Kevin Micalizzi: Today we'll be discussing the death of the traditional salesman with Tony Rodoni, EVP, Commercial Sales and Market Readiness at Salesforce. Welcome, Tony.
Tony Rodoni: Thanks. It's great to be here today.
Micalizzi: So, Tony, for our listeners who aren't familiar with you, would you share a little bit about yourself and your background?
Rodoni: Yeah, sure. I'm a VP of Sales here at Salesforce. I run part of our sales organization, and I also run our sales training and our customer training business. And I have been here 11 years, and I spent my whole career in tech, in sales, marketing.
Shoot, early in my career I was an engineer, so I guess you could say I'm a recovering engineer who is now working in sales.
Micalizzi: Absolutely love it. I'm a recovering engineer now working in marketing. I'm Kevin Micalizzi, Senior Product Manager at Salesforce. And I'm joined by my co-host, my favorite co-host, Lynne Zaledonis, VP of Marketing at Salesforce. Welcome, Lynne.
Lynne Zaledonis: You're going to make everyone jealous with that, Kevin. Those are fighting words. But good to be here, and I'm really happy to be here with an old friend and longtime colleague, Tony.
Rodoni: Oh, thanks, Lynne.
Micalizzi: So, Tony, you had a really popular article on Quotable called “The Death of a Traditional Salesman.” We've had many guests on the podcast come in and talk about how sales has changed, but I'd love to get your perspective on how things have changed in your time at Salesforce in the, what, 18-plus years you've been in the industry.
Rodoni: Yeah. I think it's pretty simple if you think about it. We had more and more technology come and enter our lives.
Early in my career, when people were in sales, there was no information on the internet. You couldn't find information about products. Customers had to engage with salespeople if they wanted to buy something. And now the internet, all kinds of information, it's a new way for people to get information that renders salespeople obsolete for a lot of what they used to do. So now salespeople have to really provide more value than just information or management, transaction processing, etcetera. Actually, you'd have to be a real salesperson now.
Zaledonis: You bring that up in your article. And it's a little bit of a scary statistic about, I think as [Forrester] said, that a million sales reps could lose their jobs by 2020. Is that true? You're going to scare a lot of people if it is.
Rodoni: Well, what I'd say here is the least important sales jobs are going to go away. Think about what the internet has done to retail stores. There will not be as many check-out people in a store anymore if people are buying online. And if people are buying B2B products and other products online, traditional or fulfillment salespeople, those jobs will go away.
People that are helping to explain product information, if you can find that on the internet now, that goes away. But what Forrester did say is there is going to be a 15% growth in the most strategic kind of salespeople — consultative salespeople. And, really, isn't that the kind of salespeople we all want to be anyway, Lynne? How many people say they want their kid to grow up and be a car salesman, or a transactional salesperson? But we both know from our careers, it is really fulfilling when we work in these really consultative sales environments.
And Forrester is saying if you're going to be in sales, this is the place to get involved in it.
Zaledonis: So what does that mean to be a consultative salesperson?
Rodoni: So, for me, the most important part about it — when I hear customers say that you're consultative, I think of it like you're a doctor. A consultative doctor diagnoses what your current conditions are, and they prescribe things that you need. And I look at salespeople that are really good at helping understand what a customer needs, and then recommending a prescription if they happen to have a prescription.
But most salespeople don't act like a doctor that's trying to prescribe something based on your health. Imagine if you went into the doctor with a sore knee. The doctor probably needs to make some money by [recommending] some surgeries, and the doctor says, "Gee, Lynne, your knee is not doing very well. Cancel the rest of your day and I'm going to operate." Wouldn't you just freak out? That's not a very consultative doctor. And I think that's what salespeople are trying to figure out; how fast can I get to surgery?
A good doctor is going to say, "Lynne, how do you use your knee? Are you a professional athlete? How long have you been working on improving it? What else have you done before you came to me?" And "Gee, Lynne, let me give you these five things you should try. And maybe as our last resort in months we'll get to surgery." You'll feel pretty good about working with that consultative doctor. And I think good salespeople are really trying to act like a doctor acts with patients.
