 14:49
I get it. That’s quite interesting. Actually. I love I love speaking to my mobile phone company. I’m not gonna say who they are. But I love busting their balls. I really do. It makes me laugh. I call them up. Like, literally, when I went in there trying to sell me a package, you know? And I’m just like:- “No, no, no.” And I’m usually speaking some chap, you know,abroad in a call centre. It just cracks me up. It’s just like, sometimes I’ve actually turned off, turn off the microphone, because I’m laughing so hard that I’ve just busted this guy so so hard for a deal that I know he can’t do. And and I know he’s got to be nice to me.

Steven Dickens 15:27
It’s good sport. I mean, you should be ringing your providers once every year. You’re saying you’re saying you’re going to move, even if you have no intention of and you’d be surprised what they’re authorized to do from a customer retention point of view. So just sort of financial advice from from me here for everybody ring your provider once a year and threatened to leave. You’ll be surprised.

Nathaniel Schooler 15:52
Yeah, yeah, completely. And I was talking to someone who’s a negotiator the other day. And he was saying, actually, you know, if you’re buying a product, you know, not like subscription product, because that’s generally, you know, bit more of a headache to move. But like, if you’re buying, like, you know from a company, you just buy a product from someone else and say:- “Sorry, I went with so and so.” And then you and then they’ll take you seriously next time right now, because sometimes people just say they get a move just because they think we’re going to get a better price. You know?

Steven Dickens 16:20
Yes, definitely a dynamic for sure.

Nathaniel Schooler 16:23
Well, that’s really interesting. Thank you. So we’ve productive meetings, you must have a lot of experience, because I know you manage quite a lot of sales people 50 and upwards that you manage?

Steven Dickens 16:36
50 yes right around the world; working for me to take in this proposition out there into these 7 different markets that I talked about. And it’s interesting, you talk about productive meetings, I get invited into a lot of those meetings that have obviously had prep and work put into them. And then we fall down on some of the basics.

How many times do you go into a meeting where you’re often running into the agenda before everybody knows who each other is in the meeting, and you’ve actually set the objective?

Somebody’s got a PowerPoint chart deck running, and we’re off into a presentation, and somebody then pitching, or does everybody in the room know who everybody is and what we’re trying to achieve. So I spend a lot of time working with junior reps as they come through our graduate program. Because at that age, those reps are consciously aware that they’re incompetent. And they’re very focused on the basics. So I use it as a way to keep myself current on the basics. So easy to get into bad habits of having meetings where you don’t know why you’re there. You don’t know everybody’s objectives.

And it’s unclear what we’re all there to try and achieve. And I would say, unfortunately, maybe as many as you know, 50% of my meetings fall into that category. And only when you really set the objectives early on at the start of the call, and say this is why I want to be here, this is what we’re trying to achieve. This is what I’ve called this meeting. These are the three people on the call, and this is what we’re trying to get out of it. You find that your meeting finishes early. So the best run meetings finish early. In my experience. So just focus on the basics, I think would be some that would be my biggest advice to drive productive meetings.

Nathaniel Schooler 18:34
That’s really useful.

Steven Dickens 18:36
The amount of nothing grandiose and big, from an advice point of view, just real basics.

Nathaniel Schooler 18:43
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So it’s just like, this is John, blah, blah, blah, blah. This is this is Tara. And we’re here to talk about such and such such and such. And, and that’s it right, and then you kick off, and then you close. And that’s it. It’s done. Right?

Steven Dickens 19:00
Well, the other thing is a question, I always ask my sales reps, and it bizarrely seems to catch all of the mat. What does the perfect meeting look like? So this meeting, the next hour goes amazingly, we get everything we want out of it. What’s your ideal outcome?

And it is amazing to me that people are shocked by that question. It rocks them back onto their feet. And they have to think about an answer. Yeah, well, why have the meeting if you haven’t thought through A – what you want us to perfect outcome? And B – how you plan to navigate towards that perfect outcome?

Nathaniel Schooler 19:42
Right, right. So would you say it’s a good idea to have a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of it? And on the left hand side, but what do they want? And on the right hand side put, what do you want? Is that a good place to start before you?

