The Top 3 Insights on Tech Sales

The world of sales often gets a bad rap. Many people have a negative view of salespeople and I was no exception. If you asked me a couple of years ago to describe a sale role, I probably would have pointed you to clips of Alec Baldwin from Glengarry Glen Ross with his brass balls shouting, “A.B.C. Always Be Closing.” A successful sales process is totally different from this, especially today. I’ve gained tons of insights from the Startup Institute’s 2015 summer session in Chicago but the gist is that sales isn’t about brass balls, it’s about steel minds. But more specifically, here are my top three sales insights from the sales and account management track at the Startup Institute:[bctt tweet="A successful sales process is about having a steel mind, says @brandonkeao"]

The science of sales:

The biggest insight I gained was that sales best practices are largely data-driven. Sure, tons of soft skills are necessary, but you’ll have an impossible time scaling without a process to guide you. One of the books on our reading list drove this point home—Predictable Revenue: Turn Your Business Into a Sales Machine with the $100 Million Best Practices of, by Aaron Ross. In the book, Ross outlines the data driven approach he used at Salesforce, leveraging their own software and a repeatable process to drive predictable sales. Core topics include:

  1. Tripling your pipeline (spears, seeds, and nets)
  2. Specializing your sales roles
  3. Energizing your people

The Startup Institute's sales training course emphasizes Predictable Revenue concepts in its coursework from lessons on the sales cycle to Salesforce training sessions. Customizing, analyzing, and generating reports from your sales cycle data is crucial to predictable success in sales.[bctt tweet="Customizing + analyzing #sales data is crucial to building a reliable process, says @brandonkeao"]


Just as important as a data-driven sales approach is the close cooperation between sales and marketing teams. The Chicago cohort’s sales and marketing tracks were fortunate enough to have Erin Wasson, VP of Marketing at UrbanBound, come in to run a session on Smarketing. Simply put, this is the combination of sales and marketing. And it turns out there are usually issues and barriers to deal with. Marketing look at sales and sees fast-and-loose cowboys, while sales looks at marketing and sees isolated data nerds. Neither are true. 

Market Qualified Leads (MQLs) are meant to bridge this divide. In order for sales and marketing to work well together, both teams need to agree on the criteria for leads to pass from marketing to sales. This can be anything from a company size to a contact’s job title to how potential customers interact with marketing material. MQL definitions are a communication mechanism that foster teamwork and more predictability throughout the sales cycle.  [bctt tweet="#Smarketing uses MQLs to bridge the divide b/w sales + marketing, says @ewasson"]

Be a challenger:

The other book on our reading list was The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. They executed an in-depth study on what makes top performing sales reps successful and is now my personal top recommendation for anyone in sales. What’s the gist? It’s all about:

  1. Consultative selling, earning the right of trusted advisor
  2. Knowing your client’s industry cold
  3. Leading a client to discover a problem they didn’t realize they had

Jessica Cole, President/CEO at Becker's Healthcare, came by and ran a session on closing with the Chicago sales track and she echoed many lessons from the The Challenger Sale. For one, don't send annoying follow-up emails that just check-in and don't ask or give anything; Jess says, "don't be a puppy." Lesson: be a challenger. Also, top-performing sales reps are comfortable talking about money. Not being able to do this is considered "money weakness." The key is to know how to frame the discussion based on the customer's needs and desires. You can do this by bracketing or bucketing costs when talking price. But most important to keep in mind, says Jess, is that "you can't lose what you don't have." So ask. Lesson: be a challenger.[bctt tweet="You can't lose what you don't have. Be a challenger, says @jessmcole"]

I lied...

Okay, so I said three insights from the Startup Institute sales course but I actually have one more: I didn’t realize how much sales I actually was doing in my old job. I spent eight years doing technology and management consulting in the electronic trading sector in capital markets and it involved a lot of relationships, data-driven analysis, problem solving, and challenging clients on their current ways of thinking. All I was really missing was the pure sales end-to-end view. Now, thanks to the Startup Institute, I have that.

And remember, coffee’s for closers only.[bctt tweet="#Sales skills are relevant in all relationship-focused problem-solving, says @brandonkeao"]

Photo credit: Julia Taylor via Flickr cc