By the way, the doctor is going to make money along the way, right? And we, as salespeople, will make money with some transactions along the way. But this concept about being consultative, I use the exercise in the company, and I think it comes down to two really important things. Number one is that if you're going to be consultative you need to know your customer's business. And number two, you have to have their best interests in mind.
So when I think of a good salesperson that's consultative, what they really do is they make a recommendation for a company as if they were working there. Aren't those the best salespeople you've worked with?
Rodoni: They act like they're an employee of yours, not a vendor who is trying to sell something right away. It's really fun. I think the worst thing a salesperson can do is try to think about their quota or get to their quota. They should think about how to make their customers successful, and the quota takes care of themselves.
Micalizzi: Tony, the consultative selling side requires a pretty strong relationship.
And I know that the customers' landscape has changed over the years. How are your reps and your managers and leaders dealing with those changes, and really trying to build those relationships?
Rodoni: Well, first of all, relationships matter. They've always mattered. Ultimately, I think a relationship creates rapport. And rapport is the oil that keeps this engine running when you're working with clients and have a relationship. But what I would say has changed is salespeople used to be really relationship oriented.
Earlier in my career my boss would say, "Get out there and play golf with them. Go meet everybody face to face. Get on a plane." Yeah. And instead, while customers still want to have relationships, I can't remember the last time I played golf with somebody at work. Who's got that kind of time anymore? And when I say, "Can I fly in and meet you?" they say, "No. Actually, we're all meeting remotely," and we're using teleconference and conference calls to meet. So you still have to create relationships, but it's less about the, "Oh, we're friends and our kids are in the same little league."
The relationship is based on the value you can add by understanding their business and that you're really a subject matter or a domain expert in their business and the company you work for and the products you represent. And you can create that and create a relationship based on it. By the way, one of the important things I really think of for salespeople is, if a customer has a problem, the most important thing you can do is help them solve that problem, even if there is no deal to be had.
Because if you're only good to work with when you have a deal to be had, they know that, by definition, you're not consultative.
Zaledonis: I'd like to bounce something off you. We hear this a lot. We hear, "You need to be a trusted advisor," that the industry has really changed. And, as a matter of fact, a report that we did here at Salesforce surveying over 3,000 customers showed one of the top key performance indicators that people care about is the customer experience.
Zaledonis: So you're a sales leader. How do you balance this quota that you have and all of your reps have every month against the fact that you're asking them, like you just said, sometimes to be a trusted advisor or to solve a problem when there is no quota attainment at the end of it?
Rodoni: You guys, I told you at the beginning I'm a recovering engineer. I'm not some psychologist. But I would say the more you focus on quota as an output, it's the wrong way to think about it. Think of the inputs, and then, in a way, quota takes care of itself. I don't want to oversimplify it.
Rodoni: That makes it sound so trite. But you have to focus on what am I going to do with my clients? How is that going to work out? What do I need to provide them? How do I do it in the best interest of them? And then the way I look at quota is how many of those do I have to repeat? What does the math look like to do enough of those that I can actually get to whatever my quota is? One of the ways I think about this quota is, you can either treat it as a burden; it's like this backpack that's just weighing you down. Or you can just caress it and get used to it.
It's a friend. It's always going to be there, and just get used to it. But don't let it dominate you. You shouldn't wake up every day thinking, "Okay, this quota is weighing me down." You should feel liberated by it by, "This is how many clients I'm going to work with. If I do this right over time, it all adds up that I'm going to get to my quota." But use it as a motivator, not as something that weighs you down.
Zaledonis: Good advice.
Micalizzi: So one of the things you talk about in your article on Quotable is how sales reps and leaders need to think like a marketer and to partner better with marketing.
When you say think like a marketer, what are you suggesting?
Rodoni: Right now there are some amazing marketing tools to help make salespeople successful. We just talked about quota and how hard it is to get there. Think about the shift in just this generation of selling over the last 15 years. Before CRM tools, marketing departments gave a stack of business cards or a spreadsheet or some sort of leads to a sales team. And it's really hard to follow up on those. And they generally weren't very good. And we left the sorting of those to the salespeople.