Steven Dickens 19:55
It’s interesting IBM’s sort of corporate motto is Think. I think so many people bounce from one meeting to the next meeting to the next meeting. And I’m guilty of this without putting that pause and think, what do I actually want to get out of this meeting? What do the people in the room actually want to get out of this meeting? And what’s a good set of next steps and actions?

And then how are we going to make sure what we talked about in this room becomes something actionable. Because we don’t just want to have a meeting. We want it to be part of a structured process to drive an outcome. You know, whether that’s an internal outcome, whether that’s a client situation, you’re not just having your meeting for meeting sake, it’s part of a journey to achieve something.

Nathaniel Schooler 20:47
Right? So do you think a lot of meetings could be just avoid it altogether? Because they’re a waste of time. And actually, you could just do it in like two or three emails?

Steven Dickens 20:57
Well, it’s interesting, I’ve become a big user of Slack over the last 12 months communication tool. And I see tight, I am in a bunch of Slack channels with small groups driving forward to objectives. I would say that’s cut out a lot of meetings. And a lot of pointless meetings, at least we still need to meet as groups, but having communication tools out there. And then I think, I don’t know whether it would eliminate meetings overall. But the best run, the best orchestrated meetings finished faster. So having a 20 minute meeting in an hour long meeting slot, gives full 40 minutes back to everybody else to go and do something else.

Nathaniel Schooler 21:41
Yeah.

Steven Dickens 21:41
We put we put our long meetings on the calendar. And that’s just the arbitrary time that we said we’re going to have for the meeting, nothing says it needs to take an hour. If you can get to that desired outcome in 20 minutes. Everybody’s got 40 minutes. Everybody bounces off the call happy that they didn’t have to sit for an hour. And you’ve got 40 minutes to go and do something else.

And it’s bonus time, because you were expecting to spend an hour achieving the previous task.

Nathaniel Schooler 22:11
Yeah, I can just imagine being a fly on the wall in some of the meetings and your face, when they are a waste of time and the things you’ve said to people. I can just imagine it.

Steven Dickens 22:23
I do need to be careful. Now I do a lot of web X’s of because I don’t have a poker face for this stuff. So yeah. You do have to be aware of the tools using down a phone is one thing on a WebEx, your frustration with people needs to be well managed. So let’s put it that way.

Nathaniel Schooler 22:44
I can just imagine it now. It must be! So how long have you been been in sales? Steven?

Steven Dickens 22:51
All 20 so in the industry 25 years in sales for 21 of those years. Wow. So yeah, becoming a veteran. I never thought this would happen to me. But I have become one of those, cynical, experienced sales leaders that I always used to joke about when I was in my sort of mid to late 20s. So yeah, I’ve kind of turned into that version of myself that I never wanted to be.

Nathaniel Schooler 23:19
So you bit like the guy in the Glengarry Glen Ross film when he walks in, says.

“Coffee’s for closers.”

Steven Dickens 23:26
I think anybody should watch that Alec Baldwin seen. That is literally the I was playing it to one of our product guys. The other day is like, Why can I not get the sales guys to do anything? I said, let me show you the seven minutes of of movie clip that I would love to work with. As my basis to communicate with my reps. Anybody who’s listening Nathaniel and I are talking about a movie called Glengarry Glen Ross. It is a tiny budget movie with an all star cast from I think the late 80s, early 90s. It’s on Netflix, Glengarry Glen Ross. Anybody in the sales function needs to watch this movie. It is literally got two of my favourite scenes. One of them is coffee for closers. The other scene is Al Pacino’s boss who’s played by Kevin Spacey messes up a deal. And just it’s classic. Just classic movie movie gold. Anybody in the sales function? These guys are selling real estate. It’s it’s just gold. It’s the best 90 minutes of your life if you’re in a sales leadership position.

Nathaniel Schooler 24:37
It’s priceless. When he when he walks in and he puts his watch. He puts his watch on the guys bag and he says he says he says:- I think it’s like how much money you earn last year. He says to the guy and then and then he takes his watch off puts it on the briefcase. It’s just it’s priceless.

Steven Dickens 24:54
That watch is worth more than your car. Yeah, that’s what I’m worth.

Nathaniel Schooler 24:58
Yeah, that’s what he says.