But if you look at the tools marketers have now to do demand generation and understand interest in a funnel, they can provide great campaign tools and score leads and provide nurturing for you of getting you clients at any different part of the sales cycle. And you have to think like marketers think as you work with your clients, because they'll be at different stages of that process.
And if you have a good marketer that you work with and you think like they do by using tools and lead scoring and campaign tools, you alone can stretch your scale and get out to a lot of clients. We see it with Salesforce products. I know this is not a product podcast, but we have marketing departments that use marketing automation tools like Salesforce's Pardot. But now we see sales teams using those same tools with Salesforce Engage, and they're able to run campaigns like a mini marketer.
And I remember when I was first in sales I would keep a list of everybody that I'd be prospecting to, and I would actually send out a homemade newsletter to them to keep up with them. You can now do that and touch a more targeted fashion. I'm envious of what it's like starting in sales right now with all of the tools people have that just didn't exist 10, five, even 15 years ago.
Zaledonis: Yeah. And it’s not just tools; it's data, too. We talked in the beginning how data has totally changed the customers' experience in buying, but it changes the way the rep sells, too.
One of the reasons I got into technology is one of my first jobs at the school was to take the IDC reports and hole punch them and put them into a ring binder so that you could study them. Now, when you want to know about a customer, you can just go to the internet. So let's talk about what data means to a rep and to a manager.
Rodoni: Oh, shoot. Isn't data everything now?
Rodoni: Look at artificial intelligence and what it's able to do. We use it beyond the simple things. We used to use it for things like scoring leads.
And now it's way better at lead scoring. But I can look at every potential client, every existing customer, and I can score them on the likelihood that they're interested, their propensity to buy. There are tools that our own marketing team gives us that make the sales job so much suaver. However, what the implication on the salespeople is we've got to be a little more analytic than we used to be. And we need to know how to consume these.
We need to know how to be a little bit more of a scientist, and not just a liberal arts salesperson that's good at relationship and psychology and all those soft skills.
Zaledonis: So let's talk a little bit about some of these tools. You said that they need to know how to use this data and to make decisions. What are some of the things you work with your team and teach them to look for or to do to consume that data? What are some of the metrics, perhaps, you care about?
Rodoni: So there are some pretty important ones, I think, when I look at a VP of sales.
So let's start there, and then work our way down to a salesperson. The most important things for a VP of sales to start with, what's my number? What am I going to hit? How do I forecast, and how accurate am I at forecasting? Data can make that much better now. Shoot, in our own Salesforce system we have 19 years of data on opportunities that have run through. We now have artificial intelligence that may put me out of a job at forecasting. It's so good at forecasting based on all we've done in the past. But the next question, if I have a successful forecast, what's the next thing my boss is going to ask me for?
"Tony, how does the next quarter look? How does the next year look? What's the health of your pipeline?" And I think every leader wants to know, how's my forecast? How is the health of my future forecast? And how can I use KPIs to measure that? Now, if I think about it as an individual salesperson, it's very, very similar. What is the health of my clients? What is the health of my prospects? Which ones should I be working on next? And what should I do next with those clients?
And products like Salesforce's Einstein and other artificial intelligence products are helping be more directive to salespeople to what to do. This is something that's really cool for me personally. I think there's been more innovation in CRM for salespeople in the last two years than there were in the prior 12. And it's the foundation that was laid with other products that really helped make this happen.
Zaledonis: And you know what? This is a [tee up] question, because I know you're a fantastic [unintelligible] [breaker]. So we talk about all of these metrics and processes. How often are you looking at this?
Rodoni: I look at them every day.
Zaledonis: And your managers, too? This is something that you, as an organization, are doing daily?
Rodoni: Yeah. Here's how I treat this. This is a little bit like getting in shape. I don't spend a lot of time on it every day because, in a way, this part of my business is in shape. And once you're in shape, maintaining getting it in shape is a lot easier than getting it in shape when you're out of shape.
Rodoni: And what I would say to people that are listening and trying to think, "How do I do this?" Use an analogy of going to a gym and getting in shape.
Changing that behavior and process is hard for a little while, but once you change it, maintaining it is pretty easy. I just listened to something about Dave Letterman. He just did an interview for the first time in years after leaving the — what was it?