Steven Dickens 25:01
Alec Baldwin got an Oscar nomination for those seven minutes of screen time. It’s a fantastic, fantastic movie.

Nathaniel Schooler 25:10
You can see it’s awful though. Like that bit or like you’re right on edge when when when the old guys like trying to get a coffee and he just sort of looks at him and then it’s just….

Steven Dickens 25:21
Put that coffee down. Coffee is for closers.

Nathaniel Schooler 25:27
Everyone’s…

Steven Dickens 25:29
First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado second prize is a set of steak knives and third prize. You’re all fired?

Just a classic as you can tell, I recite this movie on a daily basis.

Nathaniel Schooler 25:43
I could just imagine it.

Steven Dickens 25:47
It’s a classic, anybody in the sales function. It should be compulsory watching the coffee is for closers YouTube clip, it’s up on YouTube, various people have ripped it off and put it on YouTube. Definitely. Google it, find it. Watch it.

Nathaniel Schooler 26:03
Yeah, hundred percent. Awesome.

Steven Dickens 26:06
Because I just wish I could talk to my reps like that without dragged in front of HR. But!

Nathaniel Schooler 26:14
I can just imagine it! I bet you’re sitting there and actually you are thinking, and you are actually going back to that scene and thinking like, I wish I could do that now. Do you know what I mean?

Steven Dickens 26:24
Yeah, I went out in the early 90s. That was played to me in a sales meeting. Because it set the tone. And you just literally couldn’t do that these days. I’d be fired for a gross misconduct and HR violation if I played that clip to anybody. But it is that good.

Nathaniel Schooler 26:47
It is I think it’s motivational when you watch it, if you’re in sales, there’s no doubt about it!

Steven Dickens 26:54
For sure. For sure.

Nathaniel Schooler 26:56
Yeah. But so do you think meetings were where people are standing up for a good idea instead of sitting down?

Steven Dickens 27:04
I think. And we’ve just transition to using WebEx, I think anything that makes some meeting interactive, anything that makes some meeting, engaging, so many people that in meetings and doing email, they’re on their phones, they’re doing something else, and they’re not actively engaged. Anything you can do via whatever the platforms or tricks, like getting people to stand up, where they have got laptops down and engaged.

Nathaniel Schooler 27:37
Yeah.

Steven Dickens 27:37
Is going to make for a better meeting. Now is that practicable if people aren’t meeting sort of 10 hours a day? Maybe not. But if you want to get those highest impact meetings, then able to kind of enforce a no laptops policy, or we’re going to do this meeting standing up. Or we’re going to try and do this meeting in half an hour, not an hour. And just little tricks like that can often drive just different outcomes.

The best meeting I’ve had in the last year was a 10 minute meeting.

Nathaniel Schooler 28:14
Really?

Steven Dickens 28:15
Yeah. So I was meeting with a software vendor at their annual conference. The lady, the general manager of their business was busy, got held up by a client apologized. And we had to have what was a 30 minute meeting in 10 minutes. She still talks about that meeting is the most productive meeting she’s done in the last two years. We talk about that meeting, because what we did is half an hour’s worth of meeting in 10 minutes, because we had to, because the situation engineered itself to be.

Nathaniel Schooler 28:51
Right.

Steven Dickens 28:53
So makes you wonder if all your meetings would done in a third of the time. Would that be better meetings?

Nathaniel Schooler 29:00
Yeah, I think it’s just like you’re saying putting down what you want to get out of the meeting and making a list of the points, you know, and the ones that and it’s also back to like working out? Is it important? Is it urgent? Do I need to talk about it now? Can I leave it into another meeting?

Steven Dickens 29:16
Yes, exactly. Being thoughtful. As I said, think, what why am I here? Why is everybody else here? What am I trying to achieve? What is everybody else trying to achieve? What is that ideal outcome? For me? And for the others? What does that look like? And how do we get to that point, and get to that point as quickly as possible. And if it’s a one of a recurring set of meetings, how we going to make sure we hold each other to account to make sure we deliver on the actions. Just thought it sounds simplistic, but so many people don’t put thought into their meetings.

Nathaniel Schooler 29:55
Thanks. That’s really helpful. So I know you’re big on sales pipeline, right?