Zaledonis: “The Late Show.”
Rodoni: “The Late Night Show.” And he said every morning he would look at the ratings, and it would give him anxiety. If the ratings were good he was happier. And if the ratings were down he was sadder. And that's what I feel like every morning when I check the state of my business.
If it's 1% better yesterday I'm a little happier. I've got my Dave Letterman smile without a big gap in my teeth. And when it's a little down I think, "Okay. What are the little things I can do today to help swing it in the future?" Because, really, sales is a culmination at the end of the year of all of the little things you're doing along the way. And wouldn’t you like to have a scale you could step on every day to make sure that you're kind of staying within your target? And these tools help you do that.
Micalizzi: Tony, with all of the technology that's available, trying to dig into this data, I imagine it must be so difficult to bring new reps on and really get them up to speed quickly.
And really get them to the level where they're not only super productive in terms of your CRM and the other tools they need to use, but also becoming that trusted advisor. So how are you approaching enabling when you've got so many factors that are in play here?
Rodoni: There is a lot, isn't there? It can be daunting when it first starts. But I think like any journey — and we, as leaders, we have a journey — we want to take our reps through this process over multiple years.
I call this getting an MBA in sales at Salesforce. You're going to learn everything from business acumen with all of these different customers you work with. You're going to become a CRM expert. You're going to learn how to become a sales expert and build your sales skills. But I also think for me, personally, and how I approach enablement is almost the way you would think of education in a university. Yeah, you've got four years. We don't do it all at once. We've got to keep it simple, and we start with some very simple pieces in each dimension.
The first thing we want to do is get people getting really good at understanding data in the system, and understanding what our product value proposition is. And teaching them how customers get benefit from it. I know that everybody in more consultative selling buy because of other stories they've heard of how other companies found success. And Lynne and her team do a great job of teaching us what some of those success stories are.
And we have to rely on her until we build those own personal stories of clients we've worked with. What's really neat is this snowballs. Success begets success for a rep. If they have some successful client interactions, those stories become the basis of their next sale and their next sale. And I feel really lucky and grateful that we get to work with lots of different types of companies. And it's that breadth of experience that makes our reps better, trusted advisors over time.
Zaledonis: Yeah. That's hard, actually. I loved your university analogy. But also people get quota [soon], so it goes back to what you talked about before, having faith that when you build these foundational building blocks.
Rodoni: Think about this. Much of my sales team are selling to small/medium businesses. And these salespeople are nervous and uncomfortable at first, trying to become an expert at a CRM product. But after they do two or three projects and this will be in a matter of how many weeks — is that in a small/medium business? They'll do two or three in a month.
Most of the small/medium businesses we've sold to have never bought CRM. So as long as they have more domain expertise than the clients, within two months they know more than the majority. They're, by no means, an expert. They're not the professor yet. But they are more than an adequate student and [representer] because they've worked with a handful of clients in a very short period of time.
Zaledonis: So let's talk about enabling someone to be a trusted advisor — knowing their client and having their clients' best interests.
You just brought up the fact that your team is small business. They do a lot more of transactional deals. Do you expect them to be trusted advisors considering the nature of your sales cycle?
Rodoni: Over time for sure. So let's go on a quick segue.
Rodoni: Who invented the term “trusted advisor”?
Rodoni: I don't know. Doesn't it sound like a graduate school professor?
Zaledonis: It does.
Rodoni: Lynne, has anybody ever called you a trusted advisor?
Zaledonis: I wish they had.
Rodoni: Kevin, have you been called a trusted advisor?
Micalizzi: I have not.
Rodoni: It's not really everyday conversation language. So let me ask you this. That's really shorthand for more. And the thing it's shorthand for, what do you think about when you say I trust somebody and I trust their advice? It's because they are a domain expert and they have your best interests in mind, and it's the same way you trust other people. And what we try to give people is not the academic trusted advisor, it's the skill and experience to teach them that you really are helping.
And like that doctor description we gave earlier, trying to learn how to build some diagnostic muscle and some prescription muscle. And it comes pretty fast. The hardest part is to get out of your own way of trying to let your quota get in your way and have you perform surgery on somebody's knee when they're not quite ready for it.