You would be wouldn’t you! You have got your steak knives haven’t you?

Steven Dickens 30:07
It feels like my mastermind specialist subject at times. But yes, trying to make sure that my team, at least when a set of steak knives is is uppermost in my mind at all times.

Nathaniel Schooler 30:20
I could just imagine the Cadillac

Steven Dickens 30:24
Cadillac Eldorado for the guys. Well, I mean, it’s really interesting sales pipeline, it becomes a data scientist task, if done badly. And it becomes an art form if it’s done well. And I think many people fall into the data scientist, kind of focused on what I describe as outputs. So I must see, sales pipe as and we talked about this before we jumped on the line here, around sales, inputs and sales outputs. So many senior sales leaders will get a team together once a week and say let’s talk about our pipeline and our forecast. And they’ll talk about deals that are in this month or this week or in this quarter. And as it will get to the end of that sort of month or quarter, the pressure ratchets up and we talk about less and less deals. And it’s how do I get those three deals across the line?

Or how to what do you specifically need to do to get this deal from this point to that point, so that we can get a customer to sign on the line that is dotted? To quote another Glengarry Glen Ross phrase? So I described that as output management.

Nathaniel Schooler 31:40
Okay.

Steven Dickens 31:41
I often wonder, is there any value to be added by senior leadership in the sales function over and above what added by the first line manager, so I’m always paranoid of this is my sales guys will have spoken to their in country first line manager, they’ll have probably spoke into the geo leader, they will have probably spoken to somebody else who’s got a particular slice through maybe from a functional point of view. And then they’re on a call with me once a week, having that same conversation for the fifth time.

I’ve got to be pretty special in that call to add some value that four of my peers, who are all experienced sales managers haven’t added before it gets to me.

Nathaniel Schooler 32:25
Yeah.

Steven Dickens 32:25
It’s pretty arrogant of me to think I’m going to catch out a the sales rep who’s spending all their time on this deal. And be the four other sales managers that have been before me and say something that’s so revolutionary, that changes the trajectory of that deal.

But that’s where I spend my time, because that’s what the organization asks me to do. So I try and minimize, wherever possible, that type of sales overlap and overlay, and spend my time with my reps on what I call the input part of the sales pipe. How do I get you to get more deals? How do I get you to get more first meetings with clients? How do I get you more deals where we can put a proposal on the table for the first time with a client? How do I get you to get into more conferences so that you can meet more people grow your network? Get to more meetings? How do I help clients find you through social media so that you can drop stones into more ponds?

Sales managers never spend their time with teams there. But it’s from, from my perspective, I think it’s the biggest way to grow my pipeline, not to look at the yield of my deals that are already in their final stages, and try to increase that. But just put more deals in the pipe in the first place.

Nathaniel Schooler 34:00
Yeah, I can see that would take a lot of pressure off as well, the stress of the stress of trying to push deals. I mean, my brother, he’s worked for Cisco for many years, and been in security sales for like you know, a long time. And, you know, I know the stress that he goes through when like a deal, when he was working in the in the reseller channel and sort of working with the distributors, and then, you know, they’re trying to close a deal this quarter. And then, you know, it’s just a nightmare, an utter nightmare, like, because there’s so many factors that can affect that deal, right? And it might not work?

Steven Dickens 34:38
Well, I mean, it’s about as I say, how you manage those outputs. Imagine if we take that sales person sort of function. And you’ve got three deals in your pipeline, at the end of the quarter, the management team have got three things to talk to you about. And you’re being inspected on those three deals.

Imagine if I could have worked with you earlier in the sales process and put 30 deals into that same sales stage.

Nathaniel Schooler 35:08
Yeah.

Steven Dickens 35:09
So very different. And you’ve got a close one deal. At the end of the call today in a number.

Nathaniel Schooler 35:15
Yeah.

Steven Dickens 35:16
One from three or one from 30 is a whole different ball game.

Nathaniel Schooler 35:21
Yeah.

Steven Dickens 35:22
So I spend a lot of time with my sales teams on the early stages of pipeline development, because what I find is, it just makes me more successful, because my pool of deals at the end of the quarter is just so much bigger. So I’m fixing the problem at source, rather than fixing the problem. At the end. It’s interesting, I studied Japanese management at university and fixing problems in the factory is better than fixing problems in the dealership. If I can make my reps more successful by putting more more successful tools and processes and things that get them to make deals, easier to navigate through the pipe, and easier to get clients to understand the value proposition so you can get more deals mature quicker. That’s a lot better use of your time then trying to grind on a deal in two weeks before it closes to try and come up with some magic to make it get across the line.

Nathaniel Schooler 36:27
Yeah. So is it fair to say that it that sort of crossing over into marketing really, and your and how you are actually working with the marketing departments and stuff instead of like, not just focusing on sales? You know what I mean?

Steven Dickens 36:45
Yeah, it’s really interesting, you say that, and that’s really insightful. I do spend probably a disproportionate amount of time for a sales leader with my marketing executives and my peers appears over there.

Because I read an interesting report 59% of a client buying journey is done before they talk to a sales person these days, I mean, when was the last time you bought something over $200? You know, a set of headphones, a new laptop, a car, white goods for the house, you know, a new TV? What did you do? You went on all the websites, read all the reviews, you know, check the pricing, and then you walked into Curry’s or BestBuy. And you said:- “I’m buying that one.” What was the sales person in Best Buys ability to change your decision?

Nathaniel Schooler 37:38
None, he was an order taker!

Steven Dickens 37:40
Yeah. So that applies in the enterprise space, people will have gone on your website, then I’ve looked at competitive analysis there, maybe I’ve got a third party to help them. They’ll have done their research, and maybe gone as far as 60%, through their buying journey with you, before you’re in their office.

So if you can make your marketing and your sales collateral, and the information that people find out about your product more compelling.

When you finally turn up as the sales rep, your chance of success is so much higher. And then once you turn up, if your presentation is crisp, keynote worthy slides, nice images, very well presented, articulately delivered, then that first meeting is going to go well.

So you’ve got a better chance to get into the second meeting. If the second meeting then has got really good collateral assets, material, you’ve got a good chance to get into the third meeting.

If you can move those meetings through as fast as possible. You can be collapse 12 months sales cycles into three months if you do this, right. So I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about sales velocity through the pipe, thinking about inhibitors and snags along the way, and how I can fix those, you know, just one of the ones we’ve we just rolled out a process where we’ve got four key sales plays. Each one of those sales plays has got a five chart deck, and a 20 chart deck. Those decks are all scripted. And they’ve all gone through our digital agency to be as high quality as if we were delivering them on 60 foot screens for keynotes. Why have I done that for sales presentations? Or why shouldn’t a salesperson have the best quality assets and material in their hands? What do I have to give them low quality graphics? You know, the fonts are all wrong, and then expect them to say:- “Well, why did you not close this deal?” Fixing stuff in the factory rather than fixing it in the dealership?

Nathaniel Schooler 39:55
Yeah. It makes huge sense. Massive sense. And and and also like building relationships as well, like with with within social media, like I heard you mentioned that a few minutes ago. Is that is that fair to say?

Steven Dickens 40:11
I mean, if I was trying to sell to you, what would be my best sales tool? Would I and we connected via social media. So that probably you’re a bad example. But if I was trying to sell to you and I was trying to sell on the phone, I was to send you a letter, I tried to send you an email, I tried to send you a direct message on Twitter or on LinkedIn, what platform would I have the best hit right on?

Nathaniel Schooler 40:37
Probably LinkedIn actually, depending on depending on if I needed what you were selling, or if I may need your selling. And then how you approach me as well. You know,

Steven Dickens 40:46
So if my best chance of getting in your sample size of one, but I hear this consistently from business people is the best chance is on social media.

Nathaniel Schooler 40:57
Yeah!

Steven Dickens 40:58
If you’ve just said the best way to get hold of you and to get it, initial conversation with you is via LinkedIn. Why as a salesperson would you not be a Jedi Knight of LinkedIn?

Nathaniel Schooler 41:10
Okay.

Steven Dickens 41:11
Because that’s just become the best tool to speak to customers for the first time on. Yeah. Now I’m not I’m not saying you close deals on LinkedIn. I have spoken to two clients this week who found me via social media. What a great way to build your pipe if you don’t have to do any outbound work?