Zaledonis: I've had knee surgeries. I don't like this analogy.
Rodoni: Okay. You're the marketer. You can help me come up with a better one.
Zaledonis: Yeah, I will. Let's do some tactical advice to some people who are listening to this.
Because they're thinking about what they could be doing with their sales teams, how they could be teaching them new skills. You mentioned a couple of things in your article about actually getting people to use real traditional tools like Excel to create tools and value for their reps. Can you give some examples of things that your team does?
Rodoni: Yeah. First of all, one of the things I think, to people that are new to sales, advice somebody gave me that I just love is the two most important things are learn how to give a presentation, and learn how to use spreadsheets.
Zaledonis: Kind of counterintuitive.
Rodoni: Those are very important life skills. You chuckled when I said that, but I have done sessions for sales teams where we went through spreadsheets and 25% of the people have this weakness where they don't know how to use a spreadsheet. And it's going to become the limiting factor in your career in the long run. And it's not just using it, but being able to think like a CFO. What's the value I'm going to get here? How much is this going to cost? What's the scenario if I change it?
In my teams in sales, we use it to do everything from building an ROI, a potential scenario of ROIs for customers. We use it to show cost savings. But we also use it to demonstrate the financials of the contract we're working on. And that skill set is really important. And if you expect to move into management in sales, you'll find that there is almost nobody I've ever worked with in management that's weak at either of those two things, even though they might not have been as good at sales as some of the other salespeople on their teams.
One other really important piece of practical advice: know your product really well. Lynne, you're a product marketer. And we're lucky at Salesforce. We have a CRM tool that we get to use. So I'd say if you have an opportunity to use the product and be a customer of the product that you represent in sales, you better become a huge advocate of it. Can you imagine a car salesperson is selling you a car and they don't drive cars?
Zaledonis: They take the bus to work every day.
Rodoni: Yeah. Having a passion for the product. If you don't have that passion for a product that you're selling right now and you can't create that passion, you might look for a new career or a new set of products to represent. Because every client sees that enthusiasm on your face and hears it in your voice that that's something you're excited about.
Zaledonis: That's great advice, and I would agree with it, too. I was just chuckling earlier because we were talking about using spreadsheets and it goes against my marketing instincts there.
So that's great practical advice on some business tips if you want to get your reps to be more business-minded. And I absolutely agree with that, too. In the beginning you talked about some of the most valuable things, and one of them was having your customers' best interests at heart and knowing them. So how do you get them to know their customers? Is it pure discovery? Do they do research first?
Rodoni: I had a company event a few days ago and a current customer was there. His name is Aaron, and he gave a great description of what a rep that he really valued did.
He said, "That rep was at our user conference. That sales rep was in our office sitting in a cube a day a week. I came by one day and that rep was meeting with some of the developers, getting a demo of some of our new products. He wasn't exactly an employee of our company." By the way, I happen to know that rep. That rep had 20 different accounts like Aaron he was working with. But when he needed to get to understand Aaron's business, he probably spent 20% of his time almost being embedded in his company to really understand it and to feel it.
Think of this if you're an enterprise rep and have a small number of clients. I worked with a rep who worked on a big project in an insurance company. He became a broker of the insurance company. He wanted to go through the whole process to understand what it was like to be a customer and represent that company. He never became an insurance agent, but he went through the whole process so that he could really feel what it was like to be a customer.
Zaledonis: That's impressive.
Rodoni: Can I give you another way that I think about this?
Rodoni: And don't take this metaphor literally. My favorite thing that happens at the end of a process with a customer, or at some stage when you're working through a sales cycle and the sales cycle is over, is when a customer hypothetically says, "Tony, we had a great experience with you. We'd like you to consider joining our team. We wish our people sold like you sell. You've done it right by us. We don't mean the product that you represent, but the way you work through with us."
And when I do sales training for some of our new salespeople I say, "My dream is that you get lots of offers from our clients to work there. I hope that you have such a great dream job experience where you do not exercise that. Think about what you have to do every day if your customer actually wanted to hire you to represent their business or product in some fashion." And the answer to that question is what it takes to be a little more consultative and really get to understand their business.