Nathaniel Schooler 41:32
Yeah, I was just thinking about it yesterday, like back to the old days of like, the roller deck and this posh lady in the office that used to like, give me a card and say:-“This lady’s just changed jobs. You there’s a new buyer there, you must call her!”

And then I’d call him up and then send them a letter, you know, and like, how much that’s changed. Now, even if you’re a buyer, and you’re looking to buy something you don’t call them. And if you do phone, generally people don’t even answer the phone in some of the companies. I’m trying to do something at the moment and book a venue. So I call up there’s no answer. So I was just like, right, okay, I’m going to just email have a response within half an hour. You know, it’s bizarre!

Steven Dickens 42:12
The way the world has changed completely. Yeah, best way to get hold of me is to send me a either a slack message internally. Yeah. Because I’m drowned in email. That’s probably the best platform. Yeah. And also get me send me a direct message on Twitter.

Because I’m on phone calls. Probably 12 hours a day. Well, how do you how are you going to phone me?

Nathaniel Schooler 42:37
Exactly.

Steven Dickens 42:39
You know, you’d have to catch me probably before 7.30 in the morning or after 7.30 at night? In order to catch me on the phone. Yeah. So and that’s the client you’re selling to was got this that same work schedule? So you just got to think about the tools.

Nathaniel Schooler 42:57
Yeah. And, and try and find as much in common with that person and as possible, right. And like, you know, don’t be don’t be an ass about it, if there are like 20 sales reps, right. And you’re handling it or 15, you’re handling like similar kind of clients. If you look at someone like they support Arsenal, right, and you support Manchester United, then just just swap them over and give them to your mate. I mean, it’s like, why would you go after someone who doesn’t suit you as an individual on a personal level anyway? You know?

Steven Dickens 43:27
I think it I mean, sales people have got to be chameleons that that type of level, they’ve got to be able to get on with everybody.

But I think being able to align your reps to markets that they are best suited for. That is not written down anywhere. There’s no playbook or sort of, sort of text that I’ve come across that kind of gives you that. That’s just a good sales manager, knowing their team, knowing their reps and knowing where they’re strong.

That’s just hard work on the behalf of the sales leadership to kind of understand and best deployed their resources.

Nathaniel Schooler 44:07
Yeah, that’s pretty cool. So a lot of training goes into goes into the sales pipeline and filling out right, like masses of training?

Steven Dickens 44:19
For sure, I mean, and as I say, I’m trying to pivot the training and the team that I do into generating pipe, there’s enough people who have got experience to close a deal that we can bring to bear on a sales cycle, what there is a lot less of is how to get us into a sale cycle in the first place. So I’ve gone through a process with our enablement and training team to get them focused on how do we find deals? How do we get into sales situations? How do we accelerate that early parts of the sales process? Because I think that’s the biggest single thing I can do to ultimately drive the results at the back end.

Nathaniel Schooler 45:06
Makes a lot of sense. It must take a lot of stress away from people as well. Because if they’ve got a pipe of like 30 instead of 3, then the pressure on the customer has completely changed as well. The client isn’t going to be like feeling like they’ve been like, pushed into buying something when they’re not ready to buy it. You know?

Steven Dickens 45:23
Exactly. It’s less stressful for everybody at all stages in the process. But it’s harder to do because you’ve got to spend your time not talking about deals. And you’ve got to spend your time talking about prospects and suspects. Yeah, and sales management want to talk about deals. So it’s just resisting a kind of primeval urge to talk about what’s in your pipeline that you’re going to close next week.

And forcing yourself to think about:- “How do I have more deals that will close a couple of quarters from there?” That’s tough. It’s hard. Everything drags you back and snaps you back to this quarter. So it’s fighting the urge of the corporation, the urge of everything you want to do as a sales manager and just focusing on those inputs rather than those outputs.

Nathaniel Schooler 46:17
That’s really interesting.

Thanks, Steven. I appreciate all your years of wisdom.

Steven Dickens 46:23
Too many grey hairs Nathaniel! They lead to experience and yeah, it’s been good to share that with you today, brilliant. Well, thanks again.

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