Zaledonis: That's a great North Star for reps to use to guide their way.
Rodoni: Yeah. And, remember, this is just a metaphor. I don't do all of these. And if that eventually happens on occasion, that's all right. I'm just using it, like you said, for this North Star to ask, what is the right thing to do? And maybe the flip side is you will have so much more conviction as a salesperson if you only recommend to your clients what you believe you would do if you were in their seat.
Micalizzi: I wanted to ask one more. And that is, I know you've talked about the importance of owning the customer experience.
And I wanted to see if you had any practical tips you could give our listeners.
Rodoni: Yes, I have a couple of important, practical tips. The thing about owning the customer experience is you are the face of your company to that customer. And you have two choices you get to make. Do you want to be their face for everything, or do you just want to be the face for the transaction that you get a commission on? And your behavior tells them which one it is. And when I say own the customer experience, it is not that you're doing everything they need.
If they have a question with billing, you can connect them with somebody in billing. If they have a tech support question, you can connect them with tech support. But you need to be as attentive and helpful for them outside of just the closing of the transaction or that part of the sales cycle where you're most involved. And if you demonstrate interest throughout, you'll have a lot more success with that client. I'll use an example that I've seen many times.
A rep will say, "Oh, boy. I'm working with this client. I'm the new rep. They're really unhappy with us. We've done all of these things poorly, and the customer would like us to do a bunch of [tasks] for them." And I think, "You are the luckiest rep around." Imagine if you went and they said, "Our last rep was perfect. They sold us everything we could ever [need]. We don't need you."
Rodoni: Yeah. So there's an opportunity here. And my advice is to optimize for the customer.
I don't mean to do all this work, but you have to help quarterback and make sure that their issues get solved. And in doing that, that's how you build relationships. That earns you the rapport that we described earlier in this interview. It also begins the street cred of being a trusted advisor. This is really a yin and yang, you guys. We're talking about all of this, and I keep saying, "Don't worry about your quota." Don't, for a second, think that you don't have to close business.
And quota is about having enough opportunities that you're working with, that if you have a lot of potential clients you can close business. I think salespeople make the mistake when they don't have enough pipeline or opportunity. They're trying to squeeze a very small number of opportunities to generate their quota or potential projects. And I'm thinking you use things like owning the customer experience, so that you can elevate a little bit and get to know more of the client to know more things to sell. Can I give a simple example that I experienced here at Salesforce?
Rodoni: When I meet with a client, I never go to talk about a product. I'm lucky in my role, but I often talk to them about growth strategies and challenges they're having as a business. And 25% of the time, 30% of the time there is a project that comes out of it, but I could have never predicted what project it was. And, Lynne, if I went in and said, "Okay. I've got these three different products." My strategy is try this one. Do you need this one first? Do you need a second one second, or the third one third? The answer is to know it all because the sales defense shields are up.
And, for me, owning the customer experience is a way to demonstrate value that you provide, and it's a way to demonstrate that you have their best interests in mind.
Micalizzi: What would you say is the biggest takeaway you want our listeners to walk away with?
Rodoni: The biggest takeaway is your future in sales is up to you. Our career is changing. It's changing [aspirationally] for the better. We get to be more consultative salespeople. It sounds really easy. It's not.
It's like getting in shape. Everybody says they want to be in shape, and only 25% of the people are in shape. And it's on you if you want to do that. Others, they will change the way you sell, but that is up to you. And if want to do that, you're going to have a great time in this killer career of professional sales.
Micalizzi: That's great advice.
Zaledonis: I love it. It's inspiring.
Micalizzi: So, Tony, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.
Rodoni: Thanks, Kevin. Thanks, Lynne. It's great seeing you both.
Zaledonis: Yeah, absolutely.
Micalizzi: Absolutely. Thank you for helping, Lynne.
Zaledonis: Of course.
Micalizzi: And remember, the best way to keep up to date with all of the great sales experts at Quotable is by subscribing at quotable.com/subscribe. If you found this episode valuable, please give us a five-star rating and feedback, and share this podcast with your peers and your customers. Thank